What a Drag!
Bantering with The Kinsey Sicks about the glory days of 54, Celine Dion's "interesting" choices, and that beauteous Beautyshop sound.
The glitter and glam is back at Studio 54! Dragapella! Starring The Kinsey Sicks has opened Off-Broadway in the new performance space Upstairs at 54.
For those blasé New Yorkers expecting another sarcastic and semi-tacky drag-a-thon, I bring glad tidings, a high kick, and a huzzah or two: The Kinsey Sicks, named after the famed report on sexual behavior ("six" was "most gay" on the Kinsey scale), have produced one of the most joyous evenings of sharp comedic and musical material I've seen in decades. The show skewers homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, omnisexuals, goys, Jews and Celine Dion. What else do you want?
I was recently lucky enough to have a phone conversation with Maurice Kelly ("Trixie") and Chris Dilley ("Trampolina"), one-half of America's favorite--and perhaps only--Beautyshop Quartet.
JIM CARUSO: I love these three-way conversations.
MAURICE KELLY: Is it as good for you as it is for us?
CHRIS DILLEY: Oooh!
JC: Now, how will we do this interview so I know who's speaking?
CD: Well, you could attribute all the smart comments to me, Trampolina, and the boring, more mundane comments to Trixie.
JC: I was at your show on opening night. I loved it. And what a crowd...Leslie Uggams, Meredith Vieira, and Adolph Green, all in the same room!
MK: My mother sat right next to Adolph. She was the sweet little old lady clapping just for me.
JC: I know you've been a huge hit in San Francisco, but how did this Off-Broadway production happen?
MK: Believe me, we never had any idea that we'd get to New York. The idea was brought to us by some producers about two years ago. They thought we'd be great here...then, of course, lightbulbs started popping in our heads. We were back-burnered by the first set of producers but had already gotten the bug to perform here, so we decided to self-produce.
CD: We met a wonderful director, Glenn Casale--the Emmy-award winning director of Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby--and our fantastic producer, Maria Di Dia. When I become Pope Trixie, I will nominate her for sainthood! She's so generous and warm and savvy. We had to raise a lot of money, so we put the offer out to our friends, fans and family. We raised the total in about two months.
MK: "Grass roots" is the perfect way to put it; we didn't have a single investor that gave over five or eight percent of the budget!
JC: That's unbelievable! I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to skip around a lot with the questions. I think I'm developing A.D.D., so bear with me...
CD: More Ritalin, please?
JC: The world has seen a lot of drag. How do you explain exactly what your show is about, so people don't think it's just another drag act?
CD: That is a challenge, because people certainly have preconceived notions. One thing that wakes people up is the fact that we're an a cappella group. We've actually won a cappella awards. We were just in Provincetown, and that's really how we sold our show: We'd go into the streets and perform. At first, people were like, "Oh, how cute...drag queens in matching outfits." Then we'd burst into song and they'd scream, "Oh, my God!"
MK: Then they'd hear the lyrics we were singing. A lot of them are good, smutty fun, but many have a political and social edge. We're not pandering to the lowest common denominator here. Our show is for people who have a good, ironic take on some of the current issues that face us all.
JC: Who writes those smart, hilarious lyrics?
MK: Most of them are by Ben Schatz, who plays Rachel.
JC: And the arrangements?
CD: They're done by Irwin Keller, who is Winnie, and me, Trampolina.
JC: Are you having fun at Studio 54?
MK: I remember 54 when it was still the Steve Rubell Taj Mahal of Disco Decadence. I was one of those people standing behind the velvet ropes, screaming: "Pick me! Pick me!" You really had to be part of the "in" crowd at that point. Unfortunately, Chris remembers 54 from the Ryan Phillippe movie.
CD: Trampolina was very, very disappointed when she realized that Ryan would not be at the club every night. She almost turned in her tennis shoes and quit.
MK: It's interesting that upstairs, where we're performing, was the forbidden, nasty, sexy area of the club back in the day.
JC: If those walls could talk!
MK: There are acres of leopard carpet stored in the back from the old days. Just imagine...
JC: Eww! No thanks. You know, Tammy Faye Bakker once told me that leopard was her favorite color.
MK: [laughing] I want that on my tombstone!
JC: Don't you think this is a great time to bring a show that's so filled with laughs to New York?
MK: One of our reviews said, "It's a breath of fresh air...just what New York needs right now." Laughter is so healing. Our comedy is biting and sardonic at times, but heartfelt.
JC: You all do the most hilarious Celine Dion send-up, "Why Does Celine Go On?"
MK: She's such a great talent, but some of her presentational choices are...interesting.
JC: Weren't you worried when she kept beating her chest in concert? I just knew her little fist would go right through her body.
CD: I get to do that in the song: I beat my chest and then say, "Ow!" It's so not worth breaking a rib, honey. I actually pulled a neck muscle the other night doing the number. Can you believe that?
JC: Because your vocals are so great and the show is musically so strong, was there ever talk about your dressing as men? I hate to tell you this, but you could be Forever Plaid.
MK: When we started, we were just a bunch of friends going to a Bette Midler concert dressed as the Andrews Sisters. Drag is an integral part of what we do. We've had opportunities to perform out of drag, especially some of our more serious songs; it's just not what we do. Drag is still something that provokes and shocks people. There are a few acts that have become mainstream, like Dame Edna and RuPaul, but it's still rather subversive. We can get away with saying certain things that we couldn't say as men.
CD: Our music makes the whole thing more accessible, too. Hopefully, the quality of the music drives the messages home. We do our homework.
JC: Dame Edna appeared on Ally McBeal. Do you hope for some television exposure in the future?
MK: We were actually approached by someone about doing a series. I envision a variety show like Sonny and Cher or Laugh-In. We could call it Four Divas With An Agenda.
CD: Trampolina is looking forward to doing an episode of The West Wing. She so wanted to be the First Lady.
MK: She certainly has the hair for it!