Move over, Mitt and Barack. You’ve got some challengers to worry about, and they’ve all got better hair than you: The Kinsey Sicks, “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.” Their show, Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President, comes to Tampa Theatre Thursday, Oct. 25, where they will share their satirical campaign platform in perfectly harmonized song, including their mantra, “Vote for Me (I’m Not from Kenya).”
The Sicks, whose performance benefits the Tampa Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, had been slated to appear in August at the height of the RNC. But organizers, faced with the armed camp that Tampa became, decided to reschedule. Now, with election fever going full tilt, the show may prove more timely than ever.
The Sicks’ Irwin Keller and his feminine counterpart, Winnie, conversed with me via email in August. They provided some insight on the group’s beginnings, future and some good stuff in between.
For starters, they haven’t always been big-time drag superstars.
“A little group of us friends attended a Bette Midler concert in 1993, dressed as the Andrews Sisters,” Keller said, “Turns out we were the only ones there in drag, other than Bette. We hadn’t intended to be performers, but the idea tickled us, and we began singing together that night.” Keller and Ben Schatz, aka Rachel, were two of those friends and have been with the group ever since.
“[The] first performance was summer of 1994 on a street corner in San Francisco. Over 100 people showed up to watch us. While our musical material wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as what we do now, the feel of our show was similar — strong, self-absorbed characters, perpetually misunderstanding each other and the audience. Oh, and Winnie had a beard,” Keller said.
Luckily, their instant popularity was more blessing than curse. “Theaters immediately wanted us, so we began gaining and honing our writing skills right away.”
Since their humble beginnings, The Kinsey Sicks have performed in Mexico, Europe, Australia, Canada and throughout the United States, including an Off-Broadway show and a residency in Las Vegas.
Behind the bouffants, Keller and Schatz have pretty impressive backgrounds. After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, Keller authored Chicago’s gay rights ordinance, which was passed into law in 1989. He also served for many years as executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Schatz graduated from Harvard Law School and started the first national AIDS legal program. He then went on to be executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and was appointed to President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
With their professional history and community support, they realized activism and entertaining could go hand in hand. They have been performing and touring with the group full-time since 2001.
The current lineup also includes Jeff Manabat as Trixie and Spencer Brown as Trampolina, who’ve been in the group since 2004 and 2008, respectively.
“Jeff brings profound skills as an arranger, musical director and costume designer. Spencer has years of experience in cabaret and comedy and is responsible for a great influx of off-the-cuff hilarity.”
The four of them together create a cohesive group of songs, skits and dance numbers.
“This show, Electile Dysfunction, was commissioned by Theater J of Washington DC. They gave us carte blanche. And we knew we wanted it to be a campaign rally. And we knew what we wanted to satirize. So that led us to dream up songs about pandering, dismantling education, immigration, economics, birthers, moderates, and God-mongerers. That sounds dark, doesn’t it? But the songs are delights.”
Winnie, Keller’s stage persona, has a different idea of their creative process. “Psychotropic drugs certainly play a role.”
With its risqué, conservative-mocking material, you’d think the Sicks would have some haters. Keller says no. “People sometimes disagree with our politics, but we love making people think. Some folks are appalled at the raunch, but we suspect they secretly love it.”
They’ve made fans in some unlikely places. “We’ve been to many conservative strongholds… and it always ends up being a love fest,” Keller said. “The beleaguered liberals are so overjoyed that we’re there. And the conservatives end up wrapped up in the humor and the music despite themselves.”
If the group had a mission statement, said Keller, “having fun would be the first item. Followed closely by making sure others have fun. Presenting messages that are important to us. Oh, and looking gorgeous.”
Looking gorgeous and staying true to your beliefs can go hand in hand. “I never eat fried, homophobic food,” Winnie states, regarding a certain intolerant "chickn" chain.
The Sicks’ backstage rituals keep them close. “We fondle each other’s breasts and say sweet nothings. It was my idea,” disclosed Winnie. She also gives us a little insight into her colleagues. “Rachel’s challenge is impulse control. Trampolina’s is lyric control. Trixie’s is husband control. Mine is bladder control.”
After finishing the tour, Winnie has one major concern: “Don’t know about anyone else, but I need to take my high heels off. Oy, the corns.”
And if you were wondering, Winnie confirms that in the 19 years they’ve been performing, The Divine Miss M has yet to catch their act. “She’s probably been busy.” She adds, however, that the Kinsey Sicks do have at least one famous fan.
“Mitt Romney has never missed a show.”
TIGLIFF Presents Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President: Thurs., Oct. 25, 8 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin Street, 813-274-8981. Tickets are available at Tampa Theatre box office, online at tampatheatre.org/kinsey-sicks and Ticketmaster.
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