Decades before Ru Paul, Divine or Dame Edna, there was Julian Eltinge. He was not a “drag queen”.  He was a highly respected actor of the stage and screen who specialized in playing female roles at the turn of the 20th century.  He conquered vaudeville, burlesque, Broadway, and legitimate theatres around the world before moving onto Hollywood. He became one of the highest paid entertainers in the world, at the level of Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, and Fanny Brice. He even had a Broadway theatre named in his honor...and yet today, nobody knows his name. 


“ILLUSION” explores the life of Julian Eltinge, beginning as a young, gay boy in Boston in 1890. The son of a drunken, homophobic, Irish immigrant father and an abused mother, he worked hard and eventually achieved the fame and fortune described above. Then it all came crashing down in the 1920’s when Hollywood was rocked by numerous notorious scandals, such as the murder of William Desmond Taylor, and the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe by movie star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  These shocking events brought widespread condemnation from religious, civic, and political organizations, and resulted in new restrictions for the film industry.  For example, it became illegal for a man to dress as a woman...which is what Mr. Eltinge had built his entire career on. His life had touched and enriched the lives of many, although he never fully realized the impact he had made.  In the end, he died nearly penniless after achieving so much. Through it all, he just wanted someone to notice him.

8 Men & 8 Women
Donald Loftus, Book & Lyrics and Stephen Zackim, Music