A new role for Randy Jones: Playing God


By Scott Harrah

Randy Jones, the cowboy from the legendary 1970s disco group the Village People, acts nothing like a pop icon in person. Sitting in an East Village restaurant on an unseasonably warm November afternoon, the tall, handsome 53-year-old is bubbly, down-to-earth, and very enthusiastic about his new role in “Sodom: The Musical.”

“I’ve done a lot of musicals, but this was the first opportunity I’ve had to play God,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of people think of me as wearing a cowboy hat and boots, wiggling my ass and singing ‘YMCA,’ and I do that well. In no way would I ever denigrate that because it’s a wonderful thing to have done and it’s a great part of my legacy, but I’m also an actor.”

In Kevin Laub’s Off-Broadway musical about the original “sin” cities in the bible, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jones plays a very modern Allmighty. He wears a white tracksuit and a gold hip-hop-style Star of David pendant, plays golf, and has a sexy assistant, Gladys (Blythe Gruda). He tells Abraham (Brian Munn) that if he can’t find 10 clean-living Sodomites, the city will be destroyed.

“To play God, to be omnipotent and bring fire and brimstone upon Sodom and to punish the guilty and decide who is guilty—it’s great,” says Jones.

God is the only character in the show that doesn’t sing. “I get to be above the fray and conduct all the business from heaven,” Jones says. “This God has been written in a very different way. He’s not mean and he’s not bad, but he’s kind of careless. He destroys one city [Gomorrah] before he gets it right. He’s like George Bush in that when he does make a mistake, he doesn’t really own up to it, except to his closest aides, and then he tries to cover it up and create a whole other story. The character is comedic but he’s got enough layers to make him an interesting God. The whole piece is very ironic and irreverent.”

Although the concept of “Sodom: The Musical” may sound campy, the show itself isn’t. Kevin Laub and Adam David Cohen’s melodic songs seem almost like something out of a Stephen Sondheim score. The dark and intelligent songbook is extraordinary, and there are many gifted vocalists in the cast, including Tony Award nominee Jonathan C. Kaplan (who wowed audiences in “Falsettos”) as Lot, and Off-Broadway up-and-comers like Ryan Kelly (from last summer’s hit “Joy”), who plays dual roles as both a Sodomite and one of Lot’s daughters. The ancient city of Sodom is depicted with a set featuring a Keith Haring-style pop art mural of debaucherous scenes. Each Sodomite sings a song about the inherent evil of a particular sin, from murder to prostitution.

Jones, who moved from North Carolina to the East Village in 1975, is no stranger to the world of musical theater and had a thriving theater career long before his disco days. After graduating from college, he toured the country in numerous classic musicals. In 1977, he got his first break working as a dancer in Grace Jones’s act. French record producer Jacques Morali and his partner Henri Belolo saw the show. They approached Randy Jones afterward and said, “We like the way you look. Can you sing? Can you act? We want you to be part of this group.” The group, of course, was the Village People.

“When I first met them after the show, I had my boots and cowboy hat on, and they said they wanted me to be the cowboy,” Jones says. “I signed a contract on a Wednesday and on the following Tuesday I was in the studio recording.”

Jones says he was skeptical about the Village People at first, and hoped that the job would last long enough for him to collect unemployment benefits if the group didn’t take off. “I thought, ‘If this gig will only last for four weeks.’” Instead, it’s lasted for 28 years—and counting.

In the late 1970s, the Village People became a cultural phenomenon. The group represented icons of masculinity: a cop, a construction worker, a soldier, a Native American, a cowboy, and a biker. They sold more than 65 million records and were on the top of the pop charts until 1979, when disco’s popularity waned after a backlash from the music industry. A Chicago radio DJ started a “Disco Sucks” campaign that resulted in the burning of disco albums at a baseball game in Detroit. A year later, The Village People’s feature film, “Can’t Stop the Music,” was a critical and commercial failure, and precipitated the group’s decline.

“It got to be a big, bloated industry,” Jones says of disco’s downfall. “The people in the music business needed something else; they needed to kill this baby so they could bring forth another one, but they didn’t kill it. They just changed the name of it to protect the innocent, from disco to dance. So it’s gone on and hasn’t really died.”

Jones says the group still performs with three of the original members and toured for six months this year. He’s still friends with the guys, but is happy now to just stay on the sidelines. “I like having the legacy and the association, but the idea of getting onstage with six guys as the Village People is not my cup of tea [now],” he says, noting that he will be with the group when they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Dance Music Hall of Fame and get their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the near future.

In the meantime, Jones keeps busy with his acting. After he finishes starring in “Sodom,” he’ll appear in another Village show at LaMama, “I Wanna Be Rosie,” a musical about the life of Rosemary Clooney in which he’ll play all the men in her life. (He’ll miss the final two performances of “Sodom” on December 2 and 3 when “Rosie” opens.) He’s also selling a documentary, “Disco: Spinning the Story,” on QVC soon.

Jones still lives in the East Village with his partner of 22 years, Will. “For my entire career, I have lived below 14th Street and above Houston Street,” he says. “For 30 years, I’ve been the only person from the Village People who actually lives in the Village.”

He notes that, contrary to popular belief, not all the members of the Village People are gay, and that they are still popular with mainstream audiences. The Village People were invited to perform for one of President George Bush’s inaugural balls in January and they do various fundraisers for veterans of the Iraq war. Jones says he’s not exactly a Bush fan and laughs that he thought the Republicans had “invited the wrong person” to the inauguration, but he is proud of the money the Village People helped raise for returning veterans and hospices where they can recuperate.

The Village People also continue to appear here in New York. “Just last June I was at a home game for the Yankees with Rudy Giuliani,” he says. “At the top of the seventh inning, they played ‘YMCA,’ and by the time they got to the chorus, the cameras had pulled around and were on Giuliani and me and the other people in the box. On screen we were doing ‘YMCA’ [the dance] and 55,000 other people were doing it as well. I had no idea in 1978 that song would have the legs it has. That song is played at bar mitzvahs, birthday parties and weddings almost every day. I never thought I’d be sitting here 28 years later and, somewhere around the world, someone would be enjoying ‘YMCA’ or ‘In the Navy.’ ”