Wild Side Story
|Wild Side Story|
Logo for 2001 Stockholm run with silhouette from 1973 and drawing from 1976
Wild Side Story is a stage show that originated as an underground happening in Miami Beach, Florida in 1973. From that year until the end of production in 2004, it was performed hundreds of times in Florida, Sweden, California and Spain.
- 1 Origins, style and technique
- 2 Looking for a story line
- 3 Settings and venues
- 4 References
Origins, style and technique
This cult stage show was first conceived and created in Miami Beach in 1972 by director Lars Jacob for an underground cast of nine poorly paid performers who were in it for the kicks, using stage names such as Rena Del Rio, Peaches Del Monte, Chiena Chinette, Jessica Kilo, Tom Flavio, Crystal Beed and Aretha Filthy so as not to disclose their actual identities. Most were young Cuban refugees. One exception was Roxanne Russell who eventually achieved national notoriety and began to use his real name Logan Carter.
The piece was originally called West Side Tuna because of their preceding highly charismatic, but theatrically needy production, The Hot Tuna Revue, in which, as Del Rio later admitted, "We were just giving faces".[this quote needs a citation]
It opened officially as Wild Side Story on August 8, 1973.
Moved two blocks up 22nd Street the following month by club owner Larry Boxx, from the shady old Ambassador III lounge to his brand new Stonewall disco, Wild Side Story reopened there on September 3, 1973, closer to a popular public beach. It now established itself as albeit bizarre but exciting after-midnight entertainment for more diverse crowds. Many were young tourists who would not have planned to go to a gay bar and now saw transvestite characters on stage (and some in the room) for the very first time. The move also brought a revamp of the cast of characters, partly and loosely built on those of West Side Story, with Jacob henceforth casting real girls in leading parts "Anita" and "Betty-Sue". One supporting part continued to call for a female to play a meretricious male gang member called "Macho", which was a first even in cosmopolitan South Florida.
Though the hour-long show continued to be performed with the cast lip-synching to pre-recorded songs, about half of them from several versions of the Broadway classic, it evolved into something more difficult to classify than a conventional drag show. Character caricatures developed. Lip and tongue motion was intentionally exaggerated to spoof the mouthing method, and a number of live spices, such as America clapping and foot drumming and Rumble screams, were added. When an audience had resolved itself to sit through what looked to many like a sort of pantomime play, "Tony" suddenly sang a special lyric into a live microphone, this confusing even him, even more, after having flipped too indiscriminately over a mysterious “Maria” (see below). Slide shows and 8mm film segments were included. Show-goers were taken by surprise with a takeoff on technical failure where one of the actresses would stomp her foot and begin swearing out loud till her number just as unexpectedly resumed. The long street fight where first "Bernardo" then "Betty-Sue" are fatally stabbed, she with her own knife dug out of the deep of her big gold purse, was done here in slow motion and strobe lighting, an effect staged after 1973 by the directors of a number of other productions.
Looking for a story line
The Wild Side Story plot, later in Europe purported to be “from the wildest side of the trans-Atlantic West”, is mainly about “Bernardo” being visited by problematic little brother, José “Maria” Gonzalez, who cross-dresses convincingly to go job-hunting. With boyfriend-owner “Betty-Sue” busy smoking cigarettes, “Tony” can go gaga over “Maria” and does so without taking a second or even a careful look. A lovesick calamity of abandon unfolds amid pick-pockets, male and female chauvinist pigs, false eyelashes, murder, initially misplaced false boobs, and all is summed up with what amounts to a hippie hypocrisy revival meeting at the end (see below).
“Anita” is portrayed as an extremely dangerous and powerful woman so nobody dares tell her that the reds in her satin skirt and ruffled top clash monstrously. Since she won’t let any real women get close to her man, her girlfriends are two tall, muscular drag queens with hairy armpits, whose motivations for cross-dressing remain unclear (one of them was actually portrayed two times by a recent bank robber, unknown as such to the production). The names of this pair are “Consuelo” and “Obvióla”. They have been reviewed as the "riot act of the show". Each in a stolen nuns' habit, they complain about new competitor “Maria” in a Sound of Music song.
Throughout the story Mae West movie quips, done by all cast members in turn, interrupt the action (with a Laugh-In-type point spotlight) and her version of the song All of Me is also included as a solo for “Consuelo”. Early on, “Betty-Sue” is spied on, in her big number Leader of the Pack (Bette Midler), by the two mischievous queens, and later she gets soused to You Don’t Know what Love Is (Patti Page) before having the traumatic experiences of (1) that technical breakdown and (2) getting slain with that knife.
Songs by La Lupe (Fever with “Obvióla”), Elvis Presley (Trouble with “Bernardo”), Marilyn Monroe (Diamonds... with the girls), of course Lou Reed (Walk on the Wild Side with “Macho”, “Chino” and “Tony”) and Peggy Lee (Is That All There Is? with “Anita”) round out the material performed, aside from a seductive “Maria” having duped “Tony” with The Birds and the Bees (Alma Cogan) and Think about It (Lyn Collins).
Sondheim lyrics are re-performed with new meaning when “Maria” feels “pretty and witty and gay” and “hardly can believe I’m real” or an infuriated “Anita” (in a Carol Burnett version) shouts “stick to your own kind!” at her. A meticulously directed reinterpretation of the enchanting Tonight song has “Tony” torn tensely between self-destructive love pangs and ensuing anatomical suspicion, while “Maria” to the audience begins to regret causing so much trouble, just to find employment, and embarks on an exit strategy while fearfully trying to keep “Tony” from screwing it up. When done right, the number has been correctly perceived (for all the comedy in his manuscript) as the climax of a permeating and grave undercurrent of dislike on the part of director Lars Jacob toward a suicidal syndrome in entertainment launched by Romeo and Juliet.
