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"Call Me Adam" chats with...

 

 

Entries in Drag (11)

Friday
Nov172017

Call Answered: Rick Skye: "Bazazz! A Sequined Variety" at Don't Tell Mama

Rick Skye, Photo Credit: Trevor SwingleLiza Minnelli is one of the most impersonated icons of our time. Everyone who pays homage to her brings their own flair & talent with it. When I was introduced to Rick Skye, one of the world's most well known Liza impersonators, I just had to "Ring Them Bells" and find out more.

Rick, who's show Judy and Liza Together Again just finished a seven year run at Don't Tell Mama this past June, is already returning to the venue with a new monthly variety show called Bazazz! A Sequined Variety. In addition to Rick, November's show will feature Steven Brinberg as Barbra Streisand and entertainer Sidney Myer. Cabaret favorite Ricky Ritzel is the evening’s Musical Director.

Bazazz! A Sequened Variety will play Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) on Saturday, November 25 at 8pm. Click here for tickets!

Designed by Andy Drachtenberg1. Besides Liza Minnelli, who or what inspired you to become a performer? I think you are born a performer and the performers who came before you set the bar for the type of artist you want to grow into. I was initially inspired by all the MGM Musicals, I Love Lucy, Judy, Cher, Bette Midler, all the brilliant Broadway shows that had stars that glittered and belted it out. I love a song and dance Diva that holds the audience for two hours with the force of her unique, individual personality. Shows used to revolve around those and it was my ambition to be able to do that. There isn't a school for that. "You either have it, or you've had it" to quote Mama Rose. The important thing is to get up anywhere and everywhere and perform for the experience. You need a lot of tricks in your bag to be able to keep that audience from fidgeting - especially NOW. So, I absorbed everything from the last generation of performers, but, all that set aside - Judy Garland has been my lifelong inspiration and muse in all things. The "World's Greatest Entertainer."

2. You recently started a monthly variety show at Don't Tell Mama called Bazazz! A Sequined Variety. When did you get the idea to start this show? I didn't! I had been performing in a show entitled Judy and Liza Together Again that ran most Saturday nights at Don't Tell Mama for almost seven years! It just kept running and running and then it finally ended last June. The managers at Don't Tell Mama contacted me in September and said that it just "hadn't been the same" on Saturday nights without a big show in the back room and would I consider doing a Variety show, as Liza, once a month that could turn into a long running thing. I was skeptical at first because there were other things I wanted to pursue at the time, but sometimes you "walk through the door that is open," ya know? So, I said, "Yes!" and kept my fingers crossed.

Rick Skye as Liza Minnelli3. What do you like about this format as opposed to putting together a one man show? I am really enjoying working with choreographer Kyle Rostan and the dancers. We do a really razzle dazzle opening number called "Bazazz," which is a song written by Liza's Godmother Kay Thompson with four part Jazz harmonies and it's just PURE JOY from start to finish. Opening night it really set the audience up for a good time. I also get to do Kander and Ebbs "Arthur in the Afternoon" from The Act, a show that Liza won the Tony Award for. I want to put in more numbers with me and the boys as time goes on. They are all talented and full of "Bazazz!" (which is a word Kay Thompson coined for the film Funny Face - it's a blending of "Bazaar" and "Pizazz," but you knew that, 'natch).

4. This month's show (November 25) features Barbra Streisand impersonator Steven Brinberg and entertainer Sidney Myer. What are you looking forward to most about having them on the show? For Steven and I it will be a sweet reunion. We have performed together many times, most notably in London for four spectacular, sold out nights at the Leicester Square Theater and at the Dublin Theater Festival. We both want to sing "Face to Face" from War Paint in "Bazazz!" and I'm going to move heaven and earth to try and make that happen. Sidney Myer is always a unique present whenever he graces a stage, so I am hoping he will add a little spice to the mix. He is a legend in Cabaret circles, so that's a lot of legends on one stage!

Rick Skye as Liza Minnelli5. Also on this variety show, you will be performing as Liza Minnelli, which you have been heralded for. What was it about Liza that made you want to impersonate her? Well, the way it began had nothing to do with "wanting" to impersonate her. I wrote a song for a "Liza" character to sing in a revue that I wrote called MaCabaret - A Tabloid Fable. All the actors played five parts, so they were either onstage performing or changing their clothes. Nobody was available in the middle of the show to sing this one song.  So, I plopped on a wig, made a red slash of a mouth, threw on a sequined schmatte and did the song and it brought down the house. When the show closed, I kept singing that song in a comedy night and week after week people told me that I should do more. So, finally I wrote a show called A Slice O' Minnelli and did a whole evening. Since she has always been my spirit animal it was a thrill to finally be able to exercise that electric style of performing fully.

