Metro Weekly

All That Drag: Transforming ‘Chicago’ into ‘Shecago’

Drag theater troupe Highball Productions readies "Shecago," its latest "live drag musical" at JR.'s Bar & Grill.

Citrine, Dr. Torcher, Vagenesis, and Dabatha
Citrine, Dr. Torcher, Vagenesis, and Dabatha Christie – Photo: Doug Sanford

“It can be really difficult to navigate through the space and be heard,” Anderson Wells says of JR.’s Bar & Grill. The storied 17th Street fixture, one of the oldest gay bars in D.C., isn’t known as a harbinger of live theater or of the performing arts in general.

And yet, since 2019, JR.’s has presented occasional “live drag musicals” from Highball Productions, the drag theater troupe that Wells — also known as drag queen Vagenesis — co-founded with several other locals, including AJ Williamson, better known as Citrine.

“How is running up and down those stairs in heels? Are your fishnets going to get caught on the stage?” According to Wells, those are two crucial concerns that drag actors face as they go about rehearsing Highball shows at JR.’s. This month, the troupe will perform its ninth production, a Chicago-inspired spoof of a show they’ve titled Shecago as directed by Wells, whose day job is managing director of Constellation Theatre Company.

Highball launched five years ago with a cast of eight queens performing a certain timewarp. “[Citrine and I] were talking about wanting to produce a drag version of Rocky Horror,” Wells says. “And then our friend Dabitha Christie was also trying to produce a version of Rocky Horror — but she was asked to do that by the management at JR.’s. We were like, ‘Why don’t we work together and make this thing happen?’

“We wanted it to be something that was more than just your average drag show,” Wells continues, calling the result a cross between “themed drag shows like the Beyoncé brunches and the regular Rocky Horror shadowcast kind of thing: to still keep it very drag but also make it heightened theater.”

Rather than a faithful recreation of the original shows, the company jumbles it up, using songs from different versions of the show. As an example, Wells notes that Shecago offers a revue of the various incarnations of Chicago, with “songs that are from the original Broadway cast, the revival in ’97, the West End recording, and the movie.”

The productions have featured “primarily lip-synced performances” — with last year’s Slaytress, a twist on Waitress, the rare show with two or more live-singing numbers — plus “a little bit of choreography.”

For each show, Highball “uses the whole space — the space back by the back door, we use the stairs going up to the balcony, we use the balcony itself. We have a curtain set up there. Even the ladder to the DJ booth is getting used.”

In recent years, the troupe has added “two four-foot high platforms and stairs that go up to them [to create] a little stage set up right in the middle of the main floor of the bar.” Each performance’s audience of ticketed patrons stands wherever they can find a spot around the various staging areas on the main floor.

For the best standing spot in the house and a “full view of everything,” Wells suggests finding a spot “between the edge of the stage and the front door, right around where the bar starts.”

Each recent Highball show has also been more explicitly a parody of the musical that inspired it, and in a way that “makes it a little bit more gay.” In the case of Shecago, Wells says to expect “surprise dildos and clack fans throughout the production,” plus instances of salacious wordplay, such as in the number “Cell Block Tango” with its repeated refrain, “He Had It Coming,” to say nothing of the production’s subtitle, And All That J*zz.

“Our goal is to expand, our goal is to grow,” they say. To that end, Highball recently announced plans for a different series of theatrical performances at Shaw’s Tavern, starting with a Disney-themed program in mid-June. The inevitable goal is “to have our own full theater space” where they offer shows that are something of “a cross between dinner theater, black box theater, and what we’re doing right now” with a working bar as part of the staging area.

“The response that we’re hearing from audiences has been astounding,” Wells says. “People have been wanting re-mounts of the shows, and get really upset when they miss it. I’ve had friends say, ‘I felt like this was real theater.'” And given the low-priced cover charge, they add, it’s also “the most affordable theater you’ll get in D.C.”

Shecago opens in a preview on Sunday, May 5, at 6 p.m., with main performances on Friday, May 10, at 9 p.m., Saturday, May 11, at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. At JR.’s Bar & Grill, 1519 17th St. NW. Cover is $10, or $5 for the preview performance.

Call 202-328-0090 or visit visit or

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!