NOW Magazine: Shawn of the Red Head, by Glenn Sumi

Not many theatre artists have led 700 people to sing about greased lightning, their favourite things and the wind beneath their wings.

But Shawn Hitchins isn’t just any performer. You’ve seen the energetic actor, comic and cabaret performer if you’ve attended one of the popular singalong screenings of Grease or The Sound Of Music at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, or one of his 12-hour Nuit Blanche Lightbox marathons. Last year’s all-night blowout was devoted to movies from the 80s and got the whole crowd crooning Bette Midler’s Beaches anthem.

“There was one point when I told somebody to start flapping their arms, and then suddenly everyone started doing it,” he says about the experience. “It looked like a flock of seagulls coming at me. It was ridiculous – one of those moments when you think, ‘Oh my god, what a life.’”

Hitchins has had quite a few of them, actually. When he was a member of the drag musical comedy group the B-Girlz, they were invited to Kitchener’s Pridetoberfest – a gay event during Oktoberfest.

“They hired us to come out and sing two numbers and then ride an oversized sausage – a mechanical bull converted into a giant wiener. It was the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Hitchins, with his easy grin and likeable demeanour, is a natural host – good with a snappy comeback, ready to draw shy people out. He’s also a fine cabaret artist, which he’s proven in shows like Single White Douche and Survival Of The Fiercest.

Tonight’s Fire(Crotch) Sale marks his final cabaret show before he embarks on a new career focusing more on comedy and personal stories, with a bit of music acting as a bridge.

“It’s all the best material I have, a mishmash of things from previous shows,” he says, sipping an energy drink in the mezzanine of the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws, one of his favourite places in the city.

“It’s mostly songs from the 90s,” he explains. “We [music director Mim Adams and I] have re-harmonized versions of Alanis Morissette, we’ve just built a beautiful Our Lady Peace song, and there’s a mashup of Neil Young and Madonna.”

His favourite item, however, is something he calls a “seven-minute new wave megamix about climate change,” a medley that includes bits from songs like Here Comes The Rain Again, Some Like It Hot and Here In My Car.

And then there’s the condensed version of the movie Steel Magnolias, which he, Chris Tsujiuchi and Matthew James Hines are performing.

“It’s six minutes and goes from beginning to end with credits, using all Dolly Parton music,” he says. “It’s very gay.”

And expect a story or two about being a proud ginger.

“I think South Park’s to blame,” he says about anti-ginger sentiment and the subsequent backlash in the media. “Eventually I want to form a ginger pride parade, in Edinburgh. It might just be me and a sign, and people throwing Scotch eggs at me.”

In Fire(Crotch) Sale, he’ll probably also tell a recent story about his dermatologist.

“I go for six-month mole checks, where the dermatologist has half-nude photos of me that he compares – really sexy,” he laughs. “He checks everything. And recently he was writing on my chart, took his pen, lifted up my left testicle, looked underneath, lifted the other one, and then he….”

Hitchins illustrates what happened next by chewing the tip of his own pen, deep in thought.

“I’m staring down the whole time, thinking, ‘I just teabagged my doctor!’”