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Jewel Box Revue at 2022 IndyFringe pays homage to drag pioneers

The traveling drag troupe is considered to be one of the earliest LGBTQ+ communities
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Posted at 10:34 AM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 18:47:38-04

INDIANAPOLIS — On a trip to San Francisco in the 1970s, Tom Alvarez saw the traveling drag troupe "Jewel Box Revue" that performed throughout the country from 1939 through the early 70s.

"I was just so taken with the magnificent performances of these female impersonators, (an) accompaniment of 25 men and one woman and the lavishness of their productions, their hair and makeup. I mean, they really created these special illusions of men dressed as women," Alvarez of "Klein & Alvarez Productions" in Indianapolis told WRTV.

The founders of the Jewel Box Revue were Danny Brown and Doc Benner.

It was illegal at the time to cross-dress, and the Jewel Box Revue performed mostly for straight audiences. What had been previously known as a "dirty" thing, Alvarez says, was turned into an art form, for which the couple played a critical part in changing.

Unlike the contemporary drag we know today, in which lip syncing is a vital part of the performance, the actors, singers, and dancers of the Jewel Box Revue performed using their own live vocals.

"They made a strong impression on me," Alvarez said.

"This was considered one of the earliest LGBT communities," he continued. "This was a gay-owned and operated business that did not exploit gay people. So they were really ahead of their time."

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The Jewel Box Revue impacted Alvarez so much he suggested to his business partner, Dustin Klein, that for the 2022 IndyFringe Theatre Festival, they put on a similar drag show.

"It's become mainstream because of RuPaul's Drag Race," Alvarez said. "And we really wanted to take a stab at that drag art form, with live vocals, and sort of emulate what the Jewel Box Revue did."

The 2022 Jewel Box Revue will be Klein and Alvarez's fifth production for the IndyFringe Festival. Their production of the Jewel Box Revue will include four singers and actors who will be impersonating women, two of which are also dancers. Klein and Alvarez also cast an emcee who is a woman playing a man.

"We're doing tribute to the Jewel Box Revue. And, hopefully, we can emulate the beautiful, entertaining, theatrical presentations that they put on," Alvarez said.

VIDEO: Inside the Jewel Box Revue’s World of Drag

Audiences may recognize one of the five-person cast in the debut of Klein and Alvarez's Jewel Box Revue as City-County Councilman Keith Potts.

The District 2 representative's primary profession is as a musical theater performer and educator. Local theatre audiences may have seen Potts in performances at the Actors Theatre of Indiana, The Phoenix Theatre, and the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company.

"An acting job is what brought me to Indianapolis in the first place back in 2013," Potts said. "I'd always been a sort of observer and participant in politics and elections, but I wanted to really get involved. So I started as a community organizer and then decided to jump in and put my name on the ballot as a candidate."

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The "Jewel Box Revue" debuts at the 2022 IndyFringe Theatre Festival.
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As he prepares for his first IndyFringe show amidst budget season, Potts says he's more than glad to have plenty to do.

"It's great to be busy, especially with things that you love. I always say my two sort of missions in life are pursuing justice and spreading joy. And with these two jobs at once, I get to do both of those things," Potts said.

Potts, who plays Miss Pearl, hopes attendees find just as much joy in viewing Klein & Alvarez's Production of the Jewel Box Revue as he has being a part of it.

"I just hope that folks come and they have a good time," Potts said. "We see so much sort of demonization or scapegoating of the queer community so much lately, and I think this show just shows the true beauty and joy and happiness that exists within our community."

Alvarez says any audience member should come prepared to be entertained by some of the best in the city.

"Our performers are just extraordinary talents. I marvel at these characters they've created and the level of their vocal abilities, acting abilities and dancing." Alvarez said. "They're triple threats."

Tickets to see the Jewel Box Revue are $20 for adults and $14 for students. The family-friendly show hits the stage at The District Theatre on Massachusetts Avenue on Thursday, Aug. 18, through Friday, Sept. 2.

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WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.

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