6. What is the hardest part about impersonating her? The inside is easier for me because I am an actor and the way she is is basically the way I am. It was the outside that I always have a struggle with. I try week after week to make my face, which is almost the exact opposite of hers, to look like her. I want to do the character justice. The clothes all have to be custom made. Her look is so iconic that you have to get the details right, especially in a show where the audience is looking at you for an hour and a half. There has to be a moment in every evening where the audience buys into it and their belief takes over and they begin to think you REALLY look like her, or REALLY sound like her, when, in fact, there is a little magic involved. So I try to perfect as much of the "outside" as I can ahead of time. That is hard.

Rick Skye as Liza Minnelli7. Has Liza Minnelli herself ever see your impersonation of her? If so, what was her reaction? If not, would you want that to happen? Liza hasn't ever seen me and if she were to see me I would hope she would know that the deep love I have for her is what informs every detail of my performance. Even when I make little jokes at the expense of her public persona, because, after all, that is the only thing one really knows about, they are done on the sly and with great affection. I try to capture and bring to the audience what is great about her. She has given me so many nights of thrilling entertainment that I hope, in my own way and with my OWN talent, I can approximate that type of evening for my audiences.

8. Liza is very famous for her rendition of "New York, New York." So, what are some of your favorite things to do in NYC? I always say, "Aren't I lucky to live in my favorite city?" I love to wander the streets with a cup of coffee on an early Sunday morning and wave to Radio City Music Hall, go to a street fair, eat in Little Italy, watch a Joan Crawford movie at the Film Forum, have lunch with Charles Busch and dish the dirt, go to Happy Hour at The Monster and sing all the old songs, take a twirl on the dance floor, go to an Off-Broadway Show, stroll through Central Park and, well, you get the idea...

9. What have you learned about Liza Minnelli from impersonating her that the average person wouldn't know? That she must be made out of iron. To be a star of that magnitude, the amount of discipline and energy that goes into those gargantuan performances really takes an enormous amount of energy. The timing of your day, when to eat, when to begin make up, the whole day revolves around show after show and then travel and then greeting people after and getting enough rest and the stress of keeping everyone together and rehearsals etc. It takes a very special kind of person who would rather perform than do anything else to try and hold such an enterprise together.

10. If you could sing a duet with Liza Minnelli, on one of her songs, which one would you choose? I think it would have to be "A Quiet Thing." First of all, we wouldn't both have to scream over each other and secondly it holds a lot of meaning to people whenever they hear it. And we could harmonize, so there's that. That would be a dream come true. And a very "quiet thing"...

Rick SkyeMore on Rick:

Rick Skye is a multi-award winning performer who has enjoyed international success. Training with the Joffrey Ballet and the famed Stella Adler, Rick toured the US with Ann Reinking and Sandy Duncan in The American Dance Machine Show and in the Kennedy Center Production of Miss Liberty. He acted with Dorothy Louden in a role written especially for him by Paul Zindel in Danny and Della. He did a stint on All My Children and appeared in the film The Cater Waiter starring David Drake. His friendship with Neil Sedaka led to his writing and starring in The Flip Side of Neil Sedaka which earned him a nomination as "Best Newcomer" by The Manhattan Association of Cabarets. His revue, MaCabaret - a tabloid fable ran for nine months in New York and in 2008 he created a new revue entitled The War of the Mama Roses - the Ultimate Audition for GYPSY starring some of the world's foremost impersonators and which enjoyed a successful run in New York. He joined forces with the legendary "Madame" of "Wayland Flowers and Madame" fame and toured the U.S. with Its Madame with an E! which he wrote and starred in. The duo played Resorts International in Atlantic City, the Suncoast Casino in Las Vegas, The RRAZZ Room in San Francisco as well as Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City. He was a contributing writer and performer of Bawdy! - Off Broadway's Biggest Little Vaudeville and most recently won acclaim for creating and directing Sacred Monster a hyperemotional evening of song, drama and comedy starring Billy Lykken.

Friday
Jul282017

Call Answered: Alaska: "On Golden Girls" at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

AlaskaThank you for being a friend! I love The Golden Girls, so anytime someone has a show about them or in praise of them, I'm checking it out. I am thrilled that RuPaul's Drag Race Season 5 favorite, Alaska, & I got to fly to Miami, eat cheesecake, & discuss her upcoming show On Golden Girls, with her sidekick Handsome Jeremy.

On Golden Girls takes you on a musical journey of story and song, diving deep into the lake known as The Golden Girls. Drawing upon their vast knowledge and worship of the Girls of Gold, Alaska and Jeremy will explore the songs featured within the seven seasons of the hit TV classic, while offering their own unique analysis and perspective on all things Golden.

On Golden Girls will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the basement of the West Bank Cafe) from August 3-13. Click here for tickets!

