Toronto
2 min

Long live the King

Canuck lesbos avenge US war of independence

I'VE GOT YOU, BABE. Drag kings Gumbo and Suzy Richter, as Sonny And Cher, were part of a successful, dildo-packin' Canadian invasion of New York City last week. Credit: Paula Wilson

Astonished New Yorkers learned why Canadians are the reigning kings of drag when they took centre stage for two sold-out, jam-packed shows on the Manhattan dyke-bar circuit last weekend.



“We’ve never seen anything like this,” shrieked one woman who saw the opening show at Crazy Nanny’s. “You Canadians are so cool.”



The Drag King show was brought to Gotham City by Toronto expatriate and drag king impresario, Joy Lachica. It featured the stable of 1970s pop characters – The Village People, the Bee Gees, ELO, Abba – that Canadians will remember from the shows of The Greater Toronto Area Drag Kings. (The group had numerous gigs in 1995 but is now defunct).



Veteran Canadian drag king Gumbo made the trip to New York to strut her stuff along with Suzy Richter (who performs in TO with a newer group, The Fabulous Drag Kings) as Sonny And Cher and Captain And Denial. Others in the cast included Bee Gee Lynn Crawford, yours truly as Charlie and Nathalie Osadchy as one of Charlie’s Angels.



Though the show was touted as “The Canadian Invasion” in the local press, it also showcased well-known New York performance artist Reno as MC and the grand daddy of drag kings, Shelly Mars.



Just as she did in Toronto, Lachica recruited a handful of promising but untried drag performers. They are what Lachica likes to think of as The Full Monty element. She says that’s what makes her show more than an impersonation act.



“I always thought of the Drag Kings as an empowering experience for women,” says Lachica. “These ’70s characters are much-loved icons. But just as we jump into their skins we also find them loathsome for the gender stereotypes they express. When I moved to New York I found lots of drag queens and, yes, some solo drag king acts, but nothing you could call a drag king community. I figured it was time.”



New York wasn’t quite ready for what Lachica had in mind. She initially approached well-established drag queen venues with her pitch and a slick press kit well padded with Canadian critical applause. The response was luke-warm. Finally two women’s bars – Meow Mix and Crazy Nanny’s – agreed to host, but they lacked facilities that could accommodate a production the size of the Drag Kings. Lachica decided to go ahead anyway.



The results were unexpectedly hilarious.



At Crazy Nanny’s the stage was so small the Kings were forced to choreograph their many costume changes in such cramped quarters that dildos and wigs went astray. Things got even worse at Meow Mix. The club DJ accidentally substituted “Sesame Street” for the Charlie’s Angels theme in the opening act.



Temperatures in the tiny change room got so unbearable that the King’s spilled out of a nearby emergency exit onto the street for costume changes. Passersby were treated to a sweat-drenched Lachica sporting a frizzy black wig, polka dot shirt and an enormous black dildo yelling: “I need facial hair. Now!”



“In spite of the few hitches I’m very pleased with the outcome,” says Lachica. “The shows were sold out and we got a lot of good press. The club owners were just thrilled.”



At the end of each show, Lachica was deluged by filmmakers and writers interested in working with the Drag Kings. She’s already got plans to mount another show and shop some of the acts around to more established drag queen shows.



“New York has never seen drag done this way and so well,” says Shelly Mars. “Years ago, I was doing a performance at Buddies [In Bad Times] in Toronto. I saw the Drag Kings then and I said come to New York, they’ll love you.



“What took you so long?”