“Obvióla”, decked out like the Queen of the Universe, makes a dramatic physical pass at “Maria” who then finally strips off the girl guise and goes back to being “José Maria”, Shirley Bassey providing the lyric with the drag classic This Is My Life. It is performed here, however, with such increasingly convincing masculinity that the singer’s famous female voice becomes secondary to what the dramatic character is doing. The starring actor then closes his challenging trisexual role with a bit of brother “Bernardo’s” Presley number (as named above) and dons a sequin top hat over jeans and a Puerto Rico t-shirt seen in the Prologue slide show.
One of three to five successive Finale numbers (depending on how you count them) has aspiring soul goddess “Consuelo” in the highest possible beehive hairdo waking all the dead to devise a happy ending. This is done, in what could be considered questionable taste, to a very rousing version of Somewhere from the early 1970s, a live recording in which Diana Ross and the Supremes invoke “Doctor Martin Luther King...” while making large income performing for gamblers at one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas.
Settings and venues
Florida run and tours 1973–1975
The Stonewall of Miami Beach (above) housed Wild Side Story for only one season spanning the winter of 1973–1974. The director had an evening job behind the front desk of the Doral Hotel (Doral-on-the-Ocean) and would hurry down to 22nd Street in time to play “Tony” after midnight.
To take slide pictures for a special introduction to the Dance at the Gym Jacob talked a janitor at Miami Beach High School into admitting the cast to that gymnasium dressed in rented ballet tutus. This took place long enough after regular hours to satisfy the conscientious school employee that no pupils need be unnecessarily alarmed or harmed by these extraordinary personalities flitting about and striking a number of seemingly pertinent poses. Those slides have been used ever since, in every show for 30 years.
Not content to sit on the laurels of a first successful run at a popular club, Jacob planned for his next production to be called 22nd Street, but the Stonewall burned to the ground in the spring of 1974. The disaster allowed for no time to take advantage of major publicity from just a few weeks before. Two cast members had been featured in Miami Magazine’s new cover story by Ella Smilkstein called Bring Back the Girls. Benny Garcia and Tony Del Valle had done themselves up so convincingly and attractively that the staid general-reader publication didn't seem to realize it was using young men as models for an article than began “Believe it or not, there are still some real men around who appreciate real women...”.
Jacob had a limited hiatus in Ft. Lauderdale doing a small part (his restored 1950 Cadillac also had a part) on the set of Dustin Hoffman’s movie Lenny, then went up to see family in St. Petersburg and on to Tampa. There he first met Steve Vigil (a lot more of whom below) while visiting a small disco to book a tour for his Miami Beach troupe.
Getting his unruly cast aboard a cheap Air Florida flight was a major challenge, but the one night booking in Tampa at the Carousel Lounge on April 28, 1974, was one of the show’s biggest hits so far. Roxanne Russell had a concert booked at another club in town and changed the hour so that the two shows wouldn’t compete, leading to a head-of-state level summit of the stars, or so it seemed to some present, afterwards at an all night Denny's.
The owner of competing Rene’s Lounge came and said it was “an unbelievable, fantastic show” and a weighty visiting show director, Miss Pauline of the Palace in Orlando, had “never seen a show of this kind so professional or with so much hard work”.
Back in Miami Beach, in the Persian Room of the Marco Polo Hotel on August 4 a promotional appearance was done by a temporarily enlarged cast which had been signed to provide the entertainment segment in a glamorous pageant called Miss David.
A week later, a quick tour to the mainland took place when the Climax at 12001 N.W. 27th Ave. in Miami hosted Wild Side Story for one special evening, August 11, 1974. That date had several firsts. It was the first time any effort was spent on an organized décor, which consisted of rolls of tin foil, trash cans, big dead plants, coconuts and ostrich plume palm trees. It was the first time the show was photographed professionally, and it was the first time ticket sales generated enough cash that the counting and distribution of it was worth remembering.
Ten days after the Climax, Jacob flew to Stockholm, Sweden, with a lady friend visiting from there (see below), and took a job on the graveyard shift at the Sheraton Hotel in the Swedish capital. Serious plans developed for a European tour for his Floridian cast, with preliminary agreements done after he visited the (new) Alcazar and Cabaret Sexy in Paris, the Lido and D.O.K. clubs in Amsterdam, Bonaparte in Copenhagen and Alexandra’s leading nightclub in Stockholm. He had a meeting in England with double-gender-act music hall legend Danny La Rue, then appearing at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London, and was encouraged and given the names of contact persons there. It was considered sad after a few months when it turned out that leading cast members wouldn’t be readmitted to the United States if they left there on refugee status. The overseas tour idea had to be scrapped.
For Hallowe’en, terribly bad news arrived in Stockholm from Florida when it was learned that Jessica Kilo had died in a mysterious fire.
In February 1975, the director returned to Florida and arranged a one night Wild Side Story event at a little restaurant, the Dinghy, behind Miami Beach Library (where it was then). Larry Boxx had a new club called the Hayloft at 37th and Bird Road, Miami, where an attempt also was made to start up the show, but the cast had drifted apart and it was no longer possible to get a full ensemble together for such a project. The new opening planned for March 5 had to be cancelled. One special showing was accomplished on March 16 at the popular Keith’s Cruise Room (so it was called) further north in Hallandale, Florida.
Thus the show’s Florida history ended. Jacob stopped briefly in Miami on his way to California the following year and caught an Easter show at Keith’s starring Russell, but that was it. Russell, Del Valle and Ms Filthy later saw him in Los Angeles. Benny Garcia, who went all the way and legally became Jennifer Garcia and then moved all the way out west, eventually joined the Los Angeles cast (see below). Del Rio and Del Monte were still friends with Jacob in 2007, visited in recent years. Practically all the others have died.