For more on Alaska visit http://alaskathunderfuck.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. The story of your creation goes something like "After your spaceship crashed in the Matanuska Valley, a remote part of south-central Alaska, the U.S. government recovered an emaciated… make that an emancipated alien" which turned out to be you. As your spaceship was going down, what was going through your mind? What was it like when you were rescued? How did surviving the crash change you? The reason the space ship crash landed was because I ran the air conditioner, heater, cappuccino maker, and hair straightener all at once. As I crashed down, I was grateful that I was wearing cute underwear.

2. You are known for being one of the final three contestants on Season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race. What is the one lesson you learned from Ru herself that you will carry with you? RuPaul works hard and has a sense of humor.  But she also doesn't take any shit and will throw a fit when it's necessary.

3. This August, you will be returning to the Laurie Beechman Theatre with your side kick Handsome Jeremy in your new show On Golden Girls, a musical journey of story and song, diving deep into the lake known as The Golden Girls. Drawing upon your vast knowledge and worship of the Girls of Gold, you and Handsome Jeremy will explore the songs featured within the seven seasons of the hit TV classic, while offering your own unique analysis and perspective on all things Golden. First, what was it about The Golden Girls that made you want to create a show with the sitcom as its backdrop? I'm not a religious person, but if I had to choose a religion, it would be The Golden Girls. I study the scriptures daily, and I can point you to an episode that will shed light upon any problem you may be experiencing in life. Jeremy and I have bonded a lot over the show, and so we found it natural to do a show born out of our obsession.

4. How did you and Handsome Jeremy come to work together? What is the best part about this partnership? We met in Psychology class in my freshman year of college. The best part of our partnership is the friendship I've found in Jeremy. He is the kindest and most honest, open-hearted person I know and we are family.

Alaska5. Which "Golden Girl" are you? I'm tall with a deep voice, so I'm "Dorothy." But I also have flights of self-centered insanity, like "Blanche." So I'm a "Dorothy" with a "Blanche" rising.

6. Were you nervous to create a show centered around one of the most beloved TV shows of all time? What do you think die hard Golden Girls fans will think of the show? I'm certain the die hard Golden Girls fans will love it. It's the fair-weather, casual Golden Girls observers I'm worried about. They may have no idea what the hell we're talking about. I suggest a binge watching session before coming to our show.

7. I have seen several Golden Girls parody shows, but none have explored the musical numbers before. What song was the most was the hardest to fit in? A lot of the times when there are songs on the show, they usually only last for like 20 seconds. So that's challenging -- but we're going to try to do our best to cram as many of them in as we can.

Alaska8. What do you feel is something you know about The Golden Girls that the average super fan would not know? People like to pretend there was a feud or friction between Betty White and Bea Arthur, but that's not really how it was. They all ate lunch together every day. And Estelle Getty would write her lines all over the fake fruit on the table or various props so that she could remember them.

9. If you could have cheesecake with the The Golden Girls, what flavor cheesecake would you have? What problem would you ask them to solve for you? I would have to have some vegan, dairy free chocolate cheesecake with Coconut Bliss ice cream. I would love to hear the girls' perspectives on social media. I'd love to see "Blanche" on Tinder and "Dorothy" on Twitter.

10. If you never made out of the Matanuska Valley and the only form of entertainment you had was to watch five episodes of The Golden Girls on a loop, which five episodes would you want to be on there? "A Little Romance;" "Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself;" "Dorothy's New Friend;" "All Bets Off;" "The Case of the Libertine Belle."

AlaskaMore on Alaska:

After her spaceship crashed in the Matanuska Valley, a remote part of south-central Alaska, the U.S. government recovered an emaciated…make that an emancipated alien, or that’s how the story goes. Alaska went on to become one of the final three contestants on the fifth season of RuPaul's Drag Race on Logo.  In October 2013, she starred in The Rocky Horror Picture Show at The Woodlawn Theater in San Antonio.

Saturday
May202017

Call Answered: Aaron Carty: The Beyoncé Experience at Stage 48 NYC

If you are Beyoncé fan, then this interview is for you! While it's not with Beyoncé herself, it's with the next best thing...Beyoncé impersonator Aaron Carty, who leapt onto the London scene after his audition video for Britain's Got Talent went viral.

Now Aaron brings The Beyoncé Experience, a Beyoncé dance concert, complete with an astonishing all female dance crew, to the US on May 25 in NYC at Stage 48 in Hell's Kitchen (605 West 48th Street) at a fundraiser for Hetrick-Martin Institute, presented by Open Finance. Click here for tickets!

The Hetrick-Martin Institute is the oldest and largest nonprofit agency created to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth between the ages of 13 and 24. Their After-School programs invite youth to explore the arts, culture, tutoring, job skills, and health issues—with an LGBTQ focus. Their Supportive Services staff provides help in areas from housing to HIV counseling to family therapy, all tailored to the individual.

