The 1995 movie is being adapted to the stage.
It only took 23 years for producers to realize To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar should be on Broadway. But then again, that’s where it was supposed to be in the first place.
Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the original movie, staged a workshop this week for the cult classic based on a script he wrote, he will also be directing.
If the stage version simply titled To Wong Foo: The Musical is anything like the theatrical one it would follow three drag queens, Noxeema, Vida and Chi-Chi on a road trip to Los Angeles who unexpectedly get stranded in a hick town.
The trio, who are never sans drag interact with the townspeople, befriending one downtrodden woman named Carol Ann who is mentally and physically abused by her husband.
Beane says he had intended for Too Wong Foo to be a musical from the very beginning, but a certain prop posed a challenge so he turned it into a movie instead.
“I was a struggling writer trying to break into the theater,” he says. “I was working as a nanny in Brooklyn, and every time the family went on vacation, I’d write a play. I started working on ‘To Wong Foo’ but couldn’t figure out how to put a car onstage. So I turned it into a screenplay instead.”
Lewis Flinn, Beane's husband, is writing the score.
“The songs are very Americana by way of Aaron Copland,” says Beane. “There’s an opera vibe to it, and it’s very open-hearted.”
When Too Wong Foo was released in theaters over two decades ago, the concept of a movie where the male leads spent all of the film in drag was a huge risk for any US studio. A similar concept was used a year earlier in Aussie import The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert which saw moderate success in the American market in 1994.
An even bigger risk for To Wong Foo was the decision by two of its leads to appear in the mainstream film dressed as women despite having made a living as heartthrob macho action stars. Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes took on the roles of Vida and Noxeema respectively.
John Leguizamo who rounded out the cast as Chi Chi had celebrated success for his one-man stage show called Spic-o-Rama in which he detailed what it's like to be Hispanic in America.
Taking the lead for Broadway is Santino Fontana as Vida. Fontana is no stranger to drag roles, he is currently working on the musical Tootsie based on the 1982 film.
“Santino no longer does trouser roles,” says Beane. “His wife is thrilled.”
His co-stars for Too Wong Foo: The Musical are Daniel Breaker, Alice Ripley, Ann Harada and Annie Golden.