John Epperson as Lypsinka. Photo: Austin Young

John Epperson as Lypsinka. Photo: Austin Young

Movie fans of a certain generation will remember a film trilogy called That’s Entertainment! The three flicks were hosted by the likes of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, and each presented a cavalcade of old movie musical numbers performed by such legends as Judy Garland, Esther Williams and Kathryn Grayson. Well, if you were to stick Fred Astaire in Ginger Rogers’ dress, supply the film editor with a couple hits of acid, and bring Alfred Hitchcock in to direct, the result would look a lot like Lypsinka! The Trilogy, the three play showcase for John Epperson and his “Personification of Pizazz drag persona.

Of the three shows, (which also include The Passion of the Crawford and John Epperson: Show Trash), The Boxed Set offers the purest form of heady Lypsinka satisfaction. It is an hour and a quarter mash-up of screen divas singing their hearts out and chiming in with classic cinematic one-liners, as interpreted by a masterful mime experiencing an existential dilemma. Movie musical aficionados might recognize individual songs, but we are not told the source material otherwise. And this is part of what gives Lypsinka her offbeat magnetism. She is Ethel Judy Joan Bette Crawford Davis Garland Merman.

There are a couple other essential elements that make the evening a success. One is Epperson’s craftsmanship. He inhabits his character so completely that, five minutes in, there is no doubt in your mind that you are watching a female powerhouse on a tear. One moment she’s ripping through a jazzed up rendition of Mame, the next she offers a crazed self-mocking expression when the words she’s mouthing lose their lucidity. “Why I did it for,” she intones at one point, and the look on her face is priceless. The production’s other vital element is the inspired arrangement of the soundtrack, created by Epperson and engineered by Alex Noyes (And really, what better name for a sound designer than A. Noyes.). Mixed throughout the material are constant little jabs of worry: Love me? Who am I? Don’t be mad at me. This is my life. Not a man. And if that were not enough to suggest an unstable psyche, the screeching violins from the shower scene in Psycho make repeated appearances.

Lypsinka’s signature comic bit involves three invisible ringing telephones constantly interrupting one another. Every time she mimes answering one of them, she spouts a different, often hilariously out of context bit of film dialogue, nearly all of which comment on gender bending or familial confusion. There’s Faye Dunaway, for instance, spouting her “My sister, my daughter” confession from Chinatown. Epperson owes Bob Newhart a bit of credit for this running gag. His classic telephone routines are an early template. And if Lypsinka seems a long way off from Newhart, one need only attend a performance of Epperson’s Show Trash to see him as a similarly meek and thoughtful comedian.

From a costuming perspective, how do you solve a problem like Lypsinka? The sheer fabulousness of the evening demands numerous outfits, yet the upper half of Epperson’s garment cannot be disturbed lest he lose his assets. Designer Bryant Hoven solves the problem with a variety of wrap around skirts, ranging in style from shabby chic to Rita Moreno ruffles to an outrageous caped affair that looks borrowed from the Liberace estate. It’s a broad comic styling, in every sense of the word.

— Stan Friedman

Lypsinka! The Boxed Set – Soundtrack by John Epperson, Directed by Kevin Malony.

WITH: John Epperson (Lypsinka).

Scenic design by Jim Boutin; Costume design by Bryant Hoven; Lighting by Mark Simpson; Sound by Matt Berman; at The Connelly Theater, 220 East Fourth Street, 212-982-2287, Through December 31,, Running Time: 75 minutes.