If you buy only one CD this year of a capella singing drag queens, "Boyz 2 Girlz" should be the one
By Jeff Walsh
Singing drag queens.
I understand the feelings and emotions those three words evoke, because I've been there, too. I've seen the drag queen who tried too hard, the diva who needed too much attention from the audience and the most God-awful things lip-synching men in dresses can do.
I know it's not easy, but you need to forget all of those preconceived notions. Because The Kinsey Sicks make up for every bad drag show you ever saw in your life. And yes, I realize I'm offering a lot of promise, but they deliver.
This Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, which takes its name from the famous Kin-sey sexuality scale, consists of Trampolina, Rachel, Winnie and Trixie. On stage, each has her own unique personality traits. Trampolina is kind slow and easy, Rachel is a tad gross and sexually aggressive with the audience, Winnie is the bacteria-conscious organizer and Trixie is the glamorous diva.
And yes, it still sounds like the makings of a potentially bad drag show until… they open their mouths. These gals can sing! Once you get used to four singing drag queens, the music blows you away. The songs range from uproarious parodies to touching ballads, all of which feature winning lyrics and bright, brilliant harmonies. They're also rather sex-positive, too. And these are no Log Cabin Republican singing drag queens. They harmonize about fellatio and inflatable lovers like no other drag singing group (if there were one?!).
While a lot of gay singing acts (and songs) have a fun, kitschy catch initially, the music doesn't really stand up to repeat listenings. Well, this is also not the case with the Kinseys. Their first CD, "Dragapella," holds up amazingly well, and their recently-released "Boyz 2 Girlz" takes it one step further, by bringing a better sense of their live act to your living room.
Their Celine Dion parody, "Titanic: Why Does Celine Go On?" shows the amazing pipes Trampy brings to the group while still deliciously mocking the song everyone is sick of. In concert, Trampy incorporated a lot of Dion's hammy movies and chest-thumping into the song while lampooning her to her own melody (If you're a star, bad taste can go far…). But don't pigeonhole the girls just yet, they just as easily get serious on the uplifting "I Wish You Peace," classical with "April Sat On My Master's Face," Yiddish with "Papirossen," and close with a Sound of Music sing-a-long that repulses as it entertains. And just to prove nothing is sacred, The Kinsey Sicks even have a song called "Dead Princess," all about Princess Di.
The new CD plays over an hour and gives a unique taste into what the Kinsey Sicks are like live (and trust me, I've seen them live often enough to know. When Trixie sees me at their shows, she always says "You again?!"). So, go to their Web site and buy the CD, you won't regret it. And although I regret this as a Dragapella-loving San Franciscan, The Kinsey Sicks are about to star in their own Off-Broadway show in New York City sometime this spring. Eight shows a week for an entire year, so you'll definitely be hearing a lot more about them in the near future.
I recently spoke with Ben Schatz (Rachel) and Chris Dilley (Trampolina) about the origins of the group and how the group went from being a fun time-consuming hobby to a potential career.
"The group actually formed by accident," Schatz said. "It was four friends and we went to see Bette Midler on New Year's Eve, December 1993. And we thought, 'It's going to be Bette, so let's go in drag because there's going to be a lot of drag queens there.' And when we went, we were the only drag queens there, other than Bette."
Schatz said the four of them were dressed similar to the Andrews Sisters and they kept getting applause. They were approached by a promoter who asked if they would sing somewhere, and they told her that they didn't sing.
"On the way home, we were so inspired by Bette's fabulousness that we started singing and we realized we sounded really good together, so we stayed up until three in the morning singing and decided to form a group," Schatz said, who said the combination of drag and a cappella singing somehow didn't come to them previously. Go figure.
"We were a group of friends who had periodically done drag excursions and we all had musical training, but it had never occurred to us," he said. "It was kind of like the chocolate and the peanut butter, it just never occurred to us to combine them until we were in drag singing."
The characters for the Kinseys were also not planned, according to Schatz.
"We didn't set to have these characters, it's just what evolved. It's been very organic, which is part of what makes us work so well," he said.
Dilley's Trampolina is not an original member of the group and he had his own challenges upon entering, namely learning all their songs in record time for his first performance.
"They called me to audition as an understudy," Dilley said. "I came over, sang with them and they wanted me. It was a lot of hard work because they were doing a greatest hits show, so there wasn't a set setlist. So, I think I learned between 40 and 50 songs in three weeks, but it's been a joy ever since day one."
Dilley replaced Vaselina, who left the group. The hard part was not only in learning the songs, but trying to fit into a group of people who were both friends and a singing group long before he signed on.
"There's definitely a history they have that I'm not a part of, because they have had long friendships before the Kinsey Sicks, but it's not a negative thing at all."
If anything, Dilley was more concerned about the chemistry on-stage, as Kinsey shows require a lot of ad-lib and audience interaction draped over a loose theme. With that in front of him, fitting into the group wasn't his obstacle.
"That wasn't what I was nervous about, it was being able to remember anything and getting through a show," he said. "Performing with the Kinsey Sicks isn't like anything else I've ever done. You're in high heels and you don't know what's going to happen next."
Dilley had not done drag before joining the group. But after their recent sold-out run in San Francisco, he's more than earned his heels.
"When I met them, I made a commitment to sing and do some a cappella work," he said. "I had no idea I was going to be in drag. When I met them, I had never been in drag before. But in June, I had my first drag experience. In July, I had my second drag experience. And in August, I was on-stage for the first time."
Dilley said that Schatz ends up writing most of the songs and parodies for the group, including the Celine Dion parody.
"I ended up arranging it and I said, 'I'd like to sing this,'" Dilley recalls. "I'm somewhat of a Celine Dion fan which is kind of funny now that I parody her."
But Dilley didn't know that he would also give voice to the anti-Celine Dion sentiment lurking in the hearts and minds of the audience.
"I didn't realize how much of a hit that was going to be. I had no idea, but everyone was so tired of that song and movie, and some people are tired of her. I'm not, I think she's great. It was a good release for people to release how tired they were of it."
The group's biggest challenge recently has been keeping up with their popularity. Schatz recently gave up his job to run the group on a full-time basis, and when the Off-Broadway show kicks in, the others will have to follow. Dilley, however, has no hesitations about leaving San Francisco to go to the Great Off-White Way.
"I think it's just perfect. I'm ready. Take me to New York," Dilley said. "But the fact that it all happened so quickly... usually getting Off-Broadway requires a whole lot of steps and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. A year ago, I wasn't even a member of this group."
Of course, Schatz admits the biggest hurdle the group faces is the whole "singing drag queens" mental image.
"When people hear of singing drag queens, they get an impression that's really different. We're hard to explain. People think of Lypsinka or something that's all about visuals," Schatz said. "But when people see us they are surprised about how good we sound and how clever our lyrics are. We're a unique kettle of fish."