First Stockholm production 1976
Already in 1971 Lars Jacob had worked as a substitute DJ for his distant cousin Alexandra Charles (née Gefvert) who since 1968 co-owed and hosted the first “modern” nightclub in the Swedish capital. Her club had a large and influential membership clientele.
When Jacob was in town in 1974 (as noted above) he and Alexandra, both descending from a 16th-century Walloon-Swedish master smith, had hammered out tentative plans to try to move Cuban-American talents across the Atlantic. He had then arrived from Florida traveling with the Stockholm club’s receptionist Jill Wernström, who informed her bosses of her good impression of the Wild Side Story cast she had seen perform at the Marco Polo gala in Miami Beach. She was especially a fan of Benny Garcia.
The table had thus been set for collaboration in 1975. It helped also that Steve Vigil, who after they met had moved from Tampa to Miami Beach and became Jacob’s best friend, knew the show well by now and was his airplane companion to Sweden this time. They had spent some months in New York City before Jacob returned to his night job at the Sheraton-Stockholm, and Vigil came along to Europe for the first time since childhood years in Germany.
Charles and her American business partner Tom Macksey were trying to compete with a popular cabaret in town that was stealing some of their business. Attempts at putting on shows at “Alexandra’s” had not done well, and now she and Macksey enlisted Jacob's help. He wrote a show called Alexandra’s Eccentric Cabaret, AlexCab for short, which opened with good reviews in September, largely due to Jacob’s unusual Swedish lyrics to famous American songs and to the musical genius of band leader Anders Eljas of ABBA notoriety, who debuted here. The cast consisted of several friends of the director’s from the early 70’s – most of them quit the competing show to come to work for him – and of Vigil who was billed for small parts but became an overnight star doing sensational parodies of American drag numbers he had seen in Florida.
Vigil was first noticed by these audiences in a lengthy silent movie spoof, run as a number in the show to piano music by Eljas. In it he played an Arabian sheikh whose briefcase gets swiped at the Sheraton (which kindly sponsored the film), then the sheikh was noticed sitting up front in the audience, and then Vigil walked out in a noticeable huff as the little screening ended.
When he started doing more, in his own solos, Charles said she had only heard her audience scream for joy like that once before (when Björn Skifs had appeared there with a song he had topping U.S. charts). Photographer Kary H Lasch of world renown, along with other Swedish celebrities, insisted on meeting Vigil as soon as they saw him perform – “how does he do what he does with his lips?”. Lasch did him a special honor in taking free pictures of him as the irate Saudi-Arabian.
Macksey and a business associate David Gilvar predicted that drag, which was virtually unknown there, would become a huge phenomenon in Swedish entertainment. Meanwhile Jacob was getting less happy with his ensemble. He claimed they mostly wanted to act serene and glamorous rather than decadent and wild as agreed and rehearsed, so it didn’t take much to talk him into cutting Alexandra’s expenses by closing AlexCab.
Charles, socially the most powerful person in Sweden, started pulling some strings and by the time the maximally trendy Gul & Blå clothiers had offered her to do up a whole Wild Side Story wardrobe for the publicity, and to sell tickets in their shops, Jacob already had his new cast. He used two AlexCab performers for "Anita" and "Bernardo", a young Ethiopian immigrant as "Macho" and a good-looking blond hotel colleague at the Sheraton for "Chino".
Vigil’s willingness and ability to play the difficult starring role was essential to any plans for success, and Maria Knutsson took extra care to try to conceal his muscular biceps and tattoo when creating her namesake's familiar white chiffon dress. Somewhere she also found big enough ladies' platform shoes. There was a place for them.
The show opened on January 5, 1976, after an intense and expensive ad campaign that quoted the anticipatory comments of over 20 famous people. New slides and 8mm film had been taken for the show's interludes and some rerecording done on the soundtrack (the Presley number was added here).
Beautiful model Ulla Jones for “Betty-Sue” was the only cast member of international renown at the time. Though she and Vigil got good personal reviews, this has been her only known acting assignment to date. Finding actors in Sweden at that time to play Puerto-Rican-New-York drag queens was almost impossible. There were no Puerto Ricans, no New Yorkers and no drag queens. Two hairdressers from Björn Axén (who coiffed the Swedish princesses) got in trouble by selling good wigs to the show too cheap. They were given a chance at these parts, but it wasn’t until Jacob’s notoriously witty friend Roger Jönsson brought Christer Lindarw in that those two could be cast as “Consuelo” and “Obvióla”. Both were new to professional stage performance, both immediately impressive, as noted with a colorful expletive by Californian production assistant Rosalie De La Torre.
Mixed reviews of the show itself revealed that the Stockholm press was unable to form any consistent opinion of a piece that was mostly meant as a parody of things that in themselves were unknown there. The daily newspapers were so careful to be non-committal that their approach seemed comical, meting out little doses of praise and alienation in the same articles. One popular magazine went all out to smear the show as roundly as possible, even complaining about Vigil’s "hairy soccer-player legs". Another one called it the “best show in town” and gave Lindarw special mention, with skillful insight of what was to come for him (see below). More celebrities crashed the dressing rooms after curtain fall.
The serious problem was that only three days after the premiere “Bernardo” dropped out, without an understudy, citing a documented back pain. Rumor had it that his mother and he were afraid he might ruin his reputation in such a controversial show. The facts that he had been all right in AlexCab and that he participated months and years later in much worse (if one will), tend to refute this. Lars Jacob had looked forward to just directing the show this time, but had to play “Tony” again when the actor chosen was injured in a sporting accident a few weeks into rehearsals. To keep the run going he now played half of “Bernardo” in the same shows, while an extra marked the part when both characters had to appear on stage simultaneously.
Alexandra’s closed Wild Side Story after four weeks but didn’t want to give up on the concept, so Jacob agreed to direct a little Monday Night Drag Show just with Jönsson and Lindarw and one more new performer. As predicted this was enormously successful and the new trio laid the foundation there and then for over 30 years that were to follow of popular entertainment and fame with their subsequent After Dark group, including royal command performances. It became an honor in Sweden for anyone to have had anything to do with bringing them together.
