No more Drama, just a Zoo

DramaRoom.web

Dallas Voice Associate Advertising  Director Chad Mantooth brought this news into the office today: The space on Cedar Springs formerly occupied by The Drama Room has been taken over by a new enterprise.

Liquid Zoo, now at 3851 Cedar Springs Road, will feature a stage with drag shows and live music, and is set to open in mid-November. Renovations are underway now.

Stay tuned to DallasVoice.com for more.

—  Tammye Nash

The Drama Room is closed

Lonzie Hershner, owner of the Drama Room, confirmed Thursday that the Cedar Springs bar is closed.

“We sat and decided it’s not worth pursuing,” he said. “We shut it down yesterday.”

The Hershners had been haggling with the property owner over the renewal of their lease.

Meanwhile, Arthur Hood sent Dallas Voice a copy of a lawsuit he filed in September against the Hershners for breach of contract.

Hershner said there were no grounds for the suit. He called Hood a disgruntled former employee who was relieved of his duties.

Hood said the closing of Drama Room does not affect his lawsuit. In the suit he said he entered into a sale agreement with the Hershners and put money into the bar to bring it current. He said the Hershners canceled the sale.

Hood said he plans to amend the suit next week and is trying to force the Hershners into arbitration.

Meanwhile, on Friday, an administrative law court will hear a challenge to the issuance of a liquor license for the Hideaway, the Hershner’s proposed reopening of a bar on Buena Vista Street in the Cole Park area of Oak Lawn.

—  David Taffet

Drama Room landlady was once a notorious madam from Sugar Land

Penelope Hatteras

The owner of a Cedar Springs strip property that’s been the subject of a recent rent dispute once spent three years in federal prison for running a notorious statewide call girl ring.

Last week we reported that Penelope Hatteras, who owns the building that houses the Drama Room, had locked out her tenants, the Hershner family, as the two sides continue to haggle over the lease.

In 1985, Hatteras was sentenced to five years probation and a $10,000 fine for operating a high-priced call girl service in Sugar Land. The next year she was ordered to prison for 26 months for continuing to operate the prostitution ring while on probation.

Hatteras claimed to have had 200 call girls in Houston, Dallas, Denver and Atlanta and took in $10 million annually.

When Hatteras got out of a Fort Worth prison, she bought the property on Cedar Springs Road in Dallas where the Drama Room now stands and opened a gay bar. That bar failed and several others have operated in that space since, including Mickey’s and the original BJ’s.

In 2008, the Houston Chronicle interviewed Hatteras about the Eliot Spitzer call girl scandal that brought down the New York governor.

—  David Taffet

Hearing on Hideaway postponed after bar’s neighbors accuse judge of bias

A hearing scheduled for Friday on a liquor license for The Hideaway has been postponed.

The neighborhood group opposed to the bar reopening filed a motion last Friday to have the judge in the case recused.

According to a spokesperson for the Administrative Law Court that was set to hear the case, it has been reassigned and the new judge was looking for available dates in January.

Hideaway owner Lonzie Hershner said someone from the neighborhood group opposing the bar reopening charged the judge with possible bias.

“They’re just trying to push it out as far as possible,” he said.

But he said this was the last possible protest.

“That was their last straw,” he said.

Homeowner groups filed objections to the bar reopening based on concerns about parking, late night noise, drugs, sex and prostitution in the area.

Hershner also said lease negotiations on the Drama Room are almost complete. The landlord posted a “for lease” sign as a threat during the negotiations, he said.

—  David Taffet

‘Big Rich Texas’ cast members to host watching party at Drama Room benefiting Trevor Project

What does the television community see in Dallas? The A-List Dallas debuts next month, and Most Eligible Dallas is already humiliating our fair city, but there’s also the not-especially-gay Big Rich Texas show, which airs on the Style Network. The season finale of the series, about well-heeled mothers and daughters who snipe between credit card purchases, will be holding a watching party on Sunday … in, of all places, the Drama Room on Cedar Springs. Bon and Whit Blossman, above, who appear on the show, will host the viewing party on Sunday, Oct. 2, as a benefit for the Trevor Project. (You can watch some of their antics here.)

