Spirit of Giving: Linze Serrell’s Toys for Tots Show

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the holiday season kicks into high gear, the LGBT community of North Texas once again is responding in a variety of ways to help out those who are less fortunate.

This week Dallas Voice profiles five events intended to raise funds or other donations for a number of different causes. But the community’s good will doesn’t end with these events.

If you know of an individual, business or organization that is holding or participating in a charitable holiday event or effort, email the information to editor@dallasvoice.com.

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Linze-Serrell

Linze Serrell

Saturday night, Dec. 10, Garlow’s in Gun Barrel City will play host to Linze Serrell’s annual Toys for Tots fundraising show, to gather donations of cash and toys for the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots program.

Brian Paris, show director at Garlow’s, said that this is the second holiday season since the bar opened, and the second year that the club has hosted the event.

Paris explained that the annual Toys for Tots benefit show was started more than 25 years ago by Bill Lindsey, known across the Metroplex as Linze Serrell, a female impersonator who sings live and focuses his efforts on charitable events.

“This is Linze’s baby, her pet project, on top of everything else that [Lindsey and his partner Michael Champion, aka Sable Alexander] do,” Paris said.

For Lindsey, the annual show is a way to give back and say thanks for the blessings in his own life.

“My mom was a single mom who worked three jobs. There were times growing up that we wouldn’t have had Christmas without the support of the church and organizations like Toys for Tots,” he said. “I know what it feels like to be without, and I want to do something to make sure other kids don’t have to go without.”

Despite a recent stroke, Lindsey said he would definitely attend the event at Garlow’s. “I’d have to be six feet under not to be at this show! And even then, they’d dig me up and put me in the corner! I even plan on singing a song in the show.”

Paris said the show will be “really just a regular drag show,” except that all the performers are donating their time and all the tips go to help buy toys for Toys for Tots.

“Last year, we had a stage full of people participating, and we raised about $2,000. And we had a lot of fun doing it. And all the people participating do it on their own dime. No one receives a penny of compensation.

“These entertainers, we all travel thousands of miles each year, whether it’s to participate in a pageant system for the Home for the Holidays [a program that raises funds to send people with HIV/AIDS home]. But there is nothing in this show that has any personal benefit for the performers, in terms of winning a title or anything. They just do it for the fun of it and for the chance to make Christmas a little bit better for some children who might not have had Christmas otherwise.”

He said that this show is also the only time that Garlow’s ever charges a cover charge, and that the suggested donation of $5 or a new, unwrapped toy at the door will also go into the Toys for Tots total.

But Paris said he knows that a trip to Gun Barrel to attend the show may be out of the question for some. “If someone wants to help but can’t make it down here to Gun Barrel City, then they should find someone where they are who needs help,” he said. “It doesn’t even have to be doing something for kids.

There are lots of people in nursing homes who need a hug. Just go and sit and spend some time with someone who needs your company.”

Linze Serrell’s annual Toys for Tots benefit show begins at 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at Garlow’s, 308 E. Main St. in Gun Barrel City.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DRAG you

Comedian/drag queen P.T. may look like Wendy Williams, but his message to queer youth is no gimmick

Drag-You
HOW YOU DOIN’? | P.T.’s spot-on impersonation of talk show host Wendy Williams got producers’ attention and could be a step toward the comedian’s dreams.

 

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Dallas drag queen P.T. has his sights set on one thing: The Wendy Williams Show. He has a good reason: His spot-on take on the talk show celeb was so successful, Williams’ own TV show took notice, asking him to produce a video of his work as her doing celebrity news. Now, he’s vying to be the first female impersonator on her show.

“That is my goal,” he says. “She’s had gay people on her show, but no drag.

I would love to be the first to sit with her for ‘Hot Topics.’”

P.T. just turned 50, but that doesn’t hold him back from big ambitions.

He’s worked the talk show circuit before, appearing on Maury Povich. His video made it to Williams’ producers, though was not selected. Still, he hopes to use this exposure as a springboard to get his message out.