A one night Wild Side Story for a younger audience was given at the Phonograph disco near Alexandra’s on January 31 and then Vigil, who long had been homesick, went back to the States and settled in California. He was soon joined there by Jacob and their friend Garcia from Miami.
California performances 1977–1980
Strict rules for employment at The Hotel (as it is generally called in its home town) naturally prevented a conflict of interest where people behind the front desk might have been tempted to promote their own show business agendas with the famous and powerful guests.
Nevertheless by the month of May, the basic plot of Wild Side Story had been registered with the Writers Guild of America West and Jacob and Richard M. Mersky, a hotel colleague, registered a California company called Mimical Productions to put the show on somewhere in the area. Mersky was General Manager and Executive Producer, Jacob Creative Director. It was to be their hobby project in spare time, but soon looked professional enough that auditions could be held at the Beverly Hilton.
These well executed auditions didn’t lead to much, and from now on the director began to cast mostly from disco dance floors; among young people seen working responsibly at fast food restaurants and the like; attending relevant schools and on the street. Over half the cast members in his shows, of those commendable for talent as well as essential reliability, have been found in this way since then.
Filthy, the young woman mentioned above (“Betty-Sue” in Florida), arrived to a hearty welcome, which turned to frustration when Jacob and others felt she disrupted rehearsals and caused tension, preventing her from continuing. It was on a much brighter note that Vigil was eager to play super-tough “Bernardo” this time around, even better than he had done the starring role in Sweden. He stayed with the part throughout all the California shows.
A complete rerecording and technical improvement of the soundtrack was accomplished at Kitchen Sync Studio on Sunset Boulevard after mint condition albums, with most songs, had been found at some of the many fine used record shops in Los Angeles. The material was the same, but a new narration was added, which came in every other number or so to clarify the plot. Only a slightly scratched album could be found with the Page song, so a few talented actresses have later added the scratches to the drunk act with little fingernail pantomime gestures. It turned out that a Cogan record was impossible to find in California, so Jacob asked British hotel guest Adam Faith his opinion on the likelihood of getting it at all. In a very kind gesture Faith had a contact dig her 1960’s tapes out of a vault when he got back to London, made a disc and sent it to Mimical Productions with best wishes.
Another potential problem was good advice from initiated experts to clear the use of Mae West's material before doing the show in her own home town, where at the time she was alive and well at 83 – in fact heavily involved in the making of her last movie. The show’s original subtitle from Florida, (Mae?) West Side Story, was changed to A Mimical Lampoon, and a Wild Side Story script was sent to her lawyer Harry E. Weiss. After a few nervous days, the new production was relieved to be granted permission. Relief was also the sentiment, along with heightening excitement, when the whole Stockholm wardrobe arrived safely in boxes by surface mail (i.e. by boat through the Panama Canal) and began to be adjusted for the coming cast. A letter of donation and good luck from Gul & Blå also came in to dispel nasty rumors in Stockholm that Jacob had absconded with it, which had reached ears in California.
As Max von Sydow agreed and expounded on, when Jacob eventually directed him in English and befriended him, some Swedes are not pleased when other Swedes do well abroad. The phenomenon has been known by the entire population as an accepted national trait called the “Royal Swedish Envy” and the “Jante Law” and often joked about gleefully (perhaps too much so). Talented people from Sweden often publicly have to badmouth their own international achievements and especially the places where they achieve them, in order to blend in comfortably when they get home. This seems to be changing with a more internationalized generation, born in the 1990s, beginning to come into its own.
Wild Side Story for California, nonetheless, was organized by September 1977, successfully rehearsed and a trial performance given and photographed at a small bar called Matlos Flama Latina, with a big stage, on Western Avenue just below Hollywood Boulevard. November 30, 1977, marked this first Los Angeles showing. The good-humored young actor cast as “Consuelo” had forgotten to come, so this first show – his last – could only be accomplished after a frantic search using several cars scoured Santa Monica Boulevard bars, managed to find him cheerfully partying and rushed him into heavy makeup. He was replaced by Eddy Hampton Armani, later an unauthorized biographer of Tina Turner, who remained "Consuelo" until 1980 (Eddy, not Tina).
New slides and films were taken all over the area. For a clearer introduction to the story from now on, a series of slides to the first few minutes of music functioned as a Prologue, showing "José Maria" in Puerto Rico (actually Santa Monica), how and where he got the idea to try transvestism, kiss his girlfriend good-bye and arrive in New York. To get “Maria” photos aboard a plane (actually Pacific Southwest Airlines) Jacob and Eddie Valdez bought two tickets to San Diego and then got off with a poor-or-less excuse in the last minute. It brought back memories to the director of the “good old underground days” of Miami Beach.
A complicated and artistic lighting scheme put together in Sweden by Ulf Nilsson was able to be used well when Nilsson himself arrived from Stockholm to take command of it. Even one Alexandra’s disc jockey, who had engineered the sound there, came over and tended the equipment for some of the shows. These blond Nordic assistants were considered a spice on the mainly Mexican-American team. Another blond was the new “Tony”, a struggling young actor from Idaho whose voice was more suited to doing the live song as a monologue, rather than singing it.
Somehow, to keep people involved, Mimical Productions managed to get a considerable number of tickets for the spectacular Cinerama Dome opening of Sextette on March 2, 1978, and took pictures on the red carpet of its own people. Then everyone went inside to watch the controversial picture and see Miss West herself thank the audience from stage for coming to her “little piece of educational entertainment”. Years later, when Jacob read a book on the great diva, he pondered in vain if his group and their relatives were included in the “crowd from Cucamonga” outside the theatre that one Hollywood expert had complained about, not content with only mentioning all the big names in attendance.
