Better Believe It; Laughter Is the Best Medicine (Solares Hill)

Better Believe It; Laughter Is the Best Medicine (Solares Hill)

Posted Sun, Jun 30, 2013 in Reviews

By C.S. Gilbert
Congratulations to Waterfront Playhouse for bringing back the “Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet” Kinsey Sicks for Pride week. Those four hilarious and outrageous performers first enriched Key West Pridefest more than a decade ago, thanks to the invitation of community activist Phyllis May* An appreciative audience at the San Carlos laughed their fannies off; to say the group was a hit is an understatement The puzzlement is why, after two well-received performances most recently in 2003, it’s taken so long to book them again.

And the hell of it is that, after all this time, they look and sound precisely the same, albeit with even more trenchant social and political satire and outrageous sexual spoofs. This year’s show was titled (take a deep breath) … “America’s Next Top Bachelor Housewife Celebrity Hoarder Makeover Star Gone Wild.” And yes, reality TV came in for its share of skewering, although the “plot” was simply a flimsy excuse for this variety show from queer humor heaven.

The troupe’s name, incidentally, is a play-on-words: On the Kinsey scale of sexuality, six denotes totally homosexual.

The Kinsey Sicks are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.

Two of them—Winnie (Irwin Keller, who serves as producer and looks like my skinny Aunt Mollie and sings a surprising bass) and Rachel (Ben Schatz, primary songwriter/lyricist whose character is the personification of outrageous, rude and crude) — are originals. The gorgeous Trixie (Jeffrey M an aba i. spokesperson for this interview both as himself and in character) has been with the quartet for 10 years and played Key West before* Trampolina (the multi-talented Spencer Brown and the only one educated for musical theater) is newest but still a veteran of several years.
“We’re proud to be the longest-running full-time queer musical group in America,” Jeff says.

The Kinsey Sicks began in 1993 as a group of friends who went to a Bette Midler concert in San Francisco dressed as the Andrews Sisters. Assuming they’d be among many drag queens, they found instead they were the only ones, other than Bette of course, and were approached that night to perform at an upcoming event. Their reply—”we don’t sing” — was quickly disproved when they realized that all of them had musical backgrounds. They began harmonizing that night and the seed for the Kinsey Sicks was planted.

Did they start off to do twisted, over-the-top satire or did it just happen?
Irwin: The original four Kinseys were all friends in San Francisco and came up with this idea on a lark. Over the years we moved on to larger poultry! The idea caught on right away, people immediately enjoyed the sharp humor, the politics and the characters. The shows have become more complicated and varied but our original formula is unshaken.

There’s been a remarkable stability in the cast over 20 years?
Trixie: It’s true. For two whole decades we’ve been serving the world our biting satire, razor-sharp wit and trashy talk, all in glorious four-part harmony. Winnie and I are fierce musical taskmasters and the group swears by our nightly pre-show protein gurgle. But the greatest credit for our musical longevity goes to our beloved and fabulously underpaid therapist.

So you tour full-time now?
Trixie: Yes — but if you’re actually proposing to me right now and you have at least seven digits in your bank account and no pre-nup, for God’s sake, I say yes.

Do you have day jobs?
Jeff: We don’t have day jobs but we do pursue interests outside of the Kinsey Sicks.  I continue to pursue acting in LA, for example, and will be in a play this summer called “Bronzeville,’ which is set during the Japanese-American internment of World War II.

How often do you produce a new show-or is it all mix-‘n-match?
Jeff: We produce new shows every one or two years, depending on the Zeitgeist and what inspires us. Last year we parodied the election season with our show “Electile Dysfunction.” In previous years we toured with shows like ” I Wanna Be a Republican” and “Each Hit & I” (say that title out loud and quick) and “Wake the F— Up, America!” And every December we mount our holiday musical, “Oy Vey in a Manger,” with misinterpretations of holiday classics like “God Bless Ye Femmy Lesbians,” “Satan Baby” and “I’m Dreaming of a Betty White Christmas” plus Jewish satiric fare including “Don’t Be Happy, Worry,’* the Chanukah spa classic “I Had a Little Facial” and, of course, the requisite Christmas cuisine standard, “Soylent Night”

No printed programs were offered during the Pridefest show but had they been, the players bios would read like this:

Winnie (Irwin Keller) studied linguistics and Near Eastern languages at University of Illinois, University of Chicago and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before noticing that very few people actually made a decent living off of Aramaic. Hightailing it over to University of Chicago Law School, he set about getting some legal training and putting it to good use. Irwin authored Chicago’s gay rights ordinance passed into law in 1989. He served for years as executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel in the San Francisco Bay Area while sidelining with the Sacramento Opera and Berkeley Contemporary Opera. He lives with his husband and co-parents two kids in a quasi-kibbutz-like setting in rural Sonoma County.

Rachel (Ben Schatz), while an undergraduate at Harvard College, was torn between pursuing a career as a gay activist and a career in theater. Eventually he decided that activism was more important and that he didn’t have the talent to be a performer. Ben went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and then started the first national AIDS legal program. He later served as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and was appointed to President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Eventually he discovered that activism and theater are not mutually exclusive, that talent is overrated and making people laugh is much more fun than suing them (and no less effective in making them think). As chief lyricist for the Kinsey Sicks, Ben is largely responsible for the lyrics that have made tens of thousands cringe.

Trixie (Jeff Manabat) studied English literature and music at UC Berkeley. For most of his academic life he sang in choirs and small a cappella groups and did theater. While at Berkeley, he sang with, wrote for and directed the UC Men’s Octet, which won first place at the National Competition of Collegiate A Cappella groups held at Carnegie Hall. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Trampolina (Spencer Brown) is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and currently lives in Kansas City where he’s known for his other drag alter ego, Daisy Bucket (pronounced “bouquet”).

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