Elton John Goes Downtown

Elton John Goes Downtown

Tom Eyen’s script for Women Behind Bars was wild and over-the-top, and under Ron Link’s direction the show burst with the energy of punk rock. “It had to move like the Ramones,” cast member Lisa Jane Persky said. “It just wasn’t anything without that pace.” After the original run, Women Behind Bars opened at the Truck and Warehouse Theater, with Divine as the Matron and Lisa playing the Innocent Raped by the System. “I would get brought in to see the Matron,” she said, “and I would be all trembling and everything. It was arch. Divine would pull a chain and this giant bed with satin quilt came down, which would go boom! It fell on the floor, and then things proceeded from there.” Mainstream and underground culture often overlapped downtown, as when 1970s pop superstar Elton John frequently came to the show. “He’d buy a whole row of seats and fill it with friends,” Persky recalled, “and you could hear him laughing loudly in the audience.” John asked Divine to join him onstage at Madison Square Garden and invited the whole Women Behind Bars cast to the arena. Kiki Dee—who duetted with him on the 1976 hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”—came out for a couple songs, then Divine did a number in front of the biggest audience of his career. Divine was certainly not a household name outside of the worlds of trash cinema and Off-Off-Broadway but, as Persky recalled, “It turned out that the Elton crowd loved Divine. They went crazy!”

From Chapter 29 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Truck and Warehouse Theater
79 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003