I Knew I was in for a treat when two people asked to buy my ticket as I approached the Theater, and one had just seen the early show! After all, it was a show of and about Cherry Grove’s Homecoming Queens – each one a Big Star...and a Legend, of course!
We celebrate the talent of our royalty
This must have been a dream project for Matt Baney’s debut as a director (after 15 years in the sound booth).
He opened the show announcing “Almost 30 years ago the first Homecoming Queen was crowned in Cherry Grove to rule over her adoring public Tonight we celebrate the talent of our royalty”. His cast, each seasoned performers (except Timothea who confided, prior to going onstage, some trepidation at being thrown into the mix) made his job easier as they chose their own material, shopped their own closets for costumes. “We each have our own personality which makes it interesting” remarked the sophisticated Sylvia Shapiro.
Panzi holding Philomena's wig
photo by Joseph R. Saporito
After a clever intro, a long distant call from absent Joan Van Ness, 1994 Scarlet Oh), Matt proceeded to introduce the cast: 2005, Ivana Cocktail (in pink/black)“a regular in the club circuit, when not performing onstage she can be found on a barstool under it”. 2004. Donna Pirhana, (in a beige/black hologram design) “a shark, there have been several unconfirmed sightings of her along the East coast, its not safe to go back into the water just yet”. 2003, Charity (Striking Black/white swirls) “known as a devotee of food stamps, Charity is always ready to give it away”. Next 2002, Ariel Sinclair (patriotic in Red, White, Blue sequins) “whose performances often leave us wondering is therapy really working for her?”, 2001, China (glittery in gold) “Known for her infectious smile, she’ s a familiar face, in fact she’s on her third familiar face” 1999, Louisa Verde (in her signature Red) “our hot tomale from the Caribbean, with Linda’s flower shop bakin’ can Luisa’s Bodega be far behind?”. 1998, Mandi (slinky on black fringes) “she always be our Genie in the bottle and guaranteed to give her audience a great show, unless she closes her curtains”. 1997, Cobra (Shirley Temple curls over red feathers) “a community institution who says she doesn’t do lines...in shows”. 1996, Timothea (in conservative dowager mode) “She makes Queen Elizabeth look pretty”. 1995, Sylvia Shapiro (a poufy peplum creation) “From Collin’s Avenue to the Catskills, a regular on the Borscht Belt, look for her at the Early Bird special”. 1990, Philomena (hotpink/blue coutour) “our ageless beauty, she consistently brings style and class to the Arts Project ...whenever she’s performing at the Ice Palace”. And finally, arriving spectacularly on a handicapped motor scooter, 1976-77, Panzi (Blue beaded, feathers) “our first queen and our only two term monarch - she bullied her way into a second year by threatening to invade the Grove... if you don’t have something nice to say tell Panzi and she’ll say it”.
Matt then proceeded on a question and answer session “to get to know our girls better”. To Panzi: what do you think of your predecessors: “There were none, but there were celebrities such as Bella who told me ‘ I’m already famous, why should I do all that work?’” then she launched into a trivia contest about past queens, the audience in active participation.
To Philomena: you’re so popular so pretty, what was your childhood like: “when my parents filled out a permission form for a school trip, under emergency they wrote ‘DNR’. Dad asked what do you gay boys do together? I said ’all the things you wish mom did but she won’t” . Sylvia (who still fit into her coronation dress): You were homecoming queen in 1995 and you look better than ever, what’s your secret: “You have to eat healthy. Start off each day with a nice bagel, then a little matzoh ball soup, and a gefilte fish- if all else fails you lie about your age... age is very unimportant unless, of course, you are a piece of cheese...words to live by”. Timothea, the one and always total dowager: “It is not good to subtract, it is always good to add then they say you always look young for your age. Favorite event? When I went to the Firehouse wet down and got to wear Jean Skinners bathing suit”.
Gary & China. Photo by Joseph Saporito
Cobra answered her questions with signs (from her memorable stage roles). Mandi: Is there anything you would have done differently: ”I would have given up my title to Connie Frances... from Oct 31st till water goes on that is”. Louisa: answered in Spanish, describing her origins on Vieques Island, “built a raft out of my bamboo headboard and washed up on shores of “La Isle del Fuego” where Skinner hid her in the theater attic ‘where I become Custodial Goddess” China: where should one wear perfume: “Wherever you want to be kissed (Is that why you smell like Summers Eve?) Ariel: What size shoe do you wear? “I’m a woman’s petite size 5 but ladies and gentlemen it is not true about the size of the shoe” Charity: What size dress did you wear when you won Miss Fire Island in 1968?: “Darling I was a svelte size 12 and now...” (she left the stage...but really, what a career, being a Royal from ‘68 to ’05!)