“I’d love to do radio one day and report celebrity news,” he says. “I could still do it here in Dallas, but if the money and time are right, I’d move as well. I’d love to, even.”

People can see P.T. in action Thursday and Sunday nights at Havana. He’s been the headlining entertainment there for seven years with his sass intact. He threatens to read a queen if they get out of line during his show, but mostly, his act is sort of the Oprah of drag: When people walk out that door, he wants them to feel better inside and leave a bit more educated.

“My job is not to put someone down, but to make them feel good,” he says.

“I use my comedy for that as well as to encourage people to do unto others. I believe in that. And I will try to teach where I can. Every chance I get. So many younger folks just don’t know what gay Pride is about.”

If P.T. has one thing to say, it’s to know your history. And when it comes to Pride, he finds that much is getting lost as younger generations develop into the community. He won’t separate gay Pride from black Pride — which kicks off this weekend in Dallas — because to him it’s all the same: A struggle to be better.

“To see where we come from is to see how our rights developed,” he says.

“Kids don’t know where this Pride came from. Just because we have parties and parades, there’s a reason why I can be a drag queen or why [same-sex couples] can hold hands in public. There’s something to be grateful for.”

He knows Pride will always have the parties to go with it, but the spectacle of celebration, in his eyes, can’t overshadow the mere reason for Pride.

There’s history there, and P.T. wants to talk about it.

“I think it’s sad that some don’t know what Stonewall is,” he bemoans.

“When I went to New York, the first place I wanted to go was the Stonewall Inn — I needed to see that for myself. You only get what you fight for and you only fight for what you know about. We’re all in it for the same thing and we know it’s not gonna come to us easily.”

P.T. expounds on the history of black Pride in Dallas, crediting Ray Dyer as starting the celebration at the old club The Metro, now Club Elm and Pearl Street. This is also where the then-Lady P.T. started his work in Dallas, coming from Austin.

Initially, The Metro wasn’t a hotspot for drag, so he performed more as a host and entertainer, starting in 1994. That changed as Dyer saw the importance of it as well as the revenue it could bring. Lady P.T. was back on track, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he officially incorporated stand-up into his act — in and out of drag. He put in time at the Improv to hone his new skill, but it was also a sort of therapy.

“I had a tragic incident that made me look at life different,” he admits.

He doesn’t go into details over what changed his life so much. But that incident redefined his outlook on life. For P.T., he knows tomorrow doesn’t show up for everyone.

“If I did not have that wake up call, I wouldn’t be reaching for myself,” he says. “I see some gray hairs but life doesn’t feel different. This is the only time I get to do what I wanna do.”

He’s living proof of that. Fifty is a milestone birthday, but P.T. proves that no age is too old to still aim high. Only now, he has the wisdom to be patient.

“It took me about four years trying to get Wendy’s attention and she finally acknowledged me,” he says. “That told me not to give up.  Everybody deserves a chance.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Clouseau, but no cigar

stage-1
LA CAGE AUX FOOLS A mobster (G. Shane Peterman, above) rejects his girlfriend (Whitney Hennen, below) because of his feelings for ‘Victor’ (Ashley Puckett Gonzales, below right) in the cross-dressing musical. (Photos courtesy Mike Morgan)

There’s pink but no panther in Blake Edwards’ drag musical ‘Victor/Victoria’

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

I have to confess: I am not fully convinced Wendy Williams is really a woman. The first time I saw a promo for her talk show, I assumed it was on Bravo or Logo, and meant as a joke — an African-American Dame Edna.

