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"...one of the FINEST SOLO theatre artists of the 21st CENTURY."

  ICONOLOGY 101
  In 'ICONS 2,' Estrada is a drama queen with a lesson plan
  Southwest Actors Guide
  By JACK MILES
  Photo by SCOTT HELSEL
  January 2008


 
Conquest. Religion. Sacrifice. Sweat. Politics. Fate. These were just a  few of

the themes that took shape in the form of six new lesbian and gay icons in the encore performance of the nationally touring production of "ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 2" at Metropolitan Community Church of San Antonio on November 14, 2007. The show was directed by David Miguel Estrada with book, music, lyrics, choreography and performance by "master entertainer" Jade Esteban Estrada. Additional musical arrangements were by Tracy Stark. Although Estrada repeats a format that has proven a superb vehicle for his singing, acting and comedic abilities, the middle show in the "ICONS" trilogy sets itself apart by demonstrating in him a social consciousness that glitters beyond the glitz and glamour of the Broadway-caliber musical comedy. 

     Born in 2004 at the Columbus National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival, the sequel to "ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1" (the show that brought Sappho, Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Rivera and Ellen DeGeneres to the stage) won the Audience Favorite in Solo Performance Award in its opening weekend and later played the Bonham Exchange Ballroom in downtown San Antonio in 2005.

     The eclectic show begins with Estrada delivering a public television inspired introduction advising the audience that they needed worry if they happen to "miss anything" in the program. Dressed in a black cape and Spartan sandals he adds, "History has a funny way of repeating itself." In a line that sets the tone for the entire evening, it seems clear early on that "ICONS 2" takes a more serious look at the legacy left by lesbians and gays than its predecessor. Not willing to lose his listeners with too much information all at once, he peppers his stories with a signature silliness that has made him a YouTube favorite. He follows his lofty description of Alexander the Great's mother Princess Olympias of Epirus with a stone-faced, "no, really - she was hot."

     Estrada stripped off the cape to reveal a dazzling red and silver gladiator costume complete with a half-arm of armor. The musical opens with "the greatest funeral in recorded history." The death scene of Alexander's companion Hephaistion is painted with dubbed vocals of hearty male voices carrying the deceased as Alexander sings "Hephaistion." Estrada's velvety voice expresses a pop sound reminiscent of Rick Astley. Alexander sings about the difficulty of moving forward in his life without his beloved.

     Estrada, who is known for including audience interaction in his performances, limits the time in the house to the upbeat song "Alexander" when he channelled the spirit of Elvis Presley in a Latin-fused number rallying the right side of the theatre to compete with the left side for a position in his army. The true comedy arose when the unsuspecting audience didn't immediately respond to the freshly broken forth wall. For those unfamiliar with Estrada's stage work or the genre of the one-person show, this improvised section gives the viewers the opportunity to see Estrada in his element. The veteran stand-up comedian seems to make it a point to make sure the audience is with him in his onstage journey. He stops the show, sits on a woman's lap and asks, "are you getting everything that I'm sayin' up here?"

     Estrada ended the Alexander segment when he revealed that he didn't feel so well. "I hope it's not malaria," is one of the many historically accurate tidbits he throws in to educate while entertaining.

     One of the actor's most convincing onstage transitions was his transformation from Alexander to Queen Christina of Sweden, the monarch who abdicated the throne and converted to Catholicism.  His voice, body language and face soften as he becomes youthful and scatterbrained while trying on the royal attire before her famous announcement to the people of Sweden. The song she sings, "Unearth me" was effervescent. Estrada utilizes time compression effectively by starting the song at age 18 ending up as a 28 year old woman with an attitude. The change came as a genuine surprise as Estrada sculpted her personality before our very eyes. 

     Estrada next became the prudish Susan B. Anthony, the women's suffrage activist who sang the song "The Politics of Inclusion." The actor did not spend too much time with the details of looking exactly like the characters he portrayed. Instead, almost by hypnosis, he convinced the audience to believe that what they were witnessing was real.

     Estrada's fourth icon drew applause before the character's first lines were uttered from those old enough to remember her rise to fame. Dressed in a cute, white tennis skirt, wristbands, headband, and period glasses, Estrada channeled tennis great Billie Jean King walking across the stage with the gait of a warrior.

     Estrada reenacted the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match against rival Bobby Riggs in 1973 which was a significant landmark in the development of equality between men and women.  He ran from side to side swooping the tennis racket inches away from the front row much to the delight of the spectators. Estrada's King was sheer poetry in motion.

     "Do you consider yourself an athlete or a woman?" asked a recorded voice imitating sportscaster Howard Cosell. Kings responds, "I consider myself an athlete and a woman...but today you can just call me - the winner."

     The show stopping number of the evening (Estrada slid a similar number as Oscar Wilde in "ICONS 1") was "Helluva Guy" in a portrayal of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the U.S. Milk was shot in the head at San Francisco City Hall in 1978 by a fellow city supervisor. In this number, he attempts to win the public vote with an aerobic song and dance number. Curiously, in the lyrics of this song is the only time the word "gay" is uttered during the entire show.

     He changes the feel a bit when Milk performs "The Mayor of Castro Street" when the audience sees the politician ten months later speaking to his staff the afternoon of his assassination. Estrada's hand carefully guides the audience through a whirlwind of emotions. He makes it okay to laugh one minute and cry the next without remorse.

     Estrada's boldest number is the finale when he resurrected Mark Bingham, the United Airlines passenger who called his mother in flight to tell her he loved her and that the passengers were about to fight back against terrorists before they died in a pasture in Pennsylvania. There was an eeriness in watching him mention the infamous date while getting a taxi receipt. "May I get a receipt, please? Uhmm. The 11th. September 11th. Thanks. Tax write-off." Bingham smiles good-heartedly and waves goodbye to the driver.  The song "Someday You Might Be a Hero" is riveting and the chorus is chilling.

     Although years had passed since that day that changed the world in 2001, the audience seemed to have been taken on a magic carpet ride of conquest, religion, sacrifice, sweat, politics and fate. Destinies that have not just shaped lesbian and gay history - but world history. And that seems to be Estrada's point.

     One Kansas critic called Estrada "one of the finest solo theatre artists of the 21st century." After the exhilarating performance of "ICONS 2," the public that rose to their feet in applause seemed to agree with that.

 


2008 Southwest Actors Guide

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