OPEN Finance is a volunteer network that combines the expertise of almost 50 financial services firms’ employee resource groupstodriveforwardLGBTequalityanddiversityinthefinanceindustryandbeyond.

For more on Aaron & The Beyoncé Experience be sure to visit https://www.beyonceexp.com and follow him Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo!

1. Already a known entity in London, this May, you are making your US debut with The Beyoncé Experience as a fundraiser for Hetrick-Martin Institute at Stage 48 in Hell's Kitchen. What is it about HMI that made you go, "This is the perfect way to be introduced to the US"? It's really important for me to contribute to organizations that work with young LGBT people. It's such a difficult time of your life and organizations like HMI really make an impact. I feel my story of growing up as an awkward and shy teen, to then become a police officer turned Media Entrepreneur...and then Beyoncé impersonator goes to show these young people that no matter what difficulties you have going on, there is always a solution; and if you can't see it - organizations like HMI are there to help guide you.

2. How do you feel an organization like this would have helped you growing up? It took me a lot longer to come to terms with who I was, what I was and what it was I wanted to be. I also felt like I didn't have people around me who understood what I was going through or the thoughts I was having. The torture you go through wondering if you'll be accepted into society really dents your confidence. I was so introverted an organization would have had to approach me to help me - and this is what HMI do. They reach out to these young people and events like this help. One photo of this event on social media itself could help a young person.

Aaron Carty in his prior "The Beyoncé Experience" life as a Police Officer3. For 10 years you've been supporting the LGBTQ community in London and now you will be supporting us in the US. What do you get from helping LGBTQ youth as opposed to the adult community? I think I'm really relatable to young people. I'm not an adult telling them "you should do it this way." My message is all about expression of yourself - whatever that is. I have young people messaging me and coming to my performances telling me that I'm really bracing for doing what I do. The fact that they think it's brave shows that they've felt insecure about expressing themselves in some way. So we need to continue showing young people that your variety and individuality is what will really make you stand out for all the right reasons.

4. Now let's find out all about you, your love of Beyoncé, & The Beyoncé Experience. Prior to The Beyoncé Experience, you were a cop. What made you want to be an officer of the law and how do you go from cop to Beyoncé impersonator? It's a very slow and unknown process, although I wanted to become a cop because at the time, despite getting accepted to three universities it wasn't something I wanted to do. I couldn't see myself going to university not knowing what I wanted to actually do. So instead I joined the police, and it was the 'J' curve of life experience I needed to pursue anything else I wanted. It 'knocked the shy out of me' and really opened my eyes to the world.

I loved the job but quickly lost faith in the politics and bureaucracy; so I started using my days off to help media production companies. Seven years later I have my own successful company. This is what led to Beyoncé, owning your own business at 22 is hard work! It got to the point where I needed a creative relief...Beyoncé Experience was born! 

Aaron Carty in "The Beyoncé Experience"5. Was Beyoncé the performer who initially inspired you to become a performer or was there someone else first and then you discovered Beyoncé? I always pretended to be Mel B whilst dancing with my sisters in our house when I was younger. But it was really Beyoncé who I look at and thought - wow - what an inspiration, what a role model. I never expected to be a Beyoncé drag impersonator. If you would have told me five years ago, this is what I would be doing, I would have laughed at you.

6. What was it about Beyoncé that made you say, "I want to spend my life traveling the world as a Beyoncé impersonator"? I've never thought that - but it has been a welcomed organic process of just taking a very mediocre talent and training at it to the point where I can show it to people. But there aren't many black artists that sing, dance and produce such an amazing show. There really wasn't anyone else I could have chosen from to impersonate.

7. What has been the hardest part about impersonating her and what's the most fun? The hardest part is dancing for 90 minutes in heels. These routines aren't easy - they're grueling to learn and really need a lot of work. I always rehearse in heels, I don't want a surprise in wearing them for the first time on stage.

Peoples reactions to the performance is definitely what makes it fun. I don't think people really know what to expect from the performance and it definitely has the shock factor. To look at me, I don't think people would say, "That's a Beyoncé impersonator." Seeing their faces and watching their reaction is priceless. It's happened all over the world - seeing it live, really is the only way to experience it.

Aaron Carty in "The Beyoncé Experience"8. Do you know if Beyoncé herself is aware of you & your experience? If so, have you heard from her? I'm not entirely sure she does - we had such a great reaction to our Britain's Got Talent performance, I just hope I'm doing it some justice.

9. What have you learned about Beyoncé from impersonating her that you feel you would not know from just being a fan? I've learned that she works so f**king hard - like, harder than you and I know. As a fan you can sit back and enjoy the amazing performances, as an impersonator you get a tiny insight into the work that goes into it. I can't imagine how much work goes into the creative mindset of an album and a performance. There aren't many artists that can take the risks that Beyoncé has in her music, her messaging and her political stance. She won't play it safe just to sell records, she's expressing herself through her art in a way that she wants to - a message we should be telling young people today.