Donations will be taken at the door. The show airs at 8 p.m., but arrive early — it’s better watching if you’re already a little drunk.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Chi Chi lately

If you haven’t seen Miss LaRue recently, prepare to be amazed

HALF THE GAL SHE USED TO BE | Her hair’s still as big as Texas, but the porn goddess and DJ has dropped 150 lbs.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

………………………….

CHI CHI LARUE
Drama Room, 3851 Cedar Springs Road, 10 p.m.–midnight,
Tin Room, 2514 Hudnall St.,
midnight-2 a.m., Sept. 16 and 17.

………………………….

Pulling over to a McDonald’s to access their free wi-fi in preparation for an interview with legendary adult film director Chi Chi LaRue seemed like a good idea at the time. A quick visit to her website and a review of her bio wouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Except it never got that far. When a large photo of her film CockWatch, featuring stars with names like Drake Jaden, David Chase and Colton Steele, popped up on-screen … well, let’s just say the kiddies in Playland weren’t prepared for those kinds of McNuggets.

So I scooped up my laptop and headed to the car to call LaRue (the drag alter ego of Larry David Paciotti), who had just returned to Los Angeles after a three-movie shoot in Florida and a tropical-storm-soaked weekend at Southern Decadence in New Orleans. I actually ran into the diva at a bar in NOLA but didn’t recognize her since her extraordinary weight loss. Since her gastric bypass surgery three years ago, she’s lost more than 150 pounds (or the equivalent of 1.35 twinks).

“I’m glad I did it; I’d do it again,” she says. “It’s changed everything about me. It’s changed the way I even look at myself as far as the Chi Chi LaRue character goes. It took me a while to get back into character. Having lost the weight, I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to be my character anymore. But the character’s inside me. It’s what I exude and put out there and how I present myself. Fat or thin, you can do that. I had to get it into my head that I could still be big and flamboyant even in a smaller body.”

If anything, slimming down has energized LaRue and kept her busier than ever. In addition to directing gay porn movies in fabulous destinations all over the world, she has a retail store in West Hollywood that sells a variety of Chi Chi (and chi-chi) merchandise, and she books DJ gigs at gay clubs from coast to coast.

Which is exactly what brings her to Dallas for Pride. She’ll be spinning at the Drama Room and Tin Room on Friday and Saturday nights, then heads to the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sunday. When she found out the Drama Room is next door to a certain Cedar Springs restaurant, though, she immediately perked up.

“Oooh, I love the Black-eyed Pea! I will be having some fried pickles. Guaranteed. I love the Black-eyed Pea!” she says.

Other than a few quick ventures out for a little comfort food and her official public appearances, LaRue’s travels have been pretty low-key.

“I like to stay in my hotel and just kind of chill and get ready for the DJ gig. I live my life as a vampire and stay in during the day since I’m working at night. When I’m only somewhere for a couple days, I don’t like to go out and wear myself out,” she says. “I’m an old woman! I’m a 51-year-old twat!”

Once the Dallas gig is over, it’s back to the grind of directing and traveling.

“I’m shooting a movie with Chris Crocker. You know who Chris Crocker is, right? He’s the boy who went on YouTube and did, ‘Leave Brittney Alone!’ He’s now turned himself into a cutie boy and wants to do a porn. I’m shooting his probably first and only porn movie,” LaRue says.

After that, it’s another movie with the Russo twins, a new flick with Greg Everett and DJing in San Francisco for the Folsom Street Fair.