That kind of gender confusion is at the heart of Victor/Victoria, the 1982 Blake Edwards movie later adapted into a 1995 stage musical about a Jazz Age British singer who becomes a Paris sensation only because everyone thinks she’s a he.

stage-2It’s really nothing much different than My Fair Lady, where a Svengali-esque linguist crafts a guttersnipe into a lady, passing her off to society as something she isn’t. (Interestingly, both originally starred Julie Andrews.) Here, boozy gay lounge singer Toddy (Paul Taylor) takes wannabe cabaret act Victoria (Ashley Puckett Gonzales), creates a back-story for her as Victor, Poland’s greatest female impersonator, and wows everyone astonished that a man is so convincingly feminine. Along the way, there are questions of mistaken identity as American mobster King Marchand (G. Shane Peterman) finds himself uncomfortably attracted to “Victor.”

In many ways, it’s a cutting-edge comedy of contemporary mores, with the film well ahead of its time, dealing with gender-bending in a surprisingly tolerant and off-handed (if slapstick-heavy) manner. In the post-Queer Eye, post-Drag Race era, it’s perhaps less edgy, but there’s some poignancy about acceptance underneath all the French farce door-slamming and bed-hopping.

Which is not to say the script is well written. I doubt you’ll find many people who will defend its structure. It’s messy, with few good buttons to end scenes, some parts that drag (not the good kind of drag) and a few puzzlingly-placed moments best abandoned altogether.

In Uptown Players’ production currently at the Kalita Humphreys, some — not all — of those weaknesses are less obvious. The score, a pastiche of 1930s-style jazz with Broadway flash layered on top, has few memorable hits (the best, “Le Jazz Hot,” was composed for the movie 30 years ago), but the band plays and the cast sings it all well, all on a fabulous and mobile set that makes great uses of the Kalita’s space.

What it doesn’t do especially well is conjure up both the glamour of Old Paris and the camp extravagance of the drag world. It would be hard to over-play the flamboyance of a Parisian nightclub in interbellum, but this one does. The “Victor-as-drag-queen” scenes don’t fully work because Victoria doesn’t look like a drag queen. She may be meant to be convincingly female, but RuPaul accomplishes that with glamazon femininity that still leaves you asking, “Could she be…?” Gonzales, in ill-fitting costumes and too-tasteful makeup, has no panache as Victor. Androgyny is one thing, but Victor needs dazzle to make King’s obsession with her seem authentic.

She could learn a move or five from Whitney Hennen, who steals the show as King’s ditzy platinum blonde moll Norma. Bubbly and empty-headed as Lina Lamont, she turns eating a piece of chocolate from throw-away stage business into comic art, all with an excess that rises to the level of farce Edwards established in his Pink Panther movies. (The best scene, in fact, may be the dance of characters sneaking in and out of the bedrooms, which director Cheryl Denson choreographs beautifully.)

In the wake of Dallas Theater Center’s recent awesome production of Cabaret — and Uptown’s own high-bar-setting Next to Normal — Victor/Victoria seems incidental, though considered on its own, there’s much to enjoy, especially as a respite from the August heat. Here life is a cabargay, old chum. Come to the cabargay.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Sparkle, Sally Sparkles!

Dance instructor Michael Sharp works both sides of the footlights: As choreographer of real-girl pageants and as drag diva Sally

DON MAINES  | Contributing Writer donmaines@att.net

GAY TEXAS AMERICA
The Round-Up Saloon,
3912 Cedar Springs Road. Sept. 28–29 at 9 p.m.

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Some Texans who go overseas get homesick for football or barbecue or country music.

Michael Sharp missed beauty pageants.

While he danced for 2 1/2 years at the Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan, to give him a sense of home, Sharp’s mother sent him videos of all-girl pageants. “I became a big pageant fiend,” he laughs.

Sharp’s fascination grew to the point where he vowed to get involved in pageants when he returned to Texas — and on both sides of the footlights.

“When I got off the plane on July 7, 2006, I was already registered [as a contestant] for Miss Gay Dallas,” he says. “I had ordered all these things and there they were, stacked at my mama’s house: an evening gown, a ton of rhinestones, two separate wigs, makeup and boob pads lying on the bed.”

