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April 28, 2006


Its about sin, of course


Varla Jean Merman’s new cabaret show leans on the seven deadly ones

“I’m not paying for this!”

Cleveland Public Theater sure hopes patrons of their next production will not run from the building screaming that line. Instead, the folks there hope audiences return for the fifth year in a row to see one of their top sellers, the drag entertainer Varla Jean Merman.

It just so happens that I’m Not Paying for This! is the title of Merman’s new show. The chanteuse and purported love child of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine returns to Cleveland with her latest cabaret show May 4 - 13.

Each time out, Merman--the creation of Jeffery Roberson--waxes autobiographical through song and video, employing props (a hot dog puppet), garish costumes, and double entendres (another one of her shows is called Girl With a Pearl Necklace).

This year’s show focuses on the Seven Deadly Sins. Who better to explore lust, gluttony, greed, envy, sloth, pride and anger?

Audiences are in for a new way to see Merman. Usually performing in the more intimate, second-floor James Levin Theater, Merman will this time perform in the Gordon Square Theater, a vaudeville-era venue next door that Cleveland Public has been slowly renovating. (Fun fact: the 94-year-old building is the oldest standing theater in Cleveland.)

Those who have seen Merman perform know she’s a naughty, adult treat. For those intrigued to see this New Orleans native for the first time, a little background: Merman/Roberson made it a goal early on to work in solo experimental cabaret. She got her start in several Bourbon Street piano bars in shows with titles like Songs My Mother’s Estate Ordered Me Not to Sing, and then gained legitimacy when she was handed the plum role of Laura in a dinner theater production of The Glass Menagerie. She’s gone on to create six solo cabaret shows, starred in the independent film Girls Will Be Girls (for which she won a Best Actor and a Best Actress award at separate film festivals), played Mary Sunshine in the revival of the hit musical Chicago, and played a character with one of the best soap opera names ever on All My Children: “Rosemary Chicken.”

Jeffery/Varla has traveled the world with her cabaret shows, often returning to the gay resort of Provincetown, Mass. to perform. In fact, she will première a new show there this summer.

Before going to New England, Vienna, Toronto and San Francisco, though, Cleveland audiences will get to see the flame-tressed celebutante mix it up. And hopefully they won’t want their money back.

Varla Jean Merman’s I’m Not Paying for This! plays Thursday through Saturday, May 4 to 13, at the Gordon Square Theater, 6409 Detroit Ave. Showtimes are 7:30 pm on Thursdays, 8 pm on Fridays, with 8 and 10 pm shows on Saturdays.

For tickets or more information, call 216-6312727 ext. 501 or go to

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