I’ve always been fascinated by female impersonator and their ability to mimic the way women move and react, along with the astonishing feat of transforming into dazzling, sexy women with flawless makeup, exquisite gowns, glittering jewelry, and size eleven stilettoes. I’m humbled by the amount of effort that goes into their illusion when I can barely run a comb through my hair once a day, let alone wash my face, pluck my eyebrows, smear on lipstick, shave my “pits,” and put together an outfit that doesn’t look like it came off the floor.
My love of over-the-top glamour probably resides in my genes. My mother’s father had seven sisters, most were performers. One was an opera singer, another played the piano in the talkies, a third married a dancer and they appear in vaudeville, and my Aunt Alice (Alice Ridnor) was on Broadway. She was loud, brassy, and until her last breath, had platinum blonde hair, cherry red nails, layers of face powder, and furs that smelled of mothballs. She could also walk down the street, knitting and carry on a conversation at the same time. On her piano was a signed picture from President Kennedy, a thank you for the sweater she’d knit him.
Even though, I’m more comfortable wearing overalls, a scruffy tee-shirt, and holey tennis shoes, I adore anything that sparkles… especially chandelier earrings, glittery eye makeup, and giant gemstones. With a fondness for glitz, I was instantly enthralled with drag queens and female impersonators after seeing several in front of Embers, a Portland gay club. It was in the late 1970’s and I was waiting for the Starlight Parade to begin.
A few visits to Darcelle’s, a Portland dynasty, cemented my adoration for the art of drag. Most recently, I started watching and enjoying RuPaul Drag Race. While chatting about a recent episode of RuPaul, I commented to a co-worker that I’d like to take Rich to a Seattle burlesque or drag show. Remembering she’d been given tickets to Le Faux, a female impersonation/cabaret show, she brought them to me the next day.
I immediately went online to check into the logistics and decided to make reservations for Saturday, the day before my (eck!) 50th birthday! Earlier in the day, Rich and I had spent many hours doing chores and yard work at our Mount Vernon house, and then drove back to Kirkland to dive into other physical work. By the time 6 o’clock rolled around, I wondered where I’d get the energy to spend a “night on the town.” Rich’s energy was equally depleted.
Nevertheless, we hopped in the shower and pulled on some clothes. Rich went with his obligatory blue jeans, denim shirt, and gray leather Converses. I chose my beloved knee-high black boots, black tights, and a Blue Fish top, which I wore as a very short dress. A friend from Texas, had sent me a box full of vintage Blue Fish outfits, which I recently learned are collector items. They’re ridiculous comfortable and fun to wear.
A palm full of mousse and a blow drier turned my sedate boyish cut into a funky hairdo. Some make-up (a rarity for me), dangly beaded earrings and matching necklace, and a long black leather coast completed the look.
We punched into our GPS the directions to Julia’s on Broadway, and we were off to my birthday celebration. After a small parking fiasco (the parking machine was out of paper and Rich thought our car would be towed because we couldn’t display the piece of paper that said we paid, so we paid more money and moved the car to another lot), we split a spinach salad with dried cranberries. Rich’s entrée was linguini with clams, chorizo and peas; I settled for penne with spinach, feta cheese, dried tomatoes, and calamari olives.
The food was tasty and the décor was splendid with antique chandeliers, burgundy walls and drapes, exposed brick wall with large portraits of some of the Le Faux performers, and other details that completed the cabaret ambience.
Towards the end of our meal, three sisters from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Abbey of St. Joan waltzed in and I was beside myself with glee. Maybe I should say “joy,” since the mission of the organization is the “promulgation of universal joy and expiation of stigmatic guilt.”
The sisters are a group of men, dressed up as nuns – 21st century nuns – with beautifully painted faces, halo-shaped wimple, long veil, colorful dress or habit, and a couple pounds of bling. Not only are they fabulous to see, but they’re dedicated to raising awareness and funding for safe sex, queer rights (their wording), AIDs awareness, and many other social issues.
After dinner, we decided to explore Broadway until Julia’s had been re-configured to accommodate the Le Faux show. After walking a few blocks, we darted into QFC to buy some cake to celebrate my birthday. We got individual slices of fudge and caramel torts then scurried back across the street to Starbucks for coffee… and then back to QFC where we snuck up to the second story and looked down on the shoppers while enjoying our cake and coffee at a small bistro table.
It was a hoot to observe the shopper as they filled their baskets and carts, many consulting their smart phone to check their lists or consult with someone about their purchases. Two women had a cart loaded with a dozen or more cases of beer – no doubt for a Saturday evening party.
Satiated and warmed up, we walked the other direction on Broadway, and then waited at the bar at Julia’s until we were ready to be seated… a few rows from the stage.
While the show is supposed to be 1.5 hours in length, it was closer to two hours of entertainment, including four Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence collecting donations for a GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer) youth camp, the master of ceremony pouring lemon drop shots down the throats of three women who volunteered to “walk the runway,” and comments from Tits McGee (a.k.a. Mama Tits) a very large impersonator in a huge coat of amber organza and bangles that made him look like a gigantic pouf bath sponge.
With the audience warmed up and the “rules” of the evening spelled out, Mama Tits invited people who were “celebrating” an occasion to walk onto the stage. There were two bachelorettes and six or seven people with birthdays, including me. I was both excited and nervous to be on the stage until people started rattling off their ages. When Mama Tit’s pointed her microphone at my mouth, I hesitantly spluttered “I’m Julie and tomorrow I’m going to be 50!”
I could hear the collective gasp from the audience along with Rich’s voice in my head, “You’re going to be half a century! Go on eBay and see if you’re worth anything as an antique.”
Happily, Mama Tits said I looked “fierce.”
She then invited me and a birthday boy (he was turning 21) to step to the front of the stage where she asked us personal questions. Relieved, I wasn’t asked – unlike one of the bachelorettes – what was the largest cock I’d ever had in my mouth!
What would I have said? Color? Width? Length? Specie?
Fortunately, my question was “Where had I lost my virginity?” I wanted to say I lost it momentarily, but found it minutes later, but instead, muttered “the beach.” It was partially true. The man I was with had performance anxiety and we’d only been dating a few weeks.
When I returned to my seat, Rich was grinning ear-to-ear.
The opening act was amazing, starting off unassuming with aerialist Victor unwrapping from a silk cocoon. It quickly escalated with the entire ensemble – four women, three men, five or six female impersonators, and Mama Tits, singing and dancing in dazzling, beautifully tailored red, white, and blue costumes.
It was spectacular and much unexpected!
The first impersonator did Cher. If you’d just walked into the cabaret, you would have thought a woman was on the stage — a very beautiful woman who had mastered Cher’s mannerisms from the way she licks her lips to how she holds her microphone.
Complementing the performers were female and male backup dancers in wild costumes, video effects, and more amazing aerial silk performances. The energy and excitement of the show remained high until the very end, which concluded by inviting the audience to have their pictures taken with the performers.
Rich handed me $10 and told me to get into line. After working up the courage, I scurried onto the stage and sat between two impersonators… who look petite, but towered over me. Rich followed, standing in the back.
Fifteen minutes later, they handed us the photograph. It’s a great memento of an amazing birthday celebration. With the photograph clutched against my chest, we walked into the crisp evening and soon realized, it was truly my birthday for it nearly 1 a.m.