“It never stops,” she says. “I just go, go, go. Same time, different year. And I’m happy with that. I’ve kept my name out there for 25 years. It’s great that someone’s stuck with me that long. I feel like Madonna, damn it! Well, sometimes I feel like Madonna, and sometimes I feel like Courtney Love the day after.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Ro2′s ‘Synclines’ art show closes tonight

Conover in sync

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We’re used to seeing the bold and colorful Pop art of Robb Conover depicting comic book icons of late. Whether he’s giving his take on Wonder Woman or exploring a queer element to Batman and Robin as they kiss, Conover adds a definite punch to the local arts scene. His work has been seen in the gayborhood at Buli, Drama Room and Lucky’s.

He goes in a different direction, above, in Ro2 Art’s exhibit Synclines. Conover joins local artists Cabe Booth and Kevin Obregon, to present, what the gallery calls, new and unexpected works. The show closes tonight with a reception.

DEETS: Ro2 Art Downtown, 110 N. Akard St. 6 p.m. Ro2Art.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Gender roles

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ONE OF THESE GIRLS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER | Walter Lee Cunningham Jr., right, plays his character Frenchie sometimes as a girl, sometimes as a cross-dresser, in Dallas Theater Center’s wild and sexed-up production of ‘Cabaret.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

Life is a drag-aret, old chum — at least it is for Walter Lee Cunningham Jr., who gets all girlie for his role in DTC’s sexy, edgy ‘Cabaret’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Getting cast in Cabaret was a plum gig for Walter Lee Cunningham Jr. Since moving to Dallas from his native Abilene in 2007, Cunningham has been performing around town in shows like The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Caroline, or Change. But he had taken off nearly a year before he auditioned for the Dallas Theater Center’s spring musical.

So when he got that call that he’d been cast as Frenchie, “one of the dancers in the Kit Kat Klub,” he was thrilled to be making his DTC debut.

Then he showed up for the first costume fitting,

“That’s when I found out I would be playing a girl,” he says.

Yes, he would be in the ensemble — only not as a Kit Kat boy as he had assumed, but playing one of the female chorines.

That was a surprise for sure, but wasn’t such a big deal for Cunningham: Since 2004, he’s performed drag under the name Jada Fox at clubs around North Texas, including Station 4, the Drama Room and the Rainbow Lounge. No, it was really when he saw his costume that he had his first big gulp! moment — there simply wasn’t that much of it.

“It kind of freaked me out a bit,” he says. “When I do drag, I wear pads to give myself the physique of a girl. Without them, I have the body of a boy.”

Being clad only in a bra, lace panties and sheer stockings didn’t give him much to play with — or hide behind.

As with drag, maintaining the illusion of femininity requires a man to, ummm, “tuck.” That’s not so hard when donning an evening gown for a 20-minute drag show; it’s quite another for a two-hour musical that requires high kicks.

Let’s just say Cunningham has to work harder than anyone else onstage not to let his Pride flag wave too proudly.

“I have to worry about my junk,” he says frankly. “Something could very well pop out. You just have to make it work.” (So far during previews, that hasn’t happened, though it has occurred backstage at unexpected moments.) He also has to sing an octave above his normal range. All in all, it gives new meaning to Faith Whittlesey’s dictum, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did — only backwards and in heels.”

Performing as a female impersonator certainly prepared Cunningham for this role. As with acting, drag requires the creation of a character, and Jada Fox has been described as “a black Barbie doll — I’m not the bitchy queen, it’s just not me.” (When pressed, he compares his persona to Sahara Davenport, the Season 2 contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.)

It’s all part-and-parcel with the concept of the show, a sexed-up, wildly racy updating of “the divinely decadent Sally Bowles,” a British showgirl living in Weimar Germany when everyone was sleeping around with everyone else — male, female … even Nazi. Joel Ferrell directs and choreographs, turning the floor of the Wyly Theatre into a real cabaret with some café-table seating. That gives Cunningham the opportunity to interact with the audience in ways neither he nor most of the attendees are quite used to.

“There’s definitely a game of ‘spot-the-boy,’” he says. “I can see the audience, especially the women, trying to figure me out, It’s kind of funny. It gives me a bit to play with. I’m not trying to freak anyone out, but there was this number [at a preview] where I was looking at these guys and they refused to look at me.” He took it as a challenge.