Sharp had also picked a name for his pageant-girl persona: Sally Sparkles, riffing on the nickname “Sally” given him by fellow dancers. “Then I thought of ‘Sparkles,’” he says. “It’s a word that’s not used enough, and it has a pretty connotation.”

His inaugural competition taught him a lot about the art of pageant drag.

Sharp — Sparkles — won the Miss Gay Dallas contest that year, but the state pageant “was definitely an eye-opener. Talk about being put in your place! I found out that little bitty hip pads weren’t going to do it. My boobs were too small, I needed more makeup and bigger hair.”

As horrible as Sharp remembers it being, Miss Sally Sparkles still placed ninth at the 2006 Miss Gay Texas.

But becoming a successful female impersonator was just half of his wish list. Next, he set out to make his other dream come true: Working behind the scenes on “real girl” pageants. While still in Japan, Sharp had e-mailed the Miss Texas Organization, which runs the Lone Star State preliminary to Miss America, offering to “do anything — be a boy dancer, choreograph, whatever they needed,” he says. The pageant’s response was to make Sharp the assistant to its choreographer, Sunni Cranfill, who had been Miss Texas 2003.

“That made me ecstatic!” says Sharp. Suddenly, he was working side-by-side with some of the beauties he had watched win their crowns, as well as a new line of lovelies vying for the coveted titles of Miss Texas and Miss America.

“Everything he touched became beautiful,” says Cranfill. “He is truly one of the most creative minds I have known.”

In his second year at Miss Texas, with Cranfill busy trying out for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Sharp was promoted to head choreographer. Drawing on his dance education at Stephen F. Austin University, his work as a dance captain in professional productions and his experience as a dance studio instructor (which is still his primary day job), Sharp created three of Miss Texas’ most memorable productions.

“They will give me the music and an idea of what they want on stage, and without knowing the dimensions of the stage I come up with something I know I can place in any situation,” Sharp explains.

“I have watched him turn a mess into something amazing,” Cranfill gushes.

WITHOUT THE GLAM Michael Sharp, in his usual dance instructor garb, is a far cry from the flash of Sally Sparkles. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

He’s worked his magic every year since. The 2008 pageant featured former titleholders performing “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, with each larcenous character changed to a pageant girl sabotaging another contestant because “she had it coming.” In 2009, Sharp corralled a huge cast to recreate a USO show that spotlighted the tap-dancing talents of the reigning Miss Texas.

Earlier this summer, all 33 “miss” and all 35 “teen” contestants kicked off the show with an energetic Sharp dance number that tweaked Beyonce’s girl-power hit “Single Ladies” by crowing “If you liked it then you should have put a crown on it.” The show also gave Sharp the opportunity to work with dozens of former Miss Texas winners who returned for the pageant’s 75th anniversary, including honorary co-chairs Phyllis George and Shirley Cothran, two Texans who heard Bert Parks serenade them in Atlantic City as Miss America.

The best thing about that experience, says Sharp, was the brunch that George and Cothran hosted, at which each Miss Texas spoke about her reign.

“I took my Miss America lunch box and had Phyllis George sign it,” he beams.

On the heels of that inspirational moment, Michael Sharp hangs up his choreographer hat and dons a crown to become Sally Sparkles again. First, he hopes to perform as a former titleholder at the Miss Gay Texas America pageant, which takes place at the Round-Up Saloon in Dallas Sept. 28 and 29.

Then, with a qualifying finish at Miss Gay Heart of America in hand, Sally heads to Columbus, Ohio, to compete for the title of Miss Gay America next month. He feels like he has something to prove this time. Two years ago, Sharp finished 12th as Miss Gay Texas; last year, he topped out as third runner-up. The latter stung a bit.

“I thought, ‘You called my name too soon,’” he recalls. This year, he’s hoping to be crowned as L&T Entertainment’s national symbol of excellence in female impersonation.

“My goal is to go and do amazing,” says Sharp. “I really want it. But I lost last year. I could lose again.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Cher and share alike

Local female impersonator Wayne Smith and floral designer Shane Walker have at least one thing in common