Aaron Carty in "The Beyoncé Experience"10. Let's play with some of her song titles to find out more about you. Let's start with "Sweet Dreams." What is something that has happened to you where you went, "Is this a sweet dream or beautiful nightmare"? and then what was the result of said event? That event would be becoming a Beyoncé impersonator itself. I was a police officer at 18, I owned my first media business at 22, never would I have thought that I would be performing as Beyoncé in front of thousands of people around the world. It's a dream I think many of us have thought about - and then been terrified by. The end result is a sweet dream, I've learned more about myself and the world doing this than anything else.

11. When have you been "Crazy in Love"? Right now! I brought my boyfriend to New York only this week for his 27th birthday as a surprise and then arranged for a professional photographer (he's an actor) to take new headshots around the city. I'm so crazy in love with him that I'm actually going crazy!!!

Aaron Carty in "The Beyoncé Experience"12. Who's your "Halo"? My instant thought is my mum, she's so honest, down to earth and normal. She's the only one I've ever opened up to when I've made some terrible mistakes in my life, she's never judged me and always supported me. Even when I've been in the wrong. I'm lucky to have her.

13. Have you ever told some one, "If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it?" HAHAHAHAHAHAHA - yes I have, but I'm glad they now didn't. I might be crazy in love now, but I think we've all been stupidly in love at some point haven't we. It's funny, when those ex's see you in the public eye and begin texting you again...I could easily send back a Single Ladies GIF, and I have. Slightly arrogant - but very true!

14. Let's twist up Beyoncé's song "Irreplaceable." What is something that you lost that you felt was "Irreplaceable"? Just like the song itself. There aren't any things in my life that at the time I thought were irreplaceable (most of them boyfriends) but you soon come to your senses and realize that they were in fact "replaceable" in a minute.

15. We both live in world, you in London with Brexit & me here in the US with that orange balloon in the White House, where are political leaders and climate are in flux and causing such stress, panic, & fear. If you were to "Run The World" as "The Beyoncé Expereince," what changes would you make? (Can you use any of her songs to illustrate your plan?) I'd firstly ask everyone to "Hold Up" a minute and really think about why they vote the way they do. Don't vote in anger and fear. I'd "Ring The Alarm" and get everyone in "Formation." It's us as the people who can make a difference. Stop thinking about "Me, Myself and I" and start thinking as a whole. It could be the "End Of Time" if we'are not careful, we all live in such luxury, we're not all a "Survivor," start working harder so you can pay those "Bills, Bills, Bills" and listening to those leaders with the "SuperPower" driving a "Partition" between us all. Everyone would be responsible for their own actions and stop playing the blame game, living their lives through their "Telephone" and begin making real change through action!

Aaron CartyMore on Aaron:

International Beyonce impersonator Aaron Carty is back, with a vengeance. Having burst onto the scenes at Sitges Pride 2014, wowing the judges on Britain's Got Talent and becoming a viral smash - making Alesha Dixon get up and dance, with Simon Cowell throwing a sly smile his way to closing Pride In London, Trafalgar Square 2015. He was memorably axed before making it onto the live show. Since walking off Simon’s stage this cop-cum-drag superstar has strutted on, amassing nearly a million views for his youtube audition clip, performing to a crowd of thousands at London Pride, and then independently putting on his own show The Protest at the iconic Troxy in London. Giving a truly Beyoncé dance concert experience, complete with an astonishing all female dance crew.

Tuesday
May092017

Call Answered: Sam Pancake: "Gilmore Girls" + "Hot Sweet & Sticky"

Sam PancakeGrowing up, my favorite pancakes were silver dollar. I couldn't wait to drizzle that maple syrup on, and eat them up. When actor Sam Pancake called, my taste buds heightened answered! With fork and knife in hand, I cut into Sam revealing all that went into the NYC premiere of his hit show Hot Sweet & Sticky as well as his role on Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life as Stars Hollow's only gay resident!

In Hot Sweet & Sticky, Sam Pancake portrays three different show-biz strivers: "Helluva Bottom Carter," a vivacious southern drag queen with an agenda; "Dame Peggy Wooten-Heifen-Smythe," a tipsy, aging Grande Dame of the British stage and screen; and "Fritzie Zimmer," the self-proclaimed "world's oldest-living openly-gay stand-up comedian/chorus boy." With this trio of divas, severe costume changes, stellar lip-syncing, stunning wiggery, "songs", bitch-fits and laughter are guaranteed. This hilarious, self-penned almost-solo show also features Steven Wishnoff on the piano.