It becomes easier to spot-the-boy during Act 2, where Cabaret ventures toward Zumanity territory with explicit nudity — none of which bothers Cunningham.

“I personally don’t care — I’m very comfortable with my body,” he says. (At 25, he says he eats all he wants to and only occasionally works out and yet still maintains his lean physique.)

So, is Frenchie a real girl, or just a cross-dressing guy living the gay life in decadent interregnum Berlin? Even Cunningham’s not sure.

“They never told me exactly what they wanted,” he says. “It’s a choice I get to make. I kind of play with it — sometimes I’m really a girl and sometimes not.”

Unless, of course, he pops out of his costume during a performance. At that point, the audience pretty much gets to make the decision for him.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Proprietor of Tin Room, Drama Room says he hopes to reopen Bill’s Hideaway in March

The proprietor of the Tin Room and the Drama Room says he’s signed a lease on the building that housed Bill’s Hideaway and hopes to reopen the legendary gay piano bar by the end of March.

The Hideaway, on Buena Vista Street near Fitzhugh Avenue, has been sitting vacant since mid-2009, when it shut down after 26 years.

Lonzie Hershner, who took over management of the Tin Room and the Drama Room after his brother Marty died last year, said he signed a lease on the Hideaway building last month.

Lonzie Hershner said he plans to call the new bar Marty’s Hideaway as a tribute to his brother. Crews have already gutted the building and begun landscaping the trademark patio, he said.

“We’re going to start actual construction on it in two weeks,” Hershner said. “We’re fixin’ to completely restore it. It’s taken forever and a day, but we finally got the lease signed on it. … I want to get it back to what it used to be, because everybody loved it.”

—  John Wright

If he could turn back time…

… Dallas drag legend Wayne Smith wouldn’t change a thing. After all the stops and starts, he leaves leaves town reflecting on a career of laughter, music … and a nip slip

STEVEN LINDSEY  |  stevencraiglindsey@me.com

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DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER WAYNE? | You’ll have to — next week the Cher impersonator and his handsome husbear head to life in the Midwest. (Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)

WAYNE SMITH FAREWELL
The Round-Up Saloon,
3912 Cedar Springs Road.
Jan. 11 at 8 p.m.  Free.
Hungdinger, 4000 Cedar Springs Road. Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m.

…………………………

For nearly 20 years, Cher has performed almost nightly along the Cedar Springs strip.

“What’s this?” you say. But oh, yes. With a voice and appearance so convincing, patrons react to her as if she’s the real superstar, not Dallas native Wayne Smith performing what has become his signature role.

Known for being friendly and outgoing to everyone who crosses his path, it’s Smith’s singing prowess that has sets him apart from the many drag performers who lip-synch. He’s a true impersonator and a remarkable performer who has helped define Dallas’ gay scene for the past two decades.

But not so much the future of it. Smith will be missed by thousands as he packs up his bags next week to move with his husband Ben Wilson to Columbus, Ohio. It only takes a quick glance at his Facebook page to see how many lives he’s touched here.

In true Cher fashion, Smith isn’t going gently into his Texas retirement. He’ll give multiple farewell performances, with the final curtains this week at the Round-Up Saloon, Hungdinger and the Drama Room.

But performing isn’t the only major event of the week. Tomorrow, he and Wilson celebrate their third wedding anniversary (they were legally married in Stowe, Vt.); a few days after he turns 50.

“I don’t mind. AA-Freakin’-RP!” he jokes about his age. “It’s wonderful to be this old because I’ve done so much with my life. I had a hit children’s books; I sold 67,000 toys at Neiman Marcus, I had a fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I had my own salon one street over from Rodeo Drive and so much I can’t even remember. I was even a question on Hollywood Squares!”

Smith left Dallas after high school because he thought Los Angeles would be a better place to live as a gay man.