After a long period of scouting for a good venue for a Los Angeles run and for the best possible cast to run with it, Wild Side Story was ready to go and was video taped March 25, 1979, at the Plaza neighboring Pinks Hot Dogs and opened there on May 1. The little restaurant had never had a “production show” of this kind before. When after a summer recess it reopened there in the fall (September 25), word of mouth and a few carefully placed invitations began to bear fruit as celebrities like Lehman Engel and Boz Scaggs arrived at the Plaza to see the piece and were seen enjoying it. The place reminded Vigil, Jacob and Jennifer Garcia from Miami (now playing “Anita”) of the original underground atmosphere from five years before. Michael Kearns wrote a very helpful review intelligibly grasping what it was, in some detail, and calling the show “the most unusual thing you’ve ever seen”.
Mae West herself had a reservation for two one evening and a throne chair was installed for her, but her old Cadillac was seen to pull up and leave. Mersky had left a limousine he was driving professionally in the only spot right out front, so there was nowhere acceptable for an 84-year-old Queen of Hollywood to alight from hers.
A number of successful performances were also given that fall at Osko’s disco, 33 S. La Cienega, where for each event a theatre was created and disassembled in minutes, out of part of the big room, by the use of bales of black material and a staple gun.
Colleen M. Ryan and Ritch M. Esra, two hotel colleagues of Jacob’s, played essential parts behind the scenes as Stage Manager and Assistant Director, vital in keeping the ensemble together and happy for so long despite low income, as usual, from these shows. A canvas tote bag (matching those the cast had), in which Esra kept his tools and accessories, i.e. the Administrative Items, was nicknamed “Minnie” (as opposed to bags “Maria” or “Anita” etc.) and was part of backstage lingo until 2004. Since it quite visibly was a Playgirl promotional item, and was heavy, a number of the gentlemen (?) have tried to avoid carrying it, in and out of storage and back and forth to nightclubs over the years.
The Wild Side Story experience in Los Angeles came to an end when Lars Jacob had to make a choice between careers early in 1980. The Beverly Hills Hotel promoted him to Front Desk Manager and Assistant Manager making it impossible to continue to have such a time-and-effort-consuming hobby. He explained that since the hotel business had been good to him for so many years already, and had financed the fun he and all the others had, that was what he chose.
Stockholm revival 1997–1999
An ambitious Mae West Centenary celebration was the first step toward bringing Wild Side Story back in Sweden in 1997. Director Lars Jacob had returned to Stockholm and wrote a stage show for 28 performers, based on 20 of the humorous songs West had specially made for herself and never let anyone else do, and he got permission from The Roger Richman Agency and a host of publishers to use the material. After a considerable amount of publicity in press, radio and TV, the effort was limited to a formal white tie dinner at Berns honoring West’s memory on the date itself, August 17, 1993. Among those attending the celebrations were Christina Schollin, Camilla Henemark, Johanna Lind, Jan Hilary and Chesty Morgan (band), plus above mentioned Alexandra Charles and Christer Lindarw.
Jacob’s somewhat reluctant re-entry into Swedish entertainment, and an After Dark (see above) twenty-year commemoration early in 1996 once again set the public relations stage. Lindarw was now a very big star in Sweden and curiosity in the media about his debut show enabled casting and production for a new showing of Wild Side Story to begin, without any major change to it from what had closed at the Plaza in 1980. The Knutsson wardrobe was (and is) still intact, continually and religiously mended as exact as possible. New interlude film was taken, and the show's subtitle was adjusted again to A Mimical Humoresque.
A “Tony” considered so good-looking that he was called Magnus the Beautiful even by his high school teachers was discovered working at a local 7-Eleven on the Southern Isle Södermalm. An enthusiastic Swedish soldier temporarily drafted for service in the northern Northlands (Norrland) began studying “Bernardo” between wintry military exercises. Most of the rest of casting was done off the dance floor of a popular salsothèque run by Cuban-Swedes, and it was there at La Isla, underground by a subway station, that the show opened for a successful one-night showing on Easter Eve, March 30, 1997. An independent Lars Jacob Productions thus reinvented itself after 21 years.
Word of mouth reached the ears of Italian-Swedish artist and nightclub owner Lino Ajello. After a preview at his eccentrically decorated Camarillo comedy club in May, he signed up to run Wild Side Story in a dinner theater setting every night, all summer from the 4th of July, when the show opened at his place. It did run for over 60 shows and closed in September, never canceling once, thanks to the contracting this time of understudies and to the fact that Jacob himself was willing to jump in eight times playing everything from “Bernardo” (or his father) to “Obvióla” (¿o su abuelita?).
In spite of good performances, excellent press and program folders and posters paid for by Stockholm tourism authorities, the location of the club in a northeastern corner of town, far from most hotels, made it difficult to draw the intended tourist crowd as a mainstay for financial success. A group of regular fans developed in the audience however, and they and others can be heard howling, clapping and enjoying themselves, in sort of a Rocky Horror Picture Show style, in video recordings made of whole shows, twice in July and five times in August.
A number of hotel managers wrote letters of appreciation on behalf of staff members comped in to see the show and later on behalf of guests who praised it to hotel employees. As the only show in English ever to run in Stockholm, Wild Side Story has been appreciated particularly by the city’s international community and tourist trade and has been able to run in the summer, when many other theaters and other entertainment establishments traditionally scale down or even close up for vacations. During this first Camarillo run in 1997, Radio Sweden sent Kathy Riley to review the piece for her program in English and a Swedish radio show also did a segment about it. Riley called Wild Side Story “a hilarious parody, an inspiring show of ingenuity, an alternative hysterical”.
