Both Tony-nominated and Obie award-winning, downtown New York icon Justin Bond has an impressive CV. He has toured the world as the Kiki half of legendary performance duo Kiki & Herb, headlining at venues as prestigious as Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House and the South Bank Centre and on and off Broadway. His previous solo show, “Glamour Damage” had its world premiere at Soho and he has since starred in the acclaimed John Cameron Mitchell film, “Shortbus”. This is the London premiere of Bond’s new show, “Lustre”, which has been critically acclaimed on the other side of the Atlantic.
Bond has clearly cultivated a loyal cult following and as the predominately male audience fill the intimate space that is the Soho to the strains of Antony and The Johnsons, there is an air of eager anticipation. The stage is dressed lavishly with sparkly drapes and other paraphernalia, creating, along with the total darkness into which the auditorium is plunged when Bond makes his entrance, the ambience of a sweaty New York cabaret joint.
What ensues is an hour and a half’s worth of glitzy entertainment designed to celebrate, as Bond explains, ‘everything trans’. We are treated to evocative, over-the-top stories and banter laced with sexual politics, references to current affairs (the current global financial crisis and the Presidential Elections, to name two) and undoubtedly all kinds of other ‘in’ jokes that escaped me. Bond makes a fantastic woman, showcasing some spectacular outfits and a sickeningly good pair of legs. He also sings, accompanied on piano by Our Lady J, who, a cross between 1980s pop icon Marilyn and Rolf from the Muppets, is an absolute wonder. Playing with almost manic passion, she provides the perfect compliment to Bond’s endearing, glamorous persona and charisma. Her solo spot is a real highlight, and other special, surprise guests, Novice Theory, and fellow-New Yorker, Ryan Styles, are cleverly interspersed with the main attraction, ensuring variety throughout.
Overall though, the performance lacks the atmosphere and fun I’d expect from a show of this nature. Bond often successfully combines cutting-edge humour with poignancy and emotional rawness, but never really seems to connect fully with his audience; rapport, spontaneity and interaction are unfortunately lacking and it often feels as though he is simply going through the motions of the act. As a result, this will really only appeal to a niche audience and already-ardent fans.