With the Nellie Olesons he created, starred and produced a total of 9 critically acclaimed and very politically incorrect “variety” style shows is as many years. The character of “Connie Slocum” (aka Love Connie) took flight here, she being a southern, naive, ramshackle beauty queen (as played by a 6 foot, muscular, high-kicking guy in heels and a wig). After touring a year with the group, including a stop at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal and a rave review in the New York Times, Cantwell moved to LA and appeared (as “Connie”) on shows like “Will & Grace” (directed by James Burrows), “The Riches” and the films NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST and DOG GONE LOVE. He has appeared on TV alongside greats like Jack Warden, Norm MacDonald and Eddie Izzard but most people will remember John from the Reese Witherspoon classic LEGALLY BLONDE and his now famous line “Oh, my God, the bend and snap works every time!”
With the Nellies in remission, John began thinking of how to create a series of live solo shows that would star his flash dancing, spandex wearing character, Connie. Finding it torture to take pen to paper (or fingers to keys) he took the advise of a friend who always said he should do a show featuring only comedic dance numbers. The only problem was that with dancing there would need to be short breaks for him to catch his breath and change costumes. Then the real fun began…
In 2010, John created “Love, Connie”, a multi-media dance comedy thriller that featured Cantwell performing live routines interspersed with short films that feature a black leather clad stalker after Connie’s beloved cat, “Vickie” (who was played by John’s real cat, Vickie, on film as well as an actress in a cat suit with 4 sets of nipples for the live numbers). The show, an homage to Brian DePalma & Dario Argento films of the ’70’s and ’80’s like DRESSED TO KILL and SUSPIRIA, also featured a special guest performance by “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Star” Kelly Mantle and a memorable chainsaw fight between the two divas filmed on a dark night in Los Angeles over looking Silver Lake. “Love, Connie” ran for 3 years in L.A. at the Cavern Club, Highways Performance Space and Celebration Theater. It also played as part of the Afterglow Festival in Provincetown, MA., a festival curated by John Cameron Mitchell of “Hedwig” fame.
Following “Love, Connie”, in 2013, he created “Connie Loves Juice” – a roller disco fueled love story take-off on movie musicals like GREASE, XANADU and HAIRSPRAY featuring night-life impresario, Mario Diaz, as Connie’s first love and comedian Nadya Ginsberg as Connie’s rival “Gianelli”. The show sold out every L.A. performance and led Frontiers to call it “groundbreaking” (along with putting Cantwell on their 2013 Hot List) and Huffington Post say it’s “pure absurdist drag camp on the comic surface, but beneath lays a complex heroine with heart and soul of John Waters’ proportions… if the L.A. theatre scene were a Dada-ist heart-shaped box of chocolates, Connie would be the cherry cordial.” The show was directed by Jim Fall (TRICK, THE LIZZIE MAGUIRE MOVIE) who directed John as far back as 1994 in NYC when he was a chorus boy in “Blood Orgy Of The Carnival Queens” written by Fall & choreographer Robin Carrigan.
The following year he created a sequel, also directed by Fall and starring Diaz, called “Connie & Juice in ‘Desperately Seeking Vickie’” – an all-dance, L.A. to NYC-set caper with a cast of 7 actor/dancers playing over 40 characters in a desperate search to find Connie’s runaway kitty, Vickie. This time the story is told through dance and photo and video montages and only 2 words of dialogue – “Connie” and “Juice”. 3 major L.A. talents – Benjamin Allen, Kathryn Burns and Sia’s “Chandelier” choreographer Ryan Heffington – choreographed the show.
Cantwell also appeared as Love Connie is American Apparel’s “Pantytime” video for Valentine’s 2015 and the smash video of Alaska Thunderfuck’s “This Is My Hair” which has received over 1 million YouTube views.
This past year Cantwell went in a slightly different story telling direction with his solo show called “Fade To Connie”. He brought video and music editor, Zig Gron, back into the fold after working together in 2003 on Cantwell’s autobiographical play, “Saltine Crackers”. In addition to working with Fall again as director they brought in former collaborator from NYC, choreographer Robin Carrigan. The 4 of them created a pop culture smorgasbord of imagery from films like TAXI DRIVER, KING KONG, JAWS and APOCALYPSE, NOW all mashed up with 80’s pop tunes and re-edited to serve as the backdrop for a new story about Connie’s quest for fame at the hands of a maniacal talent agent played by legendary drag artist, Miss Coco Peru, in a voice over only role. The show aped vintage choreography from the likes of Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch and Cyd Charisse and featured Cantwell recreating film roles made famous by Jessica Lange, Jodie Foster and Charo.
The 4 artists enjoyed the experience so much they’ve decided to do it again with “Fade 2 Connie: The Roxy Files”. It’s a show that will play as an 80’s video tribute to the songs of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry told as vignettes with pop culture references to “Twilight Zone”, SHOWGIRLS, “Wonder Woman”, BODY DOUBLE and David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART. It opens at The Cavern Club at Casita Del Campo April of 2016.