Hot Sweet & Sticky will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) May 19 & 20 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on Sam be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My very first memory is of watching Mary Poppins in the theatre (IN RE-RELEASE!) at about two years old. My mother said they thought I'd fall asleep but I was standing up in my seat, riveted the whole time. That movie and Dame Julie first got me hooked, and later I was very inspired by so many of the funny ladies that came into their own in the 1970's: Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing and of course, Laverne and Shirley!

2. What made now the right time to make your NYC debut with Sam Pancake: Hot Sweet & Sticky? It was all very serendipitous: I've been wanting to do a show there for years, and Chip Duckett, Spin Cycle's co-founder, was able to get me a weekend in May, which is when I always take a theatre trip to NYC anyway -- but this year I'll not just be viewing, I'll be performing. EEK!

3. In Hot Sweet & Sticky you portray three different show-biz strivers: "Helluva Bottom Carter," a vivacious southern drag queen with an agenda; "Dame Peggy Wooten-Heifen-Smythe," a tipsy, aging Grande Dame of the British stage and screen; and "Fritzie Zimmer," the self-proclaimed "world's oldest-living openly-gay stand-up comedian/chorus boy." How did you come up with each of these characters? What part of you does each one represent? "Helluva" came out of me this way: Since the early '90's, I've always been friends and colleagues with so many drag queens, and I've done drag and played a lot of ladies in many shows; not just in sketches and videos, but also as "Blair" in Facts of Life and "Sophia" in The Golden Girls in the LA live-stage versions of those sitcoms. As drag gets even bigger, thanks to RuPaul's Drag Race, I thought, "Ya know, I'm an actor - I can do that too! If I was just going to be a lip-syncing "beauty" drag queen, who would she be?" And that's how "Helluva" was born last year. She represents the sweet, sassy, put-upon, but bossy Southern boy in me.

"Dame Peggy" came out of my general Anglophilia and obsession with Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Judy Parfitt, Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood and other legendary British stage and screen icons. In 2014 I was doing a play-reading in a Noel Coward festival and I somehow couldn't NOT do the character as Maggie Smith. I thought -- "I gotta do something with this lady!" and "Dame Peggy" then sprang from my heated loins!

"Fritzie" I first did in a skit with my sketch group Margot's Bush in 2001. Then he was an old hoofer/showboy/entertainer/slut who had retired from showbiz to become the world's most inappropriate therapist. I dredged him back up for this show because I realized he had a LOT more to say. He's now the world's oldest living openly-gay stand-up comedian and performer, doing his own "one"-man show (accompanied on piano by his ex-husband "Giacomo," played by Steven Wishnoff). "Fritzie" is the old bitter yet hilarious show-biz queen in ME, I'm afraid, who LOVES being on stage and performing his guts out, but also feels like he's never gotten his due because he was born too soon, so he kinda has a love/hate relationship with his audience. (but I ONLY LOVE my audience!)

Top Row (left to right): Drew Droege, Jackie Beat, Bottom Row (left to right): Sam Pancake and Sherry Vine in "The Golden Girls" at The Cavern Club Celebrity Theater4. Let's play with Hot Sweet & Sticky for a moment. When have you been "Hot, Sweet, & Sticky" all at one time prior to this show? Oooooo honey -- ya know I'll never tell that one! I will say that, because of my unusual surname, I have gotten a few sexual offers in my day that involve butter and/or syrup. I'm not kidding.

5. The description of the show continues on with this trio of divas, severe costume changes, stellar lip-syncing, stunning wiggery, "songs", bitch-fits and laughter are guaranteed. So we are going to break some of this down. Between "Helluva Bottom Carter," "Dame Peggy Wooten-Heifen-Smythe," and "Fritzie Zimmer," who is the bigger diva? The biggest diva is definitely "Fritzie!!" He's the angriest by far.

Sam Pancake, Photo Credit: Darrin Noble6. What is the one song you kill every time you lip-sync it? "Wheels of A Dream" from Ragtime, the Brian Stokes-Mitchell and Audra McDonald version. I tear it up (I like to think!) and it tears me up every time -- I end up on my knees sobbing.

7. What has been your biggest bitch-fit? When have you laughed your hardest? I don't have bitch-fits professionally speaking, really, unless it's on-set in a work situation where I see other people getting treated unfairly or harmfully. I'm a much better bitch on behalf of others than myself. Personally though, I'M A NIGHTMARE.

8. I can't interview you and not talk about you Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. For seven seasons you tried, waited, tried again, and waited some more to be on the first Gilmore Girls series. That never happened. Almost 10 years go by and then it happens, you find out that not only you are going to be on Gilmore Girls: A  Year In The Life, What went through your head when you found out you were going to not only be part of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, but the role of "Donald" was written explicitly for you? Well, it really wasn't that dramatic of a reveal. An appropriate role never came up during those seven years, which was fine -- "that's showbiz, kid" -- and I was plenty busy doing other shows. When talk of the revival started, I knew that Lauren had planted the seed with Amy of me perhaps playing a part, and as negotiations bubbled along, it gradually became clear it would be a reality. The fun discovery came at the table-reads, learning along with most of the other actors what fun stuff we'd get to play. And when I saw I would be in all the Stars Hollow musical scenes with Sutton Foster and Christian Borle (not to mention Carole King and Sally Struthers) my tiny mind exploded.