Ariel Sinclair & Charity - photo by Joseph R. Saporito
The killer question to Pirhana: as a tired old defrocked nobody what’s life been like for you or, (when rephrased), you are nothing now, how does that feel: “It happened on June first, they found me in front of a mirror with an empty bottle of Zoloft and waving...waving...waving. We started as support group, You Are A Wuzzie Now or YAWN where we meet twice a week in our gowns and wave – to each other and we’re looking forward to inviting our newest YAWN-er, Ivana Cocktail”. Speaking of whom, Ivana was next up. Where did you get that beautiful jewelry: “the necklace was from the maid of Robert DeNiro, the bracelet the maid of Candice Bergen, the earrings the maid of Bella..and you can't get’m back...”
The Best of the Best
The first part was clever, but now the Big Payoff, what everyone comes to see, Performance Time!
Luisa Verde "It Should've Been Me"
photo by Joseph R. Saporito
It was a nonstop, technicolor kaleidoscope of show stoppers! Panzi yodeled spectacularly through an entire overture from Carmen. Philomena sang “Popular” (Wicked) as she tried to do a makeover on Timothea in red wig and her Act I gown, Sylvia Shapiro in a sequinned pants suit channeled Betty Hutton sing "I’m just a Square in a Social Circle” (cannot imagine that), Timothea issued a Royal Proclamation “Dear and Loyal Subjects...” with liberal use of the royal “we”. Mandi, in sharp contrast, ignited the stage with sexy sultry hot, spirited Spanish Number, the audience clapping along as she terpsichore-d Ariel’s unique personality demonstrated once again as she sang and treated us her Modern Dance interpretation “Let Me Dance for You” (you cant get stuff like this on Broadway, folks), Charity radiated her up tempo, savvy “I’m Gonna Make You a Star”, dedicate her performance to three princes “ V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N” a beach party scenario (better than Good Vibrations).
Then we once again found the unlucky in love Luisa as Gary married China “It Shoulda Been Me” with the crowd in avid agreement. In the classic battle between Youth and Experience Ariel & Charity bumped and ground it out to “I’m Evil” - you go girls. Then Legs LaBohn and La Pirhana squared off the finger snapping, toe tapping Le Jazz Hot – an outstanding visual delight - proving legs last longer than any other part and they’ve still got it!
Mandi as Dolly Parton, Bobby Greene in uniform
photo by Joseph R. Saporito
Next a mass production live from Cherry Grove Mandi’s timely unpatriotic wartime ballad “I Wanna Go Home” as Dolly Parton.
A final parade of Queens closed the extraordinary evening. Seated next to the Legend herself, Bella, I was curious as to her responses and I tried to see it through her eyes. “Most people see it for fun but I watch for details: choice of material, clothes, hair, nails, lip synching ability”. Although I was nothing short of ecstatic over the show, with some trepidation I asked her “expert” opinion. “I’m a very critical queen but this was fantastic. They were all perfect”. You can’t get better than that!!!
Matt Baney - Director, Cast, Theater Technician
Charity AS Queen Charity – Cast
Norman Cherubino - Cast
Robert Fucito AS Queen China - Cast
Bobbie Green - Cast
Thom Hansen AS Queen Panzi - Cast
Donald LaBohn AS Queen Sylvia Shapiro - Cast
Chris Laffin AS Queen Ariel - Cast
Rich Parisi AS Queen Ivana Cocktail - Cast
Donna Piranha AS Queen Donna Piranha - Cast
Mandi Qukay AS Queen Mandi - Cast
Doreen Rallo - Cast
Bob Scherffius AS Queen Cobra - Cast
Phil Stoehr AS Queen Philomena - Cast
Luis Valentine AS Queen Luisa Verde - Cast
Tim Webster AS Queen Timothea - Cast
Gary Greene - Cast, Set Design
Arthur Cohen - Back Stage
Craig Williams - Lights
Jeffrey Wallach - Set Design
Alison Brackman - Sound
Tom Cronin - Spot Lights
Michael Romanelli - Spot Lights
Martha Pitkin - Stage Manager
curtain call - photo by Joseph R. Saporito