Martha Graham Cracker (center) with students from Paul Green Rock Academy in 2019

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

An online petition with nearly 20,000 signatures started by a Christian author will have no effect on a planned Philadelphia show called “Jesus Drag Superstar,” according to FringeArts and the performers involved.

The event, set to take place Dec. 17 and 18 at the FringeArts theater on the Delaware River waterfront, features popular Philly drag cabaret Martha Graham Cracker, backed by 30 music students from the Paul Green Rock Academy.

Both show dates were already “practically sold out,” Paul Green said, when the movement calling for their cancelation came to his attention Wednesday.

He spent the morning sending the petition around to families taking part in the show, and got what he described as “a universal guffaw” in response. Green, a 49-year-old musician who in 1998 founded the School of Rock, expected nothing less. “We have very cool parents,” he said.

“Honestly,” Green added, noting he was born Jewish and raised Catholic, “I think Jesus would love this show.”

The  online petition, which lives on the “Return to Order” website run by conservative writer John Horvat II, appears to disagree. It reads, in part:

This performance is a blasphemous insult to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ, who is chastity par excellence, is portrayed by someone who flaunts impurity and blurs the lines of male and female. This is too much!”

Green confirmed drag queen Dito van Reigersberg, who performs as Martha Graham Cracker, will take the title role in the FringeArts show: “We thought he’d be perfect as Jesus!”

Some songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar” will be featured in the collaboration with his students, he said, but it’s not a full-out rendition of the rock opera. A 1971 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, the play is loosely based on the Gospels’ description of the days leading up to the crucifixion. It has won dozens of awards and is still performed around the world.

That young people are invited to the FringeArts show seems especially horrifying to the petition writers, who note that “even innocent children can be allowed into this abomination!”

Horvat, who publishes the “Return to Order” site, is vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. Founded in the 1970s as an offshoot of a Brazilian group, American TFP has ties to the religious and political right, and has been a sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Its anti-“Jesus Drag Superstar” petition, which warns its readers to “beware of visiting” the FringeArts website, climbed from over 17k signatures on Wednesday to more than 19k on Friday.

Though the organization has national reach, it’s headquartered in Spring Grove, Pa., about 100 miles west of Philadelphia.

Despite the proximity, FringeArts isn’t overly concerned about disruptions to the show.

“We have no plans for additional security at this moment [and] do not plan on making any adjustments to our programming at this time,” said spokesperson Claire Frisibie, adding that she’ll continue monitoring the situation over the next couple weeks.

“FringeArts has presented Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret shows for years now, and they are always an audience favorite,” Frisibie said. “We are thrilled to welcome the Paul Green Rock Academy students back to FringeArts for this special collaboration.”

Avatar photo

Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...