Como to Homo: Perry Como dancer comes out in comedy

During television’s Golden Age, Perry Como was the golden boy. Throughout the 1950s, the silky-smooth crooner ruled television with his popular variety show.

For one New York City kid, Como was more than an idol. He was also her employer. In the 1957 TV season, 9-year-old Lynne Jassem joined the Comoettes, a troop of girls who performed alongside Como as a chorus line of preteen “Rockettes.”

Jassem in “From Como to Homo” photo/ana sanchez

That brief taste of stardom, along with her emerging sexual identity and her wackadoodle Jewish mother, form the core themes of Jassem’s one-woman show, “From Como to Homo,” set to make its Bay Area premiere Sept. 12 as part of the 2015 San Francisco Fringe Festival.

It’s a hometown premiere for Jassem, who has called San Francisco home since 1990. “From Como to Homo” has made the rounds, having had successful runs at theaters in New York, Florida and Delaware.

Jassem says her story resonated with all kinds of audiences.

“In Orlando I got a lot of older people,” Jassem says. “After the show they wanted to talk to me about Perry Como. Then I went to Delaware, which was mostly a gay audience, and they loved it.”

Jassem, 69, is as light on her feet today as she was as a child. She has been a professional dancer, choreographer and tap dance company director for much of her life, and she infused “From Como to Homo” with plenty of terpsichorean flair.

The heart of the show is not so much about classic TV history as it is the drama behind the scenes, contending with bossy stage mothers — Jassem’s own being supreme on that count — as well as little Lynne’s budding awareness she was gay. Though she projects on a screen grainy black-and-white images of the Comoettes, Jassem draws most of her show’s humor and poignancy from those family conflicts.

“It was very theatrical time,” Jassem says of the Como era. “My mother, who had been a Rockette, dragged me off to ballet when I was 5. A couple of years later she took me for tap dancing, voice and drama lessons. By age 10, I thought, ‘I am in show business.’ ”

Lynne Jassem (far left) as a Comoette

For years, Jassem had a day job as a real estate agent, but theater was always her prime avocation. “From Como to Homo” grew out of a solo performance workshop she attended several years ago. What started out as an eight-minute class exercise grew into a full-fledged work for the stage.

Jassem remembers Como as a kind man.

“I would say we were treated very professionally,” she says of the Comoette experience. “We had a paycheck, we learned our craft and were expected to produce. I met many of the stars of that day: Joan Blondell, Tony Bennett. Roy and Dale Evans, Johnny Mathis.”

Jassem also remembers celebrating the Jewish holidays at home with her family, her Yiddish-speaking mother all the while ruling the roost. She says her mother would regale anyone who would listen with tales of her brief stint as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall.

“From Como to Homo” also touches on sexual identity, with the pubescent Jassem taking on a male alter ego, something good girls of the era simply did not do. Jassem went on to marry her longtime partner Julie, a British-born physician, as soon as same-sex marriage became legal.

Her mother, who died a few years ago at age 94, wanted to be as accepting as possible, but that wasn’t always so easy for people of her generation.

Recalls Jassem: “I said to her, ‘Maybe Julie is not Jewish, but look, Mom, I married a doctor.”

“From Como to Homo: Juggling a Stage Mom, Gender Confusion and Tap!” At San Francisco Fringe Festival. 2:30 p.m. Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, 1 p.m. Sept. 19 and 9 p.m. Sept. 25. $12-$15 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy Street, S.F.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.