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You wouldn’t know it from the easy weather outside, but in a small, cozy black box theater in a quiet section of Hollywood, the world is about to end via alien apocalypse and Chaz Bono may be its only hope.
This is the premise for the limited-run community production premiere of Thirty Minute Musicals: Independence Day, a show in which Bono garners top billing as President Thomas J. Whitmore. Told in 30 minutes — give or take — Roland Emmerich‘s modern disaster classic is honored, but ultimately parodied, by a troupe of flexible actors at the Celebration Theatre.
This is unfamiliar territory for Bono, whose previous public performing experience consisted of a stint on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and some cable guest spots. However, the famous son of Cher and Sonny Bono is taking his recent pro bono dive into stage acting very seriously, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I’ll do this stuff for fun, but my goal is ultimately to get paid to do acting work. This is a very singular experience for me.”
The actor was born a girl (Chastity Bono) into a talented home and began acting at age 14. He even attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York, the real life inspiration for Fame, whose illustrious alumni include Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli. But it was there that Bono felt distant, not just from the craft, but from himself.
“I had real difficulty playing and relating to female characters, and I didn’t know why at that point,” Bono recalls. “I knew there really wasn’t a chance at having a career in it, so I just took a different path and just gave up on that dream.”
Bono underwent gender transition from female to male in a series of procedures that began in 2009 and ended the following year. Soon after, he started receiving requests for cameos from cable shows like Degrassi and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It was on those sets that he realized why he enjoyed acting in the first place, and consequently jumped back into the dramatic fold, taking classes with L.A. acting coach Anthony Meindl.
The acting lessons seem to have paid off, as Bono convincingly portrays President Whitmore as sternly and intensely as Bill Pullman did in the 1996 blockbuster — maybe more so, for melodramatic and comedic effect. Bono even succeeds in re-creating Pullman’s famous battle cry speech — the one that ends, “Today we celebrate our independence day!”
“The speech is awesome because it just works great for the show’s format,” Bono explains. “Those types of movies that take themselves very seriously like that are just ripe for a parody.”
Sprawling with aliens, one-liners (“Welcome to Earth!”) and copious references to Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day is surely apt to be mocked. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Emmerich must be tickled pink by the apocalyptic musical, produced, directed, and written by Brooke Seguin.
This isn’t the troupe’s first rodeo, either. Independence Day is just one of the productions that has received Seguin’s 30-minute treatment. Next up is a tribute to Steven Spielberg‘s Peter Pan adaptation, Hook, coming this August.
Bono’s first musical theater experience won’t be his last, he swears.
“I hope to be able to see this grow into something bigger than it is now because I really think this is something special,” Bono says. “I started out as a fan, and that’s how I got involved. So when people come and see this, they definitely will keep coming back.”
Thirty Minute Musicals: Independence Day will put on its last two performances June 26 and June 30 at 8 p.m. at the Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood.
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