Strange duo Scooty and JoJo deliver their goofball theater to the people.
Carpenters’ Halloween, the debut show from theater duo Scooty and JoJo, begins with a video clip of the infamous opening scene from the 1978 horror pic Halloween, in which psycho toddler Michael Myers carves into his big sister with stoic abandon. But the chilling scene is undercut by the fading in of the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” What follows is a 70-minute musical parody of the slasher flick, starring a drag version of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode and an energetic cast of actors and puppets deftly delivering some of the film’s most iconic and campiest lines set to the music of everyone’s favorite rainy-days-and-Mondays band.
That opening number would serve as a metaphor for Scooty and JoJo’s sudden assault on Chicago’s North Side cabaret and theater scene. During its three-week run at Mary’s Attic last October, Carpenters’ Halloween generated substantial buzz, culminating in packed shows during its final performances. In subsequent months, the duo became a ubiquitous staple in venues like Mary’s Attic and the Spot, delivering pop culture–fusion theater pieces as well as ’70s-style variety shows. The momentum is only growing: This week at Mary’s Attic, Scooty and JoJo open Mollywood, a mash-up of the John Hughes and Molly Ringwald trinity of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.
Scooty and JoJo are real-life couple Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax. When Stax, a Northern California native, moved to Seattle in 1992 to pursue ministry work, he was hired to perform musical accompaniment for Bradley, then artistic director at Seattle’s Open Circle Theater. The couple have been together eight years, all the while honing their craft in various cities. Now in Chicago, Bradley and Stax, along with actor Charis Boyd and a cast and crew of supporting players, are on a mission to bust both audience members’ guts and any preconceived ideas they may have about traditional theater. They’re doing the latter by showing up in the least-suspected places—namely, your favorite watering holes. “What we’re doing is taking theater to the people, so we’re finding what you are going to want to connect with,” Stax says.
If Carpenters’ Halloween is any indication, they’re successfully making those connections, and the effects are far-reaching. During the production’s busiest nights, the Attic’s typically twenty- and thirtysomething gay clientele was replaced with a mixture of young and old, male and female, straight and gay and, most noticeably, non-Andersonville Chicagoans. “You’re really bringing together different communities that often don’t hang out together,” Bradley says. “And that’s really exciting.”
While camp is nothing new, Scooty and JoJo’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink elements clearly have grabbed people’s attention. The gratuitous use of puppetry, for example, although totally queer and perverted, recalls Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, while Tran: The Atari Musical reimagines the pre-CGI cult movie Tron using cardboard-cutout props and a trannie heroine. And the duo’s variety hours feel like a cross between Sony and Cher and the Mandrell Sisters—but, if you can imagine it, gayer. “We take multiple elements of popular art and we fuse them into a new creation,” Stax says. “They’re part campy lampoon and part love letter to our cultural icons.”
With new shows taking place nearly every month, the pair has been working at a breakneck pace and, at times, the material and delivery feel a little slapdash. But that’s offset by their infectious energy and ebullience, not to mention their readiness to admit that this is theater at its most low-tech. Mollywood promises an abundance of ’80s music, John Hughes characters, and in typical Scooty and JoJo fashion, gay overload. “Everybody’s included,” Bradley says, “but this is definitely for our community.”
Mollywood opens Tuesday 6.