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Condoleezza in Drag 

Beautyshop quartet comes to Charlotte

If we had to elect the one person in public life who could benefit most from a good primal scream, my suspicion is that Condoleezza Rice would win in a landslide – even over Hillary. So it's good news that America's favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, brought to us by Queen City Theatre Company, will be exposing the secret life of our suck-up Secretary of State at Booth Playhouse this Friday night.

Yes, the essence of An Evening With The Kinsey Sicks is a freewheeling musical revue they call Condoleeza Palooza, divine proof that the San Fran quartet have their finely manicured fingers on the nation's pulse. The group's history stretches back to the dawn of the Clinton Administration in 1993. Currently, the mix of parodies and originals is sung by Charles Romaine ("Trampolina"), Jeff Manabat ("Trixie") and two of Kinsey's original queens, Ben Schatz ("Rachel") and Irwin Keller ("Winnie").

A former director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel in the Bay Area, Keller typifies the pedigree of Kinsey's founders. We caught up with him and his cell phone last week in Baltimore and found out how a circle of high-powered execs and activists managed to sink so low.

CL: The original Kinseys had all met in San Francisco?

Irwin Keller: We were all friends of Ben's. The other two knew him from college, and I knew Ben through lawyer circles. One day, Ben said, "Bette Midler is coming to San Francisco. It would be really fun to go to her concert dressed as the Andrews Sisters!" Who could say no to that? So we got little camouflage material poodle skirts, and off we went. We expected it to be full of drag queens, and in fact, there were no other drag queens there at all, other than Bette.

Well, you've definitely blown her cover!

Oh, I'm not saying that she's a man. I'm just saying that she's a drag queen. So while we were there, someone approached us and asked us if we would appear at a World War II theme party and do an Andrews Sisters number. And I believe I turned to her and said, "Well, we don't sing." I mean, I knew that I sang. I was singing in the Sacramento Opera at that time, but I didn't know about these other guys, because they were friends of Ben's.

So we left that night, and Ben said, "You know what? Actually, we all sing." And we all started singing that night -- and harmonizing, improvising -- and it sounded good. We had funny ideas, and we were all funny guys. And we decided that it would be a great idea to put something together and do it on a street corner for fun.

What part do you sing in the group?

I mostly sing bass, but I also sometimes sing high falsetto, so I've sung between bass and countertenor. We all sing over a couple people's normal ranges. We've arranged the music so that you really can't predict whose voice is going to go where, and it makes it more exciting to listen to.

The clips that I've seen suggest an overwhelmingly male audience. Is that what you find?

No, our audience is a much broader audience than you might think, if you just hear about us casually. It's a lot of straight people. It is a lot of gay men, also. There's also a lot of lesbians. A lot of ages: We have young people who come to see us, and we have old Jewish retirees who come to see us year after year after year. For lots of good reasons!

What are those reasons?!

We have a lot of Jewish material in our shows. There's one number in our show that we do that's entirely in Yiddish. People don't expect that.

Especially if Condoleezza speaks in Yiddish. That would throw me for a loop.

People should expect a kind of wild ride. They should expect not to know what's going to happen next. And where they're going to be brought. They should expect a little journey.

OK, so what is a Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet?

It's glorious four-part a cappella singing, biting social satire, and some delicious raunch -- all mixed together with a twist of lime. Not the fruit, the mineral.

Beauty shop and not barbershop?

And don't forget the big hair.

How big is your hair? I couldn't tell from the PR photos.

I'm the redhead with the glasses. My hair is big, although not monumental. In part because these four girls are four characters that the people come to know and love during the course of the show. They're not power drags -- lots of glitter and two-foot eyelashes -- they're not over-the-top in the visual sense. We play these four characters, each one of whom is both eccentric and endearing. Unlike the people in your life, who are eccentric.

Did you toss your lawyer-activist career away totally, immediately, on impulse?

Yes, yes, yes. I impulsively and rashly threw away any lingering remnant of respectability and started doing this job! We've been full-time as The Kinsey Sicks for about seven years. We got an offer to take our show off-Broadway, and that's what finally got us to quit our jobs.

But the truth is, even though we gave up a certain respectability, we have in certain ways more of a platform that we used to. We've got the ability to say all sorts of things that we couldn't say in our more respectable, activist jobs, including leveling critiques at the left also, which we do, although we're careful when and where and how and who the audience is. Our critique is in many directions and far-flung.

At this point, are you Condoleezza-ing in preparation for 2008, or is this an all-in-fun bombardment of the Bush administration?

Our Condoleezza Palooza show is a musical revue that has a little bit of political zing. It's got a variety of topics to it. It's not a concerted political show, like our I Want to Be a Republican show. But we will next year be launching a new election year show. I have a feeling that the girls are going to be competing to be selected for the vice presidential position on the Republican ticket.

If you were to go to YouTube, and put in Kinsey Sicks, there will be a variety of video clips that you can look at, but one of them will be a clip where we perform "We Arm the World," and I suggest you take a look at that. That will give you a little bit of a sense of what we do and how we sound, and what we look like.

Is there audience interaction?

Um, no! There's none. Don't be afraid to sit up close.

We won't be picked on?

Oh, never! We wouldn't dream of it. What fun would that be?

ON THE WEB VIDEOS / REVIEWS: To see clips of The Kinsey Sicks, or to read Perry's reviews of The Heidi Chronicles, Charlotte Symphony, and a Saturday night of the Sacred and the Profane at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and The Visulite, visit www.theclogblog.com.

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