Icons

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 12, 2011

Quick, somebody alert U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: The two drag queens who zip through a roster of contemporary dance divas and their four back-up dancers radiate enough energy to power the Theater District for years.

After playing two sold-out seasons in a small theater in Provincetown, producer-directors Tom D'Angora and Michael Duling decided that the show was ready to tackle New York. So now, the girls and guys have made it to Broadway -- or at least a few feet west of the fabled street, at the Snapple Theater Center. Don't let the name fool you: This isn't some cold corporate-sponsored monolith, but a little jewel box of a theater complex.

"Icons," appropriately enough, is appearing on Fridays and Saturdays after performances of a true theatrical icon, "The Fantasticks," cumulatively the longest-running show ever to appear in New York.

But you won't get any standards like that show's "Try to Remember." No, this show isn't aimed at the typical Broadway show queen. This show is totally up to date. Forget Barbra, Judy and Ethel; and bring on Britney, Madonna, Beyoncé and Gaga.

Ricardo Torres, a/k/a Brianna Andrews and Dennis Williams (no drag name -- refreshing!) embody these one-named divas, plus a slew of others. Special attention must be paid to Josuan Aponte, the hyper-talented costume designer who faithfully recreates the outfits from a baker's dozen of music videos; ditto Jared Janas for the wigs that miraculously stay on despite enough head spinning to keep an exorcist busy for weeks; and Alex Ringler, the choreographer, who actually improves on the (let's face it: often spastic) dances from those same videos.

Ringler is also one of the four humpy and loose-limbed back-up dancers who work nearly as hard as two principals do. The lip-synching is pitch-perfect and the imitations spot-on; but it's the dancing that really set the crowd on fire.

What fun it is to be in an audience that gets so into the spirit of the show! The familiarity of the music, pumped loud and the beats throbbing, certainly helps. As soon as you hear those three syncopated intro notes, your musical "muscle memory" senses the song before your brain. Then Katy Perry appears, and, before you know it and totally against your will, you're singing, "California girls we're unforgettable/Daisy dukes bikinis on top."

The show runs through without intermission, and the real wonder is how the two featured performers manage to keep the energy level so high throughout. But they do. Their professionalism becomes even more evident when I learned that they had just incorporated the newest Lady Gaga song and video into their routine with one rehearsal.

That's the show biggest asset, but also a potential flaw: By choosing to parody contemporary music, the show's creators are constantly updating it. This makes it continuously and immediately relevant. But in order to add, they have to subtract. I was hoping to see Ke$ha and even Cher (who gets a cameo in the opening montage) and -- what the hell -- the Pussycat Dolls. After all, the Spice Girls and Janet Jackson are here, and they're the elder stateswomen of dance divadom. And how much fun it would it be to get a glimpse of the ultimate disco diva, Donna Summer, or the campiest of them all, Bette Midler?

There is one much-beloved dance-music superstar, recently deceased, who gets a tribute. I won't mention who it is, but the sight of a drag queen imitating a man who himself was something of a drag queen is a "Victor/Victoria" moment worthy of a post-graduate seminar in the semiotics of gender at some prestigious university.

Another aging icon -- one who notoriously is not aging so well -- provides the evening's funniest moments. Williams does a hilarious impression of Whitney Houston stumbling through "I Will Always Love You." The number provides the show's funniest lines: "If I'm a drug addict, where are the receipts?" And, "Once you go black, you won't be able to sit down for three weeks."

If you can read those lines without laughing out loud, you're probably too old-fashioned and uptight to enjoy the very un-p.c. renderings of instant dance classics. Then again, since when has a drag show ever towed the p.c. line?

Incidentally, this is the perfect show for your straight work colleagues or visiting family members and, of course, your best Real Girl girlfriends. Straight people, bless their hearts, enjoy drag even more than we do.


"Icons" is playing Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. (perfect time!) at the Snapple TheaterCenter, 1627 Broadway, a few doors west of Broadway and hard by the southeast entrance to the downtown 1 train, on the fourth floor (remember that: It's not well marked when you get inside). Go to the website for ticket information.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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