October has arrived and Halloween season is here in full force, which means I'm spending most of my weekends with ghouls and ghosts. But my first cinematic obsession, before I was old enough to become enthralled with horror films, was the British spy codenamed 007. From incoherently edited ABC broadcasts of Sean Connery's classics through Roger Moore's decline and Timothy Dalton's short-lived run up to Daniel Craig's lackluster latest outing, I've been there for every on-screen James Bond adventure. And what always captured my imagination, just as much as the exotic locales or lethal gadgets, was the music. Whether it's Monty Norman's Indian-inflected surf-rock theme or John Barry's jazzy scores, the Bond franchise's soundtracks are just as iconic as an Aston Martin DB5. So, as much as I enjoy shuffling through haunted houses, it was a relief to spend an evening last week sprawled on a comfy couch in Winter Park Playhouse's cozy parlor for a front-row view of Nobody Does It Better, Janine Klein's killer cabaret tribute to Ian Fleming's ageless secret agent.
Featuring standards like "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever" as well as obscurities like "The Man With the Golden Gun" and "Moonraker," Nobody Does It Better has shaken and stirred 50 years of Bond songs into a deliciously dry cocktail. Klein, who previously appeared on the Playhouse's main stage in Ruthless! and Isn't It Romantic?, is blessed with one of the best torch-song voices in Orlando, and could easily carry off a straitlaced set of Bond's signature bombastic ballads. She certainly looks the part of a Bond bombshell straight out of a silhouetted credit sequence, with a sequined dress and striking hairdo. And with the backing of musical director/pianist Chris Leavy, Klein delivers the goods musically with a diva belt that would make Shirley Bassey blush. Sorry, Carly Simon, but someone does your theme from The Spy Who Loved Me better than half as good as you; and apologies to Adele, but Klein's "Skyfall" makes the ceiling shake. Heck, she even makes Garbage (as in Shirley Manson) sound great.
However, as one of Orlando's smartest comic chanteuses, Klein has more than mere musical tribute in mind. Instead, she uses the cabaret as a chance to poke fun at the occasionally offensive absurdities that lie beneath the surface of these songs, and by implication the Bond films themselves. Much like the feelings around the recently departed Hugh Hefner, it's hard for modern audiences to resolve the contradictions between Bond's sexual progressiveness and retrograde misogyny; Klein responds with ironic facial expressions and tortured phrasings that deflate the derpiness of ditties like "For Your Eyes Only." (I defy anyone to provide a non-creepy interpretation of those lyrics.)
During the between-song banter, which was written with Jeff Jones, Klein tosses out twisted trivia tidbits and loudly declares every film her "faaaaavorite!" She isn't really as ditzy as the dialogue would make you believe, but actually expertly plays an eponymous onstage alter ego. Janine's brassy, bawdy bimbo act owes a debt to Bette Midler, but she has a unique yenta angle on it all her own.
If you missed the only two performances of Nobody Does It Better, you may have to book yourself on a boat to catch it. Klein (who isn't actually much of a Bond fan) created the show at the urging of a cruise line executive, in hopes of landing a gig as on-board entertainment. But before that happens, Janine is bound on a world tour with her friend Joshua Eads – better known as RuPaul's Drag Race star Ginger Minj. They'll perform Eads' acclaimed confessional musical-comedy Crossdresser for Christ at Philadelphia's Ruba Club Nov. 16, Manhattan's Laurie Beechman Theatre Nov. 17-18, and in New Zealand some time in January 2018.
Even more exciting, Eads has secured approval from the estate of Harris Glenn Milstead (aka Divine) to create a show about John Waters' drag-queen muse. Eads and Milstead had "very similar life stories in a way," according to Klein. "Josh and Divine fought the same battle of wanting to finally be able to play men, but needed to give the public what they demanded." Eads is working on the script with Logan Donahoo now, in hopes of premiering it at the 2018 Orlando Fringe. Hopefully their luck with the Festival lottery will be more of an "All Time High" and less "Live and Let Die."