A cast of the show also appeared on television for the first time when Gert Fylking for a local station interviewed Lars Jacob about its origins and features, taped live at a popular waterfront nightclub in the Old Town (more of which below), and the interview was followed by the hippie-hypocrisy-revival closing number noted above under Storyline. “Consuelo’s” central figure (mouthing Diana Ross) was played here and all year by tall and muscular Colombian-Swede Miguel Bonett who later was to become a powerful doorman at Berns and win a world championship at Counter Strike. In 2008 he appeared as a Burger King spokesman in a series of television commercials. Fashion model Jimmie Kersmo, Mr. Sweden of 2004 (Sveriges man) played "Bernardo" once in 1998 and then teamed up with Bonett to do "Obvióla".
On January 5, 1998, a performance was given for a large young party crowd at the Penny Lane under the elegant Stockholm Plaza Hotel (where Alexandra Charles had closed her last club ten years earlier). The only potentially disastrous thing that happened was that someone had put a sex tape in the production’s video projector, which luckily was discovered during dress (?) rehearsal so the audience got the normal comedy interlude sequences once watching the show.
For the rest of 1998 and also once in 1999 serious efforts were undertaken to make proper video recordings with professional equipment for television in closed tapings, one of which was done at an unusual showboat Dixie Queen moored at Strandvägen. A TV taping in front of a live audience was done on May 31, 1998, on the main stage at classic Mosebacke Etablissement.
On July 18, 1998, British-Swedish hotel owner Agnes Källström and Jacob founded the F.U.S.I.A. non-profit organization, with Källström as Chairman, to continue producing English-language entertainment with young Swedish performers mainly aimed at foreigners visiting or residing in Stockholm. The organization turned into a kind of cabaret school, with youths 16–25 years old totaling in the hundreds, and some of their parents, constructively involved over the next number of years. It won an award as a youth project and was in business until 2005 (see below).
F.U.S.I.A. premiered its Wild Side Story at the Regina Theater on Queen Street Drottninggatan on August 17, a date the group has called Mae West Day and celebrated every year. Subsequent performances were in the Manhattan Room of the Stockholm World Trade Center on November 17, 1998, and two days later at Frans Schartau Junior College, where three of the cast members were at school. Their 700-seat auditorium drew the largest crowd ever to see this show, and it was followed here by a discussion of topics addressed in the plot and a thank-you speech by the college principal.
Special Wild Side Story happenings of note also took place at Stockholm’s prestigious Café Opera on Hallowe’en, 1998, with Malin Sundström (later of Caramell) in the pumpkin procession, and again at a building party at F.U.S.I.A. headquarters on June 6, 1999.
Spain tour and television 2000
Flying cast members in from Barcelona and Stockholm, the F.U.S.I.A. cabaret school produced a Grand Canary showing presented on April 10, 2000, at that island’s largest luxury resort, the Anfi del Mar in the village of Arguineguin.
Their director was already on location when the old Gul & Blå wardrobe and other props were packed in 16 banana boxes and taken by 8 cast members as luggage on a long charter flight to the island group belonging to Spain, off the west coast of Africa. Miraculously, when the show’s property was inventoried after their return to Stockholm, not a single item was missing.
The cast enjoyed a desert island holiday and took pictures appropriate to their show plot at Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria village, expressing hopes someday to be able also to visit the real thing (the other island) in the Caribbean.
A widely read area newspaper in English published an article that helped establish the reputation of Wild Side Story there. It mentioned F.U.S.I.A. Board Director Jens O.Z. Ehrs who now was in charge in Stockholm, had managed to arrange the tour from that end and helped the players get organized for departure.
The same article also featured some of the young performers, such as Ivan Oljelund II and Johanna Mork. Parts “Tony” and “Betty-Sue” had reached new heights of refinement and hilarity through the intuitive and extraordinary comedic talents of these two, whose videotaped performances were emulated by other interpreters in subsequent casts. (Jacob said he could start taking it easier in training newcomers as long as he had video like that on file.) Another reporter reviewed the show as "polished, professional, good-looking cast, innovative". Mork had already gotten into Stockholm’s respected Balettakademien theatrical school using her “Betty-Sue” act for the final tryout. Oljelund went on to a drama school in Norrköping.
Before the latter left the cast, however, the time had come for the first and only major exposure of Wild Side Story on television, which took place in June 2000. Model Olivia Laide Rieke, Miss Stockholm of 1999, joined the cast for the time being as "Anita".
Strix Television was producing episodes of a reality show called The Bar (Baren) that were being taped at a Kinnevik-owned brewery-restaurant in the Stockholm Old Town, on a Riddarfjärden wharf, and broadcast on TV3. The very popular program was about a competition of amateurs from various parts of the country running a nightclub in the big city. Former disco owner Peter Dunk Gästerfelt, for whom Jacob had worked as early as 1968, suggested that some F.U.S.I.A. entertainment would liven things up, and now Spanish-tour cast member Daniel Linder was also employed at the place as a waiter.
Thus five segments were contracted, taped and aired showing the cast and crew of Wild Side Story setting up, rehearsing, negotiating with competing restaurant managers and performing the show one night for a general audience. F.U.S.I.A. was pleased that the segments were edited to show the quality of the production work it was doing with local youths, and the director laughed himself half sick watching one of his temper tantrums on Swedish national television.
A Southern Isle newspaper, under a Greta Garbo caricature logotype (she was born nearby), published a comprehensive and entertaining advance article about the show and group. With Wild Side Story called a "cult show" there for the first time, the review helped fill the brewery for the special event when the whole show was performed there on June 25, 2000.
At the request of another cast member, a number of performances were also given in August at the Rosenlund Theater of Stockholm with ticket sales handled (poorly as documented) by the Stockholm Pride festival going on in Tantolunden park close by.
Additional showings 2002–2004 and later
Chairman Källström had resigned and moved to Spain, which left F.U.S.I.A. increasingly disorganized at the top, a condition that eventually infested the organization with little demons of disaster and was fatal to it by early 2005. Financing was a constant problem.
