A female with a fake mustache lip-syncs to "Hello, Dolly." A guy with a beard lip-syncs as Dolly Parton from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. An entire choir of nuns using jackets and blankets as habits lip-syncs along to "Hail Holy Queen" from Sister Act. These are just a few of the numbers from a recent edition of Musical Mondays at Rage in West Hollywood.
The Monday night staple features live performers, video screens with movie clips and, most important, a campy, highly entertaining performance troupe called the Fans of MuMo lip-syncing along to the musical classics.
"The Fans of MuMo are a group of patrons who decided that the ultimate tribute to the clips from the musicals they love was to perform them in front of the video screens," says Fans of MuMo co-founder Andrew Blau. "Part parody, part homage, it's Rocky Horror shadowcasting meets Civil War re-enactment with an emphasis on sharing [our] love for musicals." Whether shouting clap-backs to "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" or handing out bells for the audience to shake during Liza Minnelli's "Ring Them Bells," Blau's description proved to be incredibly accurate on a recent Monday night.
So where did the Fans of MuMo begin? The Musical Mondays night first took form at Revolver Nightclub before moving to Eleven (which is now Flaming Saddles) just under 10 years ago. DJ Keith Jacobson and his wife, promoter-bartender Ishka Maher, have been helming the night ever since its run at Eleven, and have been working in WeHo for 27 years. The Fans of MuMo specifically began as a response to an episode of homophobia at Eleven one night when Blau was attending. "There were two guys and a young woman who were enjoying one of the clips, it was 'You Don't Own Me' from the end of The First Wives Club. They were sort of dancing and singing along and having a very good time," he recalls. "And [a guy who was hanging out near our table] said to me, 'Wow, those people are really gay.' … He drunkenly staggered over to them and basically started gay-shaming them, which was sort of internalized homophobia at its best, and it escalated."
The following week, Blau returned to the club and the same people who were accosted the week before were there. "I came up to them and said would you mind if I sat with you, and I've been sitting with them ever since," he says. One of those people was co-founder Bobby Beus. Thinking back at how it all started, Beus thinks it's "insane" how people have connected to the group now but acknowledges how funny watching them can be.
After meeting and attending more Musical Mondays together, they slowly began getting up and performing during the clips. "It became a sort of an in-demand moment for the week," Blau says. "And by this point there was a group of us who were now regulars and sitting together every week, and we slowly decided to think [about] what other things we could do. Little by little, we developed this repertoire of these clips to re-enact with a highlight of humor, bringing our own personalities to it. But at the same time it's sort of the ultimate fantasy of the kid who sits in their living room and sings and dances along to their favorite movies."
At first the Fans of MuMo improvised everything, including one year when they watched the Tony Awards on a Sunday and then re-created the performance from A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder the following evening with no prior rehearsal. Blau says they've developed a repertoire of about 100 numbers that they can draw from at any given time. They may rehearse individually at home or may do an occasional group rehearsal here or there (none in recent years), but for the most part, they've learned the choreography on their own or improvise. They don't even know what the DJ will play on a given night, aside from a list of requests they give him and a few standards that are played almost every week (the last song before the live show begins is always "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls).
In 2014, when Eleven was sold to Flaming Saddles, the night moved to its current home at Rage. "What was nice is that we, the Fans of MuMo, were part of the package [when Rage took over]," Blau says. "At Eleven, we were always sort of confusing to the management. We weren't on staff, we weren't being paid. We still aren't being paid. This was something that we just did on our own, and they didn't quite understand that. The [Rage] management really understood that we were part of what made the night."
Rage has given them an actual performance area, lighting and even storage to keep their simple props and costume pieces.
So how does one become a Fan of MuMo? "We've heard so many different people show up over the years who say, 'I want to be a part of this,' and we say, 'Just stick around,'" Blau says. "Just stand with us and learn where you can fit yourself in or bring in numbers that you really like that we don’t do."
Some of the group's core members began this way: Terrance Moss, who's been performing in Fans of MuMo for six years and now hosts the live show as well, found the group on Twitter; Pilar Herrera, who joined in 2013, found out about the group at Blau's yearly Oscar party and came the next night. As more and more people join, the talent of the group has grown as well. For example, while Blau may bring comedy to the group, two dancers have joined in the last year or two with pre-rehearsed dance routines. One of them, David Shepherd, says he enjoys performing in Fans of MuMo because he gets to "perform in front of people, work on dance techniques and get a workout."
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Indeed, each person in the troupe keeps coming back every week, some for almost a decade, simply because they love it. They aren't paid and all have day jobs: Blau has worked freelance in film production for more than two decades (and is just now considering a career change); Danielle Dee wants to be a professional singer and pays the bills by working at Tender Greens; Andrew Thompson works on a research and development team at a drug and alcohol rehab center. Yet, every Monday night, from 8 to 10 — and then once again after the live performances end until however long they want to stay — they bring a blend of comedy, sass, dance and camp to WeHo clubgoers.
"It's kind of like my church. I can let everything else in my life go," says Gerson Rapoport, who has been performing with the group for almost nine years. Blau says, "Yes, it is campy and it's fun and unpolished and unprofessional, but I love that quality about it. Do try this at home or jump up and do it with us."
Perhaps Maher best summed up the appeal of not only Musical Mondays but also Fans of MuMo: "It's where good people come together. And I really think it's the most magical night in WeHo."
The Fans of MuMo perform 8-10 p.m. every Monday at Rage, 8911 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 652-7055, ragenightclub.com.