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Thu11142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Admit it: You think it’s funny when a man puts on a dress.

Well, you’ve got company—and Desert Rose Playhouse is smart enough to know that. Hence, Pageant, the company’s final show of the 2018-2019 season. It’s guys in drag competing to win the title of “Miss Glamouresse”—and the hilarity builds right up to the final scene, which contains more belly laughs than any show in recent years. It only runs until May 12, so we strongly suggest that you run, not walk, to see this show—whether you’re in high heels or not. The packed house at our presentation—containing way more ladies than we’ve ever seen in a DRP audience—would agree.

The open stage that greets you—designed by Bruce Weber—is pink, pink, pink. This is the signature color of the “Glamouresse” brand, and your eyes will water from 50 shades of pink during the nearly two-hour show (with no intermission!). Pale pink ostrich feathers, Elsa Schiaparelli shocking-pink costumes, Pepto-Bismol pink—it’s everywhere. Brace yourself. Phil Murphy has even used pink lighting on the filmy curtains.

Robbie Wayne, the show’s director and Desert Rose’s producing artistic director, leaps onto the stage to welcome you—and joyously admits that this show has no “message.” It was just chosen because of its laughs. How wonderful!

So, bring on the girls. This pageant presents six semifinal competitors from various regions of the USA, such as Miss West Coast, Miss Industrial Northeast and Miss Bible Belt. Can you imagine such titles? Well, why am I surprised? In my home town there was a contest for Miss Potash, for heaven’s sake …

The competition’s emcee is Frankie Cavalier, played by Michael Pacas, who strides onto the stage wearing what might be the most frightening toupee in all of show biz. He fabulously combines the smarm of so many professional emcees with flawless timing and relentless cheeriness in the face of imminent disaster. Just keeping the names and titles straight must be exhausting, but Pacas’ energy never flags. He introduces the girls, who appear in all shapes and sizes, proudly wearing their title banners. Our judges, chosen from the audience, sit alertly up front. Consulting your program will only confuse you, as the actors’ headshots bear zero resemblance to the female flamboyance that you see on the stage.

Miss Great Plains, for example, is played by Larry Martin. Miss Industrial Northeast is created by Noah Arce. Timm McBride plays Miss Texas. Miss Bible Belt is Ben Reece. Miss Deep South is played by Miss Rusty Waters, and Miss West Coast is played by Jersey Shore, aka Brian Keith Scott.

Three shades of blonde, two shades of brunette, one auburn—and there they are.

Through the competitions, we get to know them personally. The emcee rattles off their qualifications and qualities (Miss West Coast, for example, is “Karma,” a double Gemini with a past including self-improvement techniques and tie-dying) throughout the various contests, such as evening gown, spokesmodel, fitness, talent cavalcade, philosophy, and—brace yourself—swimsuit.

You can instantly see the opportunities for merriment. My favorite part was the talent competition, during which these hugely talented actors toiled with their extremely creative director to create a jaw-dropping segment. Wait until you see what stuff they strut … and there are some extraordinary moments, such as Miss Bible Belt, wearing a flaming-red choir robe over a gold sequined gown, wailing a song called “I’m Bankin’ on Jesus,” or Miss Industrial Northeast on roller skates playing an accordion. Seriously!

There is no program credit given for costumes, but they are many and varied, and all are fantastic. Perhaps they came from the actors’ own closets. Some quick changes are required—another opportunity for laughs. There is no choreography credit, either, though there is dance aplenty, with some cute routines. One change suggestion: From most of the seats, when an actor lies down on the stage, he becomes invisible. It makes the neck-craning audience—except those in the front row—feel as if they are missing something, possibly important. The only real criticism is that the music, directed by Jaci Davis, was too loud, and drowned out the actors at times.

The competitors themselves select a “Girlfriend” award, like Miss Congeniality in most beauty pageants. A running gag throughout is their “spokesmodel” competition, in which the girls are forced to shamelessly shill for “Glamouresse,” which turns out to be a big-business brand in the field of beauty products, by creating a commercial. And the surprise guest who arrives at the end—well, let’s not ruin it for you.

The comedy here varies from slapstick to intellectual to tricky, so there is literally something for everyone in this play. Although I have had to stop slapping language warnings on reviews since four-letter words in theater have become so ubiquitous, we must compliment this show on not taking the cheap shots—there isn’t one objectionable word in the script. Amazing! It CAN be done. There are a couple of (terribly funny) adult-humor sexual references, but you could basically take anyone to see this show.

With drag queens, it’s all about nuance. It’s not just popping on a wig and makeup and a dress. To really be a standout requires infinite subtlety and much careful study. Drag is an art form dear to my heart, because when I was starting my performing career, I was invited to be in several shows at a drag club (they introduced me as “a real girl”)—and I learned a LOT from the queens of drag. This show reveals incredibly varied, individualized and thoughtful performances by all these entertainers, and it is a play I would love to see again.

So, who wins the crown? That rollicking finale alone is worth the price of admission.

Pageant is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, May 12, with a special show at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 9, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $34 to $37. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

This weekend, downtown Palm Springs is being taken over by Pride.

It’s been an amazing couple of years for Greater Palm Springs Pride, and the LGBT community in general. The festival’s move from Palm Springs Stadium to downtown last year was a huge success. In fact, organizers say Palm Springs Pride is now the second-largest pride celebration in California, bested only by San Francisco Pride. After the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality earlier this year, there is a lot to celebrate.