“I went out there to be the next Bob Mackie. Instead, I ended up working for him, which was great because I got to shop with Cher and hang out with people like Marie Osmond, Betty White and Carol Burnett, which was really incredible.”
One fateful Halloween, Mackie talked him into dressing up as Marilyn Monroe; he won a costume contest with his outfit. From such humble beginnings came the drag legend.

“Somebody approached me from La Cage, the original club in Los Angeles that started the show in Vegas. They were starting a new show at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Florida and they needed a Marilyn.” He also had to come up with a second character; a friend convinced him to do Dolly Parton. But one little nip slip changed his attitude forever.

“It was a total disaster,” he laughs. “I think I was the first person to have a wardrobe malfunction. I was doing Marilyn in the pink dress from ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and every time I raised my arms, my nipples showed. The producer was watching me with his hands over his eyes and I thought, ‘Oh this is great.’ I’d already done Marilyn in a couple of gay bars and I knew I was the best ever. I was a diva, girl. That is really the day when I learned humility.”

Convinced he’d blown his chances, he was persuaded to give it another shot — with a twist.

“I turned it into a comedy act,” he says. “We had big neon poles around the stage and I pretended that my boobs got stuck and I had to pull one around the other side. Everyone was walking in, the performers and the staff, and they were all standing there laughing.”

He was hired on the spot and for a year, he performed in the famed La Ronde Showroom, a stage once graced by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. When the Florida show closed, Smith was invited to join the cast in Hollywood — and finally got to play Marilyn.

“In Hollywood, if you’re Marilyn, you’re the star of the show. She’s on everything. She’s on toilet paper!” he laughs. “It was the best thing that could have ever happened because I really learned to perfect character makeup. I did Norma Desmond, Marilyn, Dolly — I even got to do Lucille Ball because she personally asked me to impersonate her when she was at a birthday party for Milton Berle at the club. If the room had blown up that night, we would’ve lost so much Hollywood royalty. The room was just packed full of people. It really was amazing.”

Ball never got to see his impersonation of her because shortly after her request, she passed away. To this day, he has a picture of the star from a scene in Mame, which she autographed, “To Wayne, Love Lucy.” It’s one of his most treasured pieces of career memorabilia. “I broke up with a boyfriend while I was performing in Aruba and had a friend break into my apartment in Los Angeles to make sure he got that picture back. And he did!”

In 1989 — shortly after If I Could Turn Back Time was released — Smith ventured into performing as Cher. After a year abroad where he performed Marilyn, Dolly and Cher, he landed back in Dallas and has been performing here ever since: First at Moby Dick, then at Woody’s, Mickey’s, and his latest home, the restaurant/cabaret Hungdinger. For much of his time in Dallas, Smith performed as Cher five to six nights per week up and down the Strip.

“I’ve had an incredible, incredible career here in Dallas. I really have never wanted for work. I’m giving up five nights a week to go to ‘what if’ in Ohio,” he says.

He may not know what lies ahead, but he’s sure of his mark on the world.

“I used to feel like I haven’t done anything with my life. But my dad actually taught me a long time ago that I had. He asked me how many people I’d performed for over the years,” Smith recalls. Between all the shows at La Cage and on TV, they estimated that he’d entertained millions of people. “My dad asked me, ‘Did you make those people forget their problems for a little bit and laugh? How many people can say that?’”

It dawned on him that what he does is much more than just sing a bit in clubs.

“Yeah, some people say I’m an attention whore, or just a drag queen, or just a female impersonator, but you know what? I’ve had people come up to me who are sick or had somebody die in their family to thank me for helping them forget their problems, even if just for a little while. I’m a court jester. I just wear different outfits,” he says.

But though he’s leaving town, this is definitely not the end of Smith — wherever he may end up.

“I’m not Cher, I’ve never claimed to be. But if I can mimic it enough that people still like it, I’ll keep doing it if I’m in a wheelchair gummin’ it to I Got You Babe.”

And that’s something plenty of people would gladly pay to see.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas