Once you get to know writer/singer/performer Jade Esteban Estrada -- the man behind the one-man show Icons: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1 -- you can easily see how his collection of monologues and musical numbers focusing on famous gays and lesbians (both out and closeted) came to be.
For starters, Estrada himself is gay. Second, the San Antonio native claims that if he wasn't doing the theater thing, "I'd be a world history professor," though, truth be told, Estrada actually already enjoys a second career as a Latin pop recording artist. Third, after two other one-man shows that dealt with his Latino heritage -- It's Too Late...It's Already in Me and Tortilla Heaven, written by his sister, playwright Celeste Angela Estrada -- it was time for Estrada to present another facet of his personality.
And by tackling six other gay personalities, both famous and infamous, that's exactly what he does. Meet Sappho, Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Rivera (the seventeen-year-old drag queen from the Bronx who ignited the Stonewall riots of 1960s New York when she threw her shoe at the NYPD) and Ellen DeGeneres (whose musical number in the show is entitled "Yep, I'm Gay" -- also the title of the Time magazine cover story when she publicly outed herself). Says Estrada, "Gay history is lost history. But I didn't just want to point out to people, 'Look at all the great things gays and lesbians have contributed to society.' The show is more about needing to know your heritage, leaving a mark and having your voice heard."
Such progressive subject matter might leave many wondering: Will it play in Peoria? Estrada's already answered that question: He brought the show there earlier this month. It'll also hit Cape Girardeau after passing our way.
While Estrada admits that his audiences tend to be more accepting of his material on the coasts, he enjoys bringing it to the Midwest as well. "I consider my work to pick up where Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy leave off," he says, "making gay people and culture not just entertaining on TV, but right in your face." In the Midwest, go figure, Estrada says that audiences respond the most to and are most comfortable with his portrayal of DeGeneres. "It's easy to make connections with people you understand," he says. "Oscar Wilde, for example, a lot of people don't get him, although they do think how he's portrayed in the show is funny."
As the show's name implies, an Icons, Vol. 2 is already in the works, with plans to debut it at the 2004 National Gay and Lesbian Theater Festival in Columbus, Ohio. Icons slated to appear in that show include Queen Christina of Sweden, Freddie Mercury and Walt Whitman. As for picking the rest, "it's like a beauty pageant in my head between all these other candidates," Estrada says.
May the best man -- or woman, or man dressed as a woman, or woman who once was a man - win.