At around 2pm on a Thursday I remembered that I had tickets to my first musical in New York the same night. But I was already at work and dressed in a pair of Converse, jeans and a favorite t-shirt that reads “Pro-Black. Pro-Queer. Pro-Hoe.” [This is 100% true, and it’s an awesome shirt – Fashion Ed.] I was so horrified at my oversight that I considered braving the Forever 21 in Times Square for a quick change of clothes beforehand. But I immediately ‘nah’d the idea. I would risk being judged as an underdressed degenerate in exchange for my peace of mind. When I entered the small Elektra Theater — which is completely unidentifiable from the outside, just FYI — Tyga was playing on the speakers and I knew that I was OK. Hip-pop was the theme of the music playing before Times Square opening of Katdashians: Break the Musical, a parody take on the musical Cats and the world of the Kardashians.
The obviously pop culture inspired production made use of multi colored wigs, contour kits, waist trainers, and cell phones with those new illuminated-for-better-selfies cases. In fact, one of the songs was a full instructional on how to procure the perfect selfie. The musical numbers included a rap to a pseudo trap beat about Kylie and Kendall conniving to taking over the family empire and an uptempo show tune about Rob Katdashian being ratchet for selling socks and dating Blac Chyna — which is ironic because the Kardashians themselves seem to date everyone else that was Bla… nevermind. The point is that it was at once very clear how effortlessly a parody of the Kardashians can come together. There is an abundance of content just waiting to be riffed. The notoriously famous for being famous family is often dubbed as substance-less, but they are often at the center of so many meaningful conversations about race, appropriation, gender, and most recently, trans issues.
The paradoxical nature of the Katdashians musical somehow managed to intensify these issues, not tuck them away as I had expected. When the two understudies opened the show as Dash Dolls — the unofficial name for employees of Dash, the Kardashian clothing store — I was slapped in the face by the sight of them with protruding fake butts. I immediately got flashbacks of a white fraternity at my college throwing a “Ghetto Bros and Hoes” themed party, where their attendees showed up in blackface and the girls stuffed their backsides with pillows to offensively mock black women’s bodies. The part of my brain that “knows better,” as my mama would say, acknowledged that something was wrong with this picture.
But the harder truth is that the permanent versions of those faux bottoms are an important part of the Kardashian legacy. I mean, c’mon, what would a Kardashian parody be without fake butts? Would nixing the butt pads have been a disservice to both the spirit of the show and the Kardashians? And was the excessiveness of their costumes meant to draw attention to the way the Kardashians have allowed themselves to be typified by their extremely curvaceous figures?
I spent much of my time asking questions like these and grappling with the social and political meanings of various pieces of the show, which is based on the real and very public details of the Kardashian/Jenner lives. In the second act, a post-Caitlyn Kris Jenner — played by Bailey Nolan — introduces her new boyfriend, Corey Gamble, who is black. Gamble’s character is “played” by a huge black dildo. I was slapped again the literally transfiguring of a black man into a phallus. Was this a critique of the way the Kardashians and their Jenner mom have acquired a specific kind of social capital because of their affinity for black men? Or was it simply a satirical representation of Jenner’s boo as a big black cock? High stakes lie in the answers to these questions. And I fidgeted in my seat as I attempted to answer them and keep up with the show, no pun intended.
As for the production itself: the casting of Kim Katdashian was near perfect as actress Carmen Mendoza and Kim Kardashian favor each other uncannily. Mendoza also nailed Kim Kardashian’s cry face which I was highly anticipating. Their take on Kourtney Kardashian, played by Bridget Kennedy, as the emotionless sister with no personality, was not only spot on, but served as the comedic high point throughout the entire show. The same can also be said for the cat riffs that included the female cast being befuddled by a laser light and the continuous hissing to express both disdain and admiration. The choreography was the perfect amount of raunchy, and well coordinated. Choreographer Viva Soudan, who also played Kylie Jenner, stole the show whenever she graced the stage and made sure that the routines had an ample amount of hip rolls and light twerking. This was not your high school drama teacher’s musical.
By making explicit the implications of their multi million dollar brand, Katdashians: Break the Musical shone a harsh light on the problematic elements of the Kardashian empire and what it means to be obsessed with them. The theatrical appropriation of cultural appropriation stung in its frankness. And at many times I questioned whose perception of the Kardashians they were catering to the most — a pretentious high brow crowd who barely knew the ins and outs of the Kardashians are and hate what they do not know, or artists and tastemakers who watch them, but only out of the corners of their eyes for fear of judgment. In their final number, the cast took to the audience singing a song that essentially claimed that no matter what they do, people will always watch. It was a moment of irony in which even viewing a parody of the Kardashians was an admission of guilt. My experience there was spent doing a mixture of laughing, rolling my eyes, shouting “Yassss,” and questioning every dollar I may or may not have spent on Kardashian Hollywood. But I had never felt more appropriately dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.