Every season on RuPaul's Drag Race, the contestants have the opportunity to show off their impersonation and improvisational skills in the "Snatch Game" challenge, a send-up of Match Game as they parody various celebrities. Often, it's a chance for the musical theatre queens to emulate their divas of choice. Season 2's Pandora Boxx shined as Carol Channing; Season 9's Alexis Michelle won with her Liza Minnelli; last year, Season 11's Nina West served a one-two punch as both Harvey Fierstein and Jo Anne Worley.
The current season is no different, and thanks to Jan Sport (known simply as "Jan" on the VH1 series), we have our first Drag Race "appearance" by Bernadette Peters. From Forbidden Broadway veterans to online comedians to fellow Tony winners even, we've seen our fair share of impressions of the beloved performer and self-proclaimed "doganizer." Below, Jan discusses her admiration for Peters and why she wanted to put her own spin on the singular star.
There was a Broadway twist to the back half of the April 3 episode as well, with the runway category inspired by the stage adaptation of Frozen. The drag queens became ice queens, and the bottom two lip synced to "Let It Go"—as performed by original Broadway Elsa Caissie Levy—to fight to stay in the competition. Read on to see how Jan pays tribute to the Disney musical.
So did you go into the season knowing you were going to do Bernadette if you got to Snatch Game?
Jan: I would say I was 90 percent sure I wanted to do Bernadette. I didn't even realize I could do the impersonation until I was making my audition. I did use Bernadette in my tape, and I was like, “Oh, OK, I think I can do this.” I left a little wiggle room and brought along some extras just for safe measure, but I was pretty sure I wanted to go with her.
Why is she a good pick for this particular challenge?
She's such a good candidate for the improv that goes along with Snatch Game. Her voice alone is funny on top of her quirks and distinct singing. And when I’m hosting a show, I’m normally quick with my references—and I have a lot of musical theatre references. So my idea was just whatever Ru’s going to throw at me, I’m going to be able to volley back with some musical theatre, or her Tonys, or her dogs.
What’s the key to impersonating her?
I think it’s bringing everything forward. When you think it’s nasally, go even further. Don’t be afraid to flail the arms around in a circle. I’ve realized that when it comes to older characters portrayed on Snatch Game, everyone loves it when you take the character and do something unexpected with it. I don’t think that Bernadette shies away from being the bombshell that she is, and she embraces her sexiness through the ages—though she is ageless, of course.
What is your earliest memory of seeing her work?
Her in Into the Woods was one of my first musical theatre experiences I ever had. My friends gave me the DVD of it and I was just like, “Oh, wow. OK. This is what theatre is.”
Your drag mother [Alexis Michelle] previously told us that seeing Bernadette in Into the Woods was a formative experience as well.
I think that’s a common thread for a lot of musical theatre lovers. It’s an iconic role and an iconic show.
Do you and Alexis have any dream mother-daughter roles together?
We were actually just talking about wanting to be in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie if it ever comes her. I would love to be Jamie and she could be Loco Chanel. We were also thinking Amber and Velma von Tussle in Hairspray.
What other Bernadette performances do you love?
Her “Not a Day Goes By” that she did in London is one of my favorite performances of all time. Any time I need an inspiration of if I need a cry, I’ll put that on. The performance is so nuanced and so detailed and beautiful and effortless. It’s just a master class in how to interpret a song.
You’ve been posting covers of the Lip Sync for Your Life songs in your Jan’s Jukebox series. Given that this week’s runway and lip sync were Frozen, tell us a little about your “Let It Go.”
I’m really excited to show everybody what we’re doing; we filmed it before all of this isolation craziness. The best part about doing the series is trying to come up with my own concepts, but also not shying away from the source. I’ve seen Frozen on Broadway, and that moment is just absolutely incredible. We’ve worked our drag and theatre magic and some camera moments to try to recreate it as best we could. [My director] Austin Nunes and [music producer] Andrew Barret Cox are great. There’s snow, there’s lighting, there’s some fire. I do a reveal, but it’s a little different because obviously I don’t have the things that go into that.
Well let’s be real, that dress change in the show is a drag stunt if there ever was one.
Oh, one thousand percent. That reveal! There’s nothing like it.