In the meantime, however, under Chairman Ing-Rid Gunnarsson, some advances were made toward a primary goal of running a regular nightly summer show in English in a good location downtown Stockholm, in cooperation with the city’s major hotels and tourist trade in general.
In April 2002 a written deal was struck with a restaurant in the Gallerian mall near the main tourist information center at Sweden House, an ideal venue. After some video taping had been done on location the arrangement was abruptly cancelled for reasons unknown. It seemed to F.U.S.I.A. that there was disagreement among the owners of the place about the type of show they wanted there, and it was also suspected that a girlfriend of one of the partners didn’t understand or care for the concept of lip-synching, even in a parody format. Such problems with bar owners in Sweden, infighting and flippant attitudes toward deals made, even signed, were nothing new to these show people.
Since 1998, the West show material mentioned above under Stockholm Revival had been organized into cabaret-style acts featuring many young people in the ever-growing membership of F.U.S.I.A.. All-time Wild Side Story veteran cast member H. Magnus Olsson, the soldier mentioned above under Stockholm Revival, was appointed Captain of the Cast for both acts. He was now joined by an even earlier veteran Agneta Lindén, “Anita” of the 1976 Swedish cast, who began to play “Aunt Paro-Diva” in these newly invented Westites-Maeniacs shows.
After a dark year for Wild Side Story in 2001, cast replacements were accomplished through posters put up at relevant area schools. F.U.S.I.A. was joined from the Rytmus Music School by Mohombi Moupondo and Patrik Hont. The former went on with his Group Avalon to win “Best Europe African Diaspora” in the Kora Awards of 2003 and to international fame in 2010. Hont is mentioned in a photo caption above under Story Line. Both boys were 17 so parental approval in writing was required for them to be able to join. In 2009 Hont attends Teaterhögskolan.
Henrik Bergström joined from Kulturama. Bergström is mentioned above with Hont in the same photo caption and has since graduated Teaterhögskolan at the University of Gothenburg. He was seconded as "Tony" by Chris Ajaxon from a local band called Tessla. Other young people joined from the drama classes at Södra Latin high school near F.U.S.I.A. headquarters on the Southern Isle. Of them Helena Mattsson, also 17 when she joined, has achieved international fame, according to her own account because the work she did in English at F.U.S.I.A. gave her the courage to attend casting calls in London.
ABF Arbetarnas bildningsförbund provided some small financial relief by subsidizing the show group’s activities when they could be organized into documented study circles. Rehearsals were also able to be conducted at ABF. Two Wild Side Story preview performances with nearly new casts were given at the Zeta theater of ABF headquarters on April 5 and April 12, 2002. Two parallel casts had been fully trained so there would be dependable reserves in all the shifts required for a good summer run. Some of the show’s numbers were also played in August 2002 at Gunnarsson’s 50th birthday party, and again in December at a large private party at the Elverket hall in suburban Lidingö.
Trying in vain to get sponsorship and battling creative inertia in Stockholm stood in the way of progress just about as much in 2002 as when Lars Jacob expounded on the subjects in a major article for a cultural employment magazine 8 years earlier. But in 2003 the Stockholm Visitors Board tourism authority, under the City of Stockholm, decided to spring for expensive color brochures and posters for a new summer showing of Wild Side Story to take place at last in an excellent location on King’s Street Kungsgatan (Stockholm). The poster was designed by Assistant Producer Sami Josefsson.
F.U.S.I.A. had invented its own club name Wild Side International Show Lounge with a new logotype by 17-year-old member and lighting assistant Nicklas Rydberg. It opened its dinner theater at the King's Street location in July, doing two shows a night, and gave 45 performances there that summer. One afternoon a gutsy cast with a ghetto blaster did the whole show in front of the club on Hötorget square, proving once and for all the quality of the entertainment, some said, by the fact that hundreds of passers by stopped and about 50 stood there for the full hour.
August 8, 2003, marked 30 years to the day since Wild Side Story first opened in Miami Beach. A special anniversary showing was given to mark the date at Bistro Heaven in Adam & Eve Mall, once again on Queen Street. Josefsson did his only show playing “Bernardo” on that occasion and it has since been lamented that he has not done more on stage (he is a certified construction engineer today).
On September 14, there were sentimental moments at F.U.S.I.A. headquarters. It was the first birth date of Steve Vigil's (see above) since it had become known in Sweden the winter before that he had died in 1997. Cast members Lindarw and Lindén of 1976 joined Jacob for a special remembrance. It was also attended by young Hont, who now was playing the starring role to the hilt. Those who knew Vigil found Hont’s face amazingly similar (though finding him generally of a smilier disposition than Vigil was).
The “Wild Side Lounge” phenomenon opened again in June 2004 in a subterranean locale also centrally located near the Stockholm Concert Hall of Nobel Prize notoriety. Here “Anita” was played intermittently by Oksana Maria Lorczak, who won the Miss Stockholm crown in the Miss Earth Sweden pageant of 2004. Playing “Obvióla”, once he mended a shoulder dislocated during dress rehearsal, was Prince Mahanandan Tyagi, an Indian-Swedish tennis champion. Over 20 performances of Wild Side Story were given in the location before it had to close due to ventilation permit problems of which F.U.S.I.A. management had not been advised when their contract was signed.
In special review wording of its own in 2003, the Visitor’s Board's magazine, given out to guests at each of Stockholm County’s over 200 hotels, called the piece “a wonderful evening of singing, dancing and music in a fast-paced parody”, and again in 2004 “laughter, fun, pantomime, dancing and music, Wild Side story pokes fun at the foibles of human behavior and much more...”.
