EDGE Interview: What's Good for Jinkx Monsoon Is Great for 'Chicago'

by Brandon Schultz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 7, 2023
Originally published on January 27, 2023

Jinkx Monsoon in "Chicago"
Jinkx Monsoon in "Chicago"  (Source:Jeremy Daniel)

Self-styled "Internationally tolerated" drag legend Jinkx Monsoon (recently crowned Queen of All Queens on "Drag Race All Stars") is now the keeper of the keys, the countess of the clink, and the mistress of murderers' row on Broadway.

The self-professed musical theater fanatic made her debut as Matron "Mama" Morton in "Chicago" on January 16th and continues in the role for an 8-week limited engagement through March 12th at the Ambassador Theatre. Landing the part of Mama — her favorite role in one of her favorite shows -- was a blessing for Jinkx, who's been performing nonstop for over a year now and may soon need to recharge at home in her beloved Pacific Northwest.

But don't expect the two-time "RPDR" winner to disappear from stages and screens any time soon; she's had ten years of wild success already, but she has big dreams for the next ten, too. We spoke with Jinkx Monsoon about achieving her Broadway debut, the support she's found there, and where she dreams of heading next.

Jinkx Monsoon in "Chicago"
Jinkx Monsoon in "Chicago"  (Source: Jeremy Daniel)

EDGE: Congratulations on your Broadway debut! What was like it making that deal?

Jinkx Monsoon: I'm very, very superstitious, if you can imagine—a witch named Jinkx! So, all throughout the talks with my agents and the "Chicago" people, I didn't tell anyone about it. I didn't even tell my family. I kept it very hush hush. Any time I had to talk about it with someone I would knock on wood and try to unjinx it so nothing would sour the deal. I was not counting my chickens until the contract was signed, because you get used to things not always working out in this industry. I don't let my hopes get high anymore because sometimes I'll have a great audition, or feel really good about something, but I just don't land the role. That's a big part of being a performer. But this time I did, and it's been more than I could have ever dreamed.

EDGE: How did the part come your way?

Jinkx Monsoon: You know, I don't really know who reached out first. All I know is I got an email saying "Chicago" wants to see you audition for two roles: Mama Morton and Mary Sunshine. And I said I'm kinda more interested in Mama Morton so I'm gonna focus on that. I went in and auditioned and I was pretty damn proud of my audition, but it was a lot of back and forth before it was finalized and I was sitting on pins and needles for quite a while. It wasn't until two months later that I found out I got the role.

EDGE: "Chicago" is one of those shows with a beloved, built-in drag role, Mary Sunshine; why weren't you as interested in that part?

Jinkx Monsoon: It was just me knowing myself. I would have loved to have tried Mary Sunshine—it's a fantastic role—but I don't even know if I have the vocal stamina to sing that role eight shows a week. I'm so impressed by the actors I've seen playing Mary Sunshine. That is such a skill. You can't really just fake being a contra tenor.

But Mama, I've always resonated with this character and I've always resonated with the music she sings in this show. I just think she's a really fascinating character and I just knew I could play her well. And there's the added bonus of the fact that I've always had the desire to play roles that were intended for cis female performers because those are the roles I think I play best, but also because I want the world to see that any actor can play any role if they're right for it. I don't like to make blanket statements, but in terms of gender-blind casting, I do believe any actor should be able to play any role as long as they can do it authentically and the audience is able to see the character.

Watch Jinkx Monsoon as Judy Garland on "Ru Paul's Drag Race All Stars"

EDGE: You've done plenty of theater, but is Broadway what you thought it would be?

Jinkx Monsoon: It's so much more. So much more. It truly is getting to do something I've always loved doing and felt at home doing, but at its highest possible level and its largest possible platform. I don't know what to compare it to, but it is a dream come true. It's because of the other people. Everyone there makes it so much fun. I'm a bundle of nerves ever day until I sit down in my dressing room and everyone else is like "Hey, Jinkx! Ready to do another show?" and we're all just at work ready to do our job. But it's a really fun job.

EDGE: "Chicago" famously brings actors in and out frequently. Does that make it easier to slip into a family vibe or harder for a family to build?

Jinkx Monsoon: I think it's one of those things where you get out of it what you put into it. I've heard that there are stars who come in and they want to keep to themselves more, but I love being part of a cast. I love getting to know all the people, getting all the inside jokes, doing the preshow rituals—I just love being part of a family, so I came in just ready to be part of the family and they welcomed me in, ready to accept me. I don't know if that's how it always goes, but that's how my experience has been.