Sam Pancake at premiere of "Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life"9. What do you relate to most about "Donald"? What is one characteristic of his you are glad you don't possess? Other than him looking just like me, I don't think "Donald" and I have a whole lot in common! Lets see: we both enjoyed the musical (for different reasons) so I related to that. He enjoys kayaking, I do enjoy canoeing...but we definitely have very different tastes in clothing. You'll never catch me in pastels outside of wardrobe.

10. How did it feel to be the only gay in Stars Hollow? EMPOWERING! I do hope "Donald" has a husband or partner in the next one, though. I don't want him to be lonely.

11. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I stay in my spiritual practice and meditate every day, and I exercise in some capacity (hike, gym, walk) nearly every day. That's what keeps me on track, along with gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude.

Sam Pancake, Photo Credit: Matt GorrekMore on Sam:

Sam Pancake is an American actor best known for his lead roles on Lovespring International and Kitchen Confidential, as well as recurring roles on Gilmore Girls, Will & Grace, Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has also made memorable appearances on a number of popular television shows including The Mick, Transparent, Wings, Friends, The King of Queens, Fat Actress, Parenthood, Major Crimes, Cougar Town, and Charmed. His film credits include, Legally Blonde 2, A Holiday Engagement, Ready? OK!, Straight-Jacket, Girls Will Be Girls (with Coco Peru and Varla Jean Merman) and Jackie Beat's Scream, Teen, Scream.

Tuesday
Mar142017

Call Answered: Steve Willis: The Legend of Yma Sumac at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

Steve WillisI love music videos. I love documentaries. I love live performance. I love learning about people. When you get asked to interview someone that encompasses all of these and then you find out they have worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment, you jump at the opportunity presented before you.

That's where Steve Willis comes in. He has made videos for Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and many others (including RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles). Now, he is premiering his "live documentary" cabaret show The Legend of Yma Sumac starring drag performer Scarlet Envy. Featuring many of Yma's greatest hits and never-before-seen footage of Yma, shot by Steve, The Legend of Yma Sumac will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) from March 15-29Click here for tickets!

For more on Steve be sure to visit http://thestevewillis.com and Instagram!

1. This March you are premiering The Legend of Yma Sumac, starring Scarlet Envy. The show is described as a "live documentary" cabaret about the late star, whom you were friends with. How did you first come to meet Yma? What was it about her that made you want to be friends? What do you miss most about her? When I first heard Yma’s music I became obsessed and couldn’t stop talking about her. From the very beginning I treated her as news that must be spread. I had the feeling that more people needed to know about her. I was so shocked to find out she existed. So one of the people that heard me talking said she was making gowns for Yma and I begged her to introduce me. She took me to dinner with Yma and I asked if I could make a documentary about her life. She was totally interested but she also wanted help with her career and I eventually learned she wanted help with her life. She was quite isolated. Over the years the relationship developed from director of her documentary, to also include manager for live shows to personal assistant. We would spend long hours in her apartment listening to her new music and hearing stories of the past and the people that did her wrong.

I think what I miss about her is being around such amazing talent and her wise worldly ways. She was always full of good advice and she cared for people and animals. She had a magical quality with animals that was like nothing I've ever seen. Wild animals, birds for example, would come to her and she was acting like it was the most natural thing when it was extremely rare. I believe the power of her mind was very great, she credited her singing ability to her mind and believing she could do it. She taught me more about integrity, artistic integrity than anyone I've ever met.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac2. What made now the right time to mount this show? That's an interesting question because there are three people that were involved with Yma at the end of her life trying to do projects with her. All three of us, without communicating with each other, returned to our projects again at the same time, around seven years after she died. The seven year itch? I've read the human body completely replaces all its cells after seven years and therefore you are a totally new person. Maybe we all had to heal a little before getting back to work on our projects? The other two people are Damon Devine, who was Yma’s caregiver and friend. He is working on a book that I really want to see come to life and I want to help promote. The other is Thomas Lauderdale of the band Pink Martini. I introduced him to Yma to record a song and she gave him a great start.

3. Why is Scarlet Envy the perfect drag queen to portray Yma? What aspects of Yma do you see in Scarlet? Spencer Rothman, the editor of this project has gone so far and beyond helping make this show come to life, introduced me to her. He saw I was really struggling to cast the project. I went through so many options. The problem was...if I was making a show that says "Yma has the greatest voice in the world ever," then how do I cast a live singer? No-one can sing these songs. (if you are reading this and you think this is incorrect….please introduce me to the singer that you think can do this).