Finding out that F.U.S.I.A. was more of an international group than many others, ABF requested an ethnic membership list and made an additional grant for multicultural activity. Compiling the list in 2004, F.U.S.I.A. realized that among the young people involved in its entertainment and training since 1998, besides all-Swedish roots of some, one or both parents of the rest had been from Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Macedonia, Greece, the Ukraine, Turkey & Kurdistan, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, Australia, Morocco, Liberia, the Gambia, Togo, Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Congo (both), Angola, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Malaysia or Korea.
On October 30, 2004, “Wild Side” had built its own stage in another underground room at Götgatan 101 on central Stockholm’s most southerly outskirt. It was there and on that date that F.U.S.I.A. gave the very last performance of Wild Side Story as a Hallowe’en treat, before the organization was disbanded in March 2005. Things had come full circle, southerly to southerly, underground to underground, also when Agnes Källström returned as Honorary Chairman to give a little welcome prestige to a properly conducted end of business.
This, a large number of fine-tuned performances by exceptionally talented youths of future note and generous municipal backing by the City of Stockholm, closed out the main Wild Side Story story with dignity. H. Magnus Olsson had played “Bernardo” for the 200th time since 1997.
He and Jens O. Z. Ehrs were vital along with Jacob to the functioning of their organization from 1997 till the end in 2005. Some membership was taken up into a new and smaller group of players, CabarEng, chaired by Emil Eikner, a Swedish chess champion, chef and singer. Eikner agreed to maintain the F.U.S.I.A. files till 2015 and also played "Tony" in the 2013 40th anniversary revival (see below).
Several numbers from Wild Side Story have been featured in the cabaret show CaCa Bleu in Stockholm 2009-2011 and in Cabaret Large A-Cup as performed by CabarEng's ensemble in New York City, Washington DC and Annapolis in September–October 2011, as well as in ÄngelCab at Michelangelo in the Stockholm Old Town in 2013. Two 40th anniversary performances were given with a young ensemble in August of 2013 at that venue.
- Lars Jacob Prod. (Stockholm), extensive references (see Lars Jacob), documentation, photography, film, audio and video on file, and available to the public for third party review, re: all details of manuscript, production, performances, venues, audiences, cast and crew, celebrities encountered and various adventures
- Eva Norlén (July 21, 1997) "Åtta handplockade artister lovar en helvild kväll" Aftonbladet p 37 [from article:] "Lars Jacob huserade på legendariska Alexandra på 70-talet med storslagna shower. Han började 1973 i Miami Beach och jobbade med kubanska flyktingar, satte upp shower här 1976, fortsatte sedan i Los Angeles tills han började sitt jobb med chefsposition på Beverly Hills Hotel (Lars Jacob was housed with his grand scale shows at legendary Alexandra in the 70's. He began in 1973 in Miami Beach and worked with Cuban refugees, put shows on here in 1976, then continued in Los Angeles until he began working in an executive position at The Beverly Hills Hotel)"
- Michael Kearns (November 30, 1979) "When told 'this is going to be the most unusual thing you've ever seen,' I wanted to respond 'You don't know what I've seen!' However after seventy-five outlandish minutes of Wild Side Story, I concede. ... this new wave production is attracting a cult following including celebrities too numerous to mention." San Diego Update (California), L.A. Life section p 13
- Island Connections (Los Cristianos), April 7, 2000 p 2 "Lars [Jacob's] background is show business and hotels. With a theatrical career spanning nearly three decades and connections with stars like Londoner Danny La Rue and actor Max von Sydow."
- Nichols, Jack (May 19, 1997). "Logan Carter Remembered". Gay Today. Archived from the original on 2008-11-26.
- Carter/Russell appears in this photo as a member of the early cast Commons:File:West Side Tuna Cast.jpg and on stage in the show at Commons:File:Roxanne Russell in WST.jpg
- Boxx managed the New York City club during the Stonewall riots of 1969
- these quotes certified in Lars Jacob Prod. publicity files
- Data Boy (Los Angeles) October 26, 1979 p 76.
- Miami Magazine 24:14 February 1974 front & p. 2, 41 & 42
- nightclub on Swedish Wikipedia
- Steve Vigil on Swedish Wikipedia
- MånadsJournalen magazine, April issue 1996 p. 10
- Sten Hedman in Damernas Värld January 14, 1976 p. 10
- La Dolce Vita by Kalle Westerling, Normal, Stockholm, 2006
- Anders Zorn, Anders Hanser Television, Stockholm, 1995, video on file
- Americans should only know...
- Mae West a Biography, Eells & Musgrove, William Morrow, New York, 1982 p 304
- San Diego Update, L.A. Life (entertainment section), November 30, 1979 p 13
- Dagens Nyheter, August 18, 1993 p 1 & B3
- Jahn, Titti Hänt i Veckan (Stockholm) September 9, 1993 p22
- Eva Norlén (July 21, 1997). "Åtta handplockade artister lovar en helvild kväll". Aftonbladet (in Swedish) (Stockholm). p. 37.
- Stockholm International July 16, 1997
- Radio Stockholm July 28, 1997
- Öppna Kanalen July 22, 1997
- Skandia’s "Ideas for Life" stipend 2001–2002 for Läckerhetsvakten
- Island Connections (Los Cristianos), April 7, 2000 p 2
- Hazel Jolly of the Island Sun (Maspalomas)
- Tidningen Södermalm, “Nöjesrepubliken” section, June 24, 2000 p 22
- Christer Ajaxsson a.k.a. Chris the Improbable (Christer den osannolike)
- interview by Käthie Strandberg in Idéa published by Arbetsförmedlingen Kultur (Stockholm), September issue 1994 p 12-15
- What’s On (Stockholm), issues of July 2003 (p. 16) & July 2004 (p. 12)
- Stockholm City 2010-03-22 p. 2
- Metropolitan Room online
- CabarEng på Facebook
- Marian Vnuk in an article online i NSD 2011-10-03
- Metro Stockholm 2013-02-08 p 18
- Aftonbladet/Nöjesbladet 2013-02-08 p 25
- As per Commons
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