Jinkx Monsoon
Jinkx Monsoon  (Source: Instagram)

EDGE: Care to share any of those preshow rituals?

Jinkx Monsoon: Hah! Well, I go back and forth double-fisting Throat Coat tea and Red Bull. Like, when you have a sore muscle, you go back and forth between hot and cold. Vocal chords are muscles, so if you alternate between hot and cold it relaxes. That's a preshow ritual that's just personal. But you know, me and Evan Harrington (Amos Hart), and Ryan Lowe (Mary Sunshine)—the three of us just don't shut up. We have such different interests but we find the common ground in them. Usually it's Broadway shows, obviously, but Evan's a big sports fan and I don't know anything about sports so I'm constantly trying to find equivalents between his sports fanaticism and my Bette Davis fanaticism. And we do find common ground!

EDGE: What was behind the decision to be billed as Jinkx Monsoon, one of your characters, for your debut?

Jinkx Monsoon: I think it's because I want the world to see a drag queen doing this. I used to think that there needed to be a separation between me, the performer; me, the drag queen; me, the human being. I used to think it all had to be compartmentalized, but I what I found in my life is things are so much better when I stop worrying about all that. I just wanted the world to see that it was a drag queen and a transfemme nonbinary person who did this. And I think that I do that best by being billed as Jinkx Monsoon. It's Jinkx Monsoon and her community that got me here.

EDGE: You've always been a musical theater kid, but you didn't move to NYC or LA like so many Ru girls did. Why not?

Jinkx Monsoon: I just think if you don't get to spend a lot of time at home, then you've gotta be really happy where your home is, and I've always been the happiest outside of major cities. Portland is the right amount of city for me. I like being able to walk around my neighborhood fairly inconspicuously. I like being able to get from point A to point B without it taking two hours. I like living in a small metropolitan city! What I will say is I've been lucky to be able to live in New York when I need to. Like right now I'm staying at a friend-of-a-friend's until the end of March. And my assistant lives in LA and I think we'll be getting an apartment where I'll keep a room, but my heart has always been in the Pacific Northwest and I think that coming from the Pacific Northwest is a big part of why I am who I am. When I go home to Portland and get a couple weeks to recharge, I'm a better person for it. So that's what matters most.

EDGE: It's also the witchiest and moodiest part of the country.

Jinkx Monsoon: Yes! And very, very progressive; very, very liberal; very, very queer friendly. It could stand to be more racially diverse, but in lots of ways Portland is one of the best cities in America and I'm a cheerleader for it.

Jinkx Monsoon in "Chicago"
Jinkx Monsoon in "Chicago"  (Source: Jeremy Daniel)

EDGE: Now that you've had a taste of Broadway, would you do it again?

Jinkx Monsoon: Oh yeah! I definitely want to take a moment, though. I don't want to rush into anything because I have been going pretty hard for some time now. I think all of 2022 I was either on the road or working on something so I haven't had any significant downtime for a while. I'm also trying to be an advocate for self-care, and to do that I've gotta put my foot down in my own life. But I definitely have dreams and I've already been trying to plant seeds for what might be my next venture on Broadway. But I'm no rush. It took ten years to get here, but I've had a blast in that ten years, so let's see what the next ten years holds!

EDGE: Speaking of dreams, what are your dream roles on Broadway?

Jinkx Monsoon: The role I've always, always wanted to play is Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd." It's one of my favorite shows. I'm a big Sondheim fanatic. I'd love to play the Witch in "Into the Woods." I'd love to play the stepmother in "Into the Woods." Either of the stepsisters in "Into the Woods." "Into the Woods" is one of my favorite shows! I'd love to play the chaperone in "The Drowsy Chaperone." There are just so many good roles. I'm very eclectic with what my favorite musicals are. I don't love every single Broadway musical, but I love a lot of them. Fanatically.

EDGE: "Sweeney Todd" is coming back in a couple months . . .

Jinkx Monsoon: Yeah! We'll see...we'll see!

Jinkx Monsoon continues in "Chicago" through March 12, 2023. For more information, follow this link.

Watch Jinkx Monsoon's video of "Strange Magic"

Brandon Schultz is the author of 6 travel and lifestyle books, and his work regularly appears in Forbes, Fodor's, Global Traveler, and Thrillist, with contributions to dozens of others including OUT, Out Traveler, and The Advocate. He lives in New York City.