Also, if I was in the audience for this show, I would want to hear Yma’s voice. So, the only choice seemed to be to do a lip sync show. I did consider real women along with drag performers but when it came to lip syncing, I think Drag performers have a little more practice…haha. I was already following Scarlet Envy on Instagram, so I was a fan of her beauty. She has an old Hollywood glamor to her look. She’s a beautiful woman and not a girl. I wanted the person playing Yma to be an older version of Yma. When I saw Scarlet paint herself to look like Yma, the resemblance was shocking and exciting. She had to do it. Yma’s career suffered somewhat from being considered "campy" or "kitsch" so I carefully considered whether casting a drag performer was the right thing to do but in the end I decided that the gender of the artist on stage is the last thing anyone needed to worry about. There is no nudity in the show except the male dancers show a lot of side ass.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac4. Some of Yma's greatest hits were "Malambo No. 1," "Mozart's Queen of the Night," and "Claire de Lune." In rehearsing this show what memories come up for you as hear these songs being performed? Because it is pretty rare to hear Yma’s music out in the world, I look forward to hearing my favorite songs by her on a nice loud system in a public place. I never heard Yma sing any of these songs live but when I would drive her around I would play these songs and she would drum on my dash board and sing along. One of my biggest regrets is not filming these moments. The way she would sing on top of the existing song was incredible. She would do this with any song by the way, not just hers. It was always in perfect harmony. I don’t know musical terms that well but she would also counter the melody in a very interesting way. She was also a great percussionist. Who knew the dashboard of a car could add so much great rhythm to a song?

5. The Legend of Yma Sumac incorporates unseen footage of Yma that was shot by you. How did you decide what footage to pick? What was it like to watch this footage now as opposed to when you first shot it? When I first picked up this project five years after her death, I needed to digitize some pretty archaic video formats (the project started in the 80’s). When I first started watching the footage, I literally broke out in hives on my face. The experience of watching the footage was a overwhelming. I put it away again until now. This year, I also won a grant from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for my feature documentary about Yma so I’ve been working on that as well. Chip Duckett knew I was doing this and asked me if I wanted to do a live show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, I wanted the live show to be a tribute to her so I picked footage that was happy and she looked great in.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac6. What do you hope audiences learn about Yma from attending the show? I want them to learn that she was a serious artist and had the greatest voice ever recorded. According to some experts I've interviewed, there are two other women who could sing the same scale as Yma and we know this from the music that was written for their voices but this was before the technology to record them existed.

7. What was the hardest/most emotional part of the show to write? What was the most fun part? The hardest part of the show was the end. Every time we would get to that part I would get emotional. It was a little embarrassing but luckily Spencer the editor is a friend. The "fun" part?…..did I say I had fun? Actually the whole experience has been fun.

Patti LaBelle8. In addition to Yma, you have made videos for numerous high profile artists such as Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles, amongst others. Is there a really crazy story that stands out from one of these shoots where you were like, "I can't believe that just happened?" Meeting Patti LaBelle was crazy and amazing and educational. She was the first big name person I ever directed. The record company guy took me to her hotel room and as we waited in the living room of her suite I was very nervous. From the bedroom she called out "Is that Steve Willis? I love your work!" I said "yes." She answered "Oh my, I look terrible and I don’t want to come out of my bedroom, I'm on my period." We all laughed and my nerves went away. She came out and we had a great meeting. I realized after what a pro move this was. She has probably met and intimidated many people and that's not the best place to start working with someone. Complimenting me and bringing herself to a human level was a great way to start working together.

Rebecca Romijn9. You also directed the documentary Wet Dreams with Rebecca Romijn about your attempt to approach Wet Design, the creators of the Bellagio fountain, to choreograph a fountain show of your own. What did you learn from this experience? Are there any secrets about the Bellagio fountain or fountain show that you can share with us that we, the public, might not know? That was an amazing experience. I was the first civilian to swim in the Bellagio Fountain. The film is about what we learned and the secrets of the fountain. It is on Youtube. So, if you want to know the answer to this question you need to watch the film 😊

10. What is something Yma taught you that you can share with us? She taught me not to compromise on your artistic vision no matter what. Once you have a clear vision, everyone can go to hell before you compromise on any small detail. I’ve never seen anyone hold to this more strongly and I've worked with many of the top people in the Film, TV and Fashion Industry.

Steve WillisMore on Steve:

Steve Willis is a filmmaker, photographer, and music video director. As a music video director, he has made videos for numerous artists, including Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and many others (including RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles). He directed the documentary Wet Dreams with Rebecca Romijn, and is currently working on a documentary about Yma Sumac, who he befriended in 1987.