One of the most recognized symbols of the LGBT community is the rainbow flag. The flag was designed in 1978, with a lot of revisions since. Its colors represent the diversity of the LGBT Community, and it has been used for pride marches and equality-related protests.

For Palm Springs Pride this year, I thought I’d reach out to a handful of local LGBT community entertainers and leaders, and ask them one simple question: What comes to mind when you see a rainbow flag?

“The rainbow flag is a sense of pride, a sense of community, a sense of unity of where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Color Our World With Pride! Celebrate! Don’t be afraid to show some color.” —Bella da Ball

“When I see the rainbow flag, I am reminded of our community’s great diversity—diversity in our race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, religion and so on. We’re white, black, Latino, Asian and Native American. We’re men, women and transgender. We’re Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I’m reminded in bold, beautiful color that we are more than LGBT, but we represent everything between those letters.” —Darrell Tucci, Chief Development Officer, Desert AIDS Project

“Anal sex! No, I’m just kidding! My answer is simple: I always think of gay pride and community.” —Jersey Shore

“I remember marching with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus down Broadway. It was my first time since coming out late. It started to rain, and we had a giant rainbow flag. You can imagine what it looked like when over 100 guys tried to take cover under the flag and still walk down Broadway looking fierce!” —Jeffrey Norman, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, McCallum Theatre (and an Independent contributor)

“To me, the Rainbow Flag is a celebration of the uniqueness and beauty of both the LGBT individual and the collective community. Each color is spectacular on its own, yet when woven together in community, it’s even more majestic.” —Mike Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, the LGBT Community Center of the Desert

“When I see a rainbow flag, I think of unity, love, strength, a sense of belonging, and, of course, pride.” —Tommy Locust, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2014 and Chill’s house DJ (and an Independent contributor)

“People scramble to deem the flag irrelevant and (say) that this sort of demonstration of pride isn’t necessary, and many pretend that no one is struggling anymore. The history of the flag makes me feel grateful to be alive in a time where so much has changed for us and that an argument like that could even exist.” —Shann Carr

“Comfort, equality, progress. Lives were lost in order to have this flag erected. They are just colors to some, but for me, it’s so much more. I know if I see the pride flag displayed in businesses, I feel a comfort in knowing I can feel safe and will not be judged on my sexual preferences.” —Marina Mac

“To me, it means that the queer are here! On a serious note, the rainbow flag represents LGBT friendliness, and LGBT community is present and proud. Many places around the world, (LGBT people) can’t hang flags, and when one is present, it means that being gay is normal, OK. We are here, just like any other person.” —DJ Femme A

“I see pride, dignity, respect, hard work, love, compassion, diversity and equality. Over the years, the rainbow flag has been a symbol of pride in our community. It signifies the strength we have had to stay grounded! The colors are the diversity we enjoy, sharing equal respect for those who do not have the foresight into moving positively into the future.” —James Bork, Mr. Chill Leather 2016 and second runner-up, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016

Published in Features

Bella da Ball is one of the valley’s most ubiquitous (in a good way) entertainers.

The hostess with the mostess can be found every Monday hosting Trivia Night at the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. (Full disclosure: The Independent usually has a strong contingent present at the Ace Trivia Night.) Every Tuesday, Bella hosts a Cabaret Variety Revue at Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio. And since January, Bella has hosting a brand-new show each week—Lipstick Thursdays, at the Copa.

“It’s a high-energy, fun mix,” said Bella da Ball—whose alter ego is Brian Wanzek (or is it the other way around?)—about the 90-minute show. “It’s primarily drag, and there are vocalists who come in and do some numbers.”

Bella said the performers primarily work the main floor, rather than the Copa’s long stage, so they can get up-close and personal with the audience.

“It’s a fun, audience-participation type of thing,” she said. “People love the costumes, the headdresses, the sequins, and the props, like hula hoops and guitars.”

Whereas the long-running Tuesday show at Georgie’s Alibi features a variety of musical genres and multiple vocalists, Lipstick Thursdays at the Copa focus more on drag and contemporary pop music.

“It’s more high-energy, more in-your-face, and more of a party,” Bella said.

Even though drag is the focus at Lipstick Thursdays—regular performers include Marina Mac, Jersey Shore, Pinkie Meringue Shimmer (all of whom will perform on April 30), Sassy Ross, Rickie Lee and Cherilyn—vocalists are also a key part of the show, including a rotation among talents including Carol Kamenis, Keisha D. and Thursday, April 30, performer Charles Herrera.

Don’t let the drag focus fool you: Bella said Lipstick Thursdays draw a mixed crowd—even including corporate parties.

“They brought boas and light sticks, and were singing, and clapping, and dancing, and partying,” Bella said about a recent corporate group. “The vast majority of people who go out to shows can appreciate this. It’s music, drag, comedy and fun.”

Bella noted that in addition to happy-hour drink specials until 9 p.m., attendees can order pizzas from Tropicale, the Copa’s sister restaurant next door. She said she hosts a great show for people to enjoy before or after Palm Springs VillageFest, too.

“People can come and relax,” Bella said. “Everybody wants to get involved.”

Lipstick Thursdays take place at the Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Doors open at 6 p.m., with an 8 p.m. show time; a DJ follows at 9:30. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-866-0021, or visit www.copapalmsprings.com.

Published in Local Fun