Vince Kelley doesn’t really call himself a female impersonator. It just doesn’t sound right.
“Female impersonation sounds weird, as if I’m getting up and doing a Reba McEntire special on the Vegas Strip,” he says. “I just put on a dress and a wig and get in character.”
Over the past dozen years or so, the Detroit-based actor, who studied musical theater in college in New York, has “found a little niche for myself.” He’s played a Cagelle in La Cage aux Folles, Angel in Rent, and the lead in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in local and regional productions.
So then, a drag queen? “For me, as a gay man, a drag queen is like a magical creature who embodies an entire personality, and does all these things and breaks these social barriers, and all that kind of stuff,” he says. “So I will not consider myself a drag queen. I’m just an actor who happens to be portraying a woman.”
At the moment, Kelley is gearing up to take on a new role, the iconic Blanche Devereaux from the eternally-popular TV series The Golden Girls. A new stage show inspired by the classic gay-popular ’80s sitcom premieres the last weekend in February at the Warner Theatre. Kelley will be joined by three additional actors working to revive the sitcom’s famous foursome — plus a fourth portraying Dorothy’s love interest — in Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue.
The actors are not labeled as drag queens in the official press release, which studiously avoids the word “drag” completely. That’s all the more remarkable given the production company behind the show, Murray & Peter Presents, the masterminds behind everyone’s favorite drag shows — the perennially touring spectacles starring a rotating parade of queens from the various iterations of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue is a new venture in a new direction for the company — one starring actors who just so happen to be portraying women.
Men in drag, you could say, but not drag queens. And they all, also, just so happen to be gay. The cast includes Ryan Bernier as Dorothy, Adam Graber as Rose, Christopher Kamm as Sophia, and Kelley as Blanche, plus Jason Bowne as Dorother’s ex-Stanley and also her new beau Troy.
“I think as gay men putting on dresses and wigs, we are given the carte blanche ability to say some of these jokes, get a little crass, and all that kind of stuff,” Kelley says. “But by no means is this a gay show. It’s gay in the fact that it’s [gay] men in dresses wearing wigs and makeup, delivering the best zingers from an iconic LGBTQ show.”
A fully scripted work developed by author Robert Leleux (The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy) and overseen by director Eric Swanson, is “an all-original story,” says Kelley, who also serves as the production’s costume designer.
“It centers around the idea that time doesn’t matter. And the Golden Girls have just maintained — as if the show was still on the air and no one’s aged a day, and we’ve just continued on into 2023. It just tells a new, fun story based on the tropes that everyone knows and loves.”
We find the characters up to new pursuits when we reconnect with them here. “Blanche and Rose have developed a sex app for seniors in Miami akin to Tinder,” Kelley says. “Sophia is, of course, up to shenanigans — she’s manufacturing meth and LSD out of her room to sell, to make some extra money. She’s always looking for a hustle. And Dorothy, who is always so unlucky in love, happens to find a man.
“Blanche and Rose are up to one of their famous mess-arounds,” he says, when asked for more details on the new app. “Unbeknownst to everyone, Rose majored in computer sciences at St. Olaf Community College. So she’s able to be the tech genius behind the app, which is called CreakN.”
For all its new plot developments, Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue “remains true to the tropes and the dynamics of the original show,” Kelley says, who notes the story plays out in two acts, like “a very special two-part episode.” The first act ends in “a little bit of a cliffhanger,” and the second act picks up after intermission, when time shifts to the following morning in Shady Pines.
“The show is different every single night,” Kelley says. “It’s the same show with the same plot points, but we find a way to make each other break on stage. We’re adding different things every night. We respond to the audience. If a line takes off that we didn’t expect, we’re going to lean into it. If something topical happens in the world that just has to be addressed, we will one-hundred-percent address it that night on stage. And that’s what’s so fun about the show being set in the modern day.”
That’s also a large part of what makes the production so distinctive and refreshing.
“The audience just eats it up because they are not expecting it,” says Kelley. “You think you’re going to see the Golden Girls and you’re going to hear jokes from 1987 — but it’s just super fun to be able to drag the show into the 21st century.”
Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue runs Thursday, Feb. 23, through Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Warner Theatre, 1299 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets are $30 to $64, or $99 for VIP tickets, including a post-show meet-and-greet with the cast. Visit https://www.goldengirls-tickets.com/tour/golden-girls-tour or call 202-783-4000.
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