Before the COVID-19 shutdown, flamboyant cabaret singer Jennifer McClain maintained a busy schedule, belting out show tunes, pop standards and gay anthems at bars along Wilton Drive and beyond.
Like so many other artists, McClain turned to the internet in the aftermath, performing from her closet via Facebook Live and paying the bills with online tips from viewers.
Next week, she’ll finally return to the stage with a new one-woman show, “This is Me,” at Wilton Theater Factory in Wilton Manors.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, a scripted cabaret,” explained McClain, “but I never really thought much about what it would be about. I’d never written before.”
Producer Ronnie Larsen reached out several weeks ago and informed her he had filed an application with the county to open the theater with social distancing procedures. McClain realized she had the time and opportunity to tackle the project.
McClain settled on a biographical show. Even though she has performed in South Florida for more than 20 years, she saw an opportunity to go beyond the show tunes and share her personal journey, from theater productions in high school and college to her time in professional musical theater and performances on cruise ships and at theme parks.
“It ends with me arriving in South Florida,” she laughed, “which means there is nobody who can contradict me. Within 30 seconds, you’re going to hear something about me you never knew. It’s not a secret, I’ve just never talked about it.”
McClain is tightlipped about the stories (“I’m not giving you the script!”) but does admit that she had a career plan and South Florida was not a part of that plan.
“I’m most excited because this is such a departure from anything I’ve done before. I sat down and started writing and thought, damn, this is really good. I even ran it by old friends and they agreed,” she added.
McClain is still nervous.
When asked if the show is appropriate for “parents,” she answered: ”Well, not my parents. There’s high school and college and my early 20s and I’m honest about all of it. Let’s just say I was in the choir, but I wasn’t a ‘choir boy’.”
She tapped director and longtime friend based in Los Angeles, Kalen Edean, to direct the show. They’ve been consulting over Zoom and Facetime for weeks on the show’s book. He began live rehearsals with McClain this week in Wilton Manors.
“He’s somebody I trust and he trusts me. He’s helping me in navigating this thing, but it is my life and my story,” she said.
She’s also relying on veteran musical director and pianist Eric Alsford. They worked together on at least three shows (“There may have been more,” she said.) before they both made the move to South Florida in the late 1990s.
As for opening one of the first shows in the region post-COVID-19, McClain is confident, especially since seating will be limited and audiences will wear masks.
“I feel for me it’s a safer environment than performing in any of the bars — let’s call them restaurants now. In theater, everyone will be required to keep their masks on. We all know the masks make a difference. In restaurants, patrons don’t have to wear masks because they’re eating,” she said.
But most importantly, McClain is looking forward to the opportunity once again to interact in person with audiences. She won’t see smiles on their faces, but then again, McClain’s loyal fans have never been shy about expressing their approval before.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone,” she concluded enthusiastically.
Jennifer McClain stars in “This Is Me: A Night of Broadway and Biography,” Fridays and Saturdays, July 10 – Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. at Wilton Theater Factory, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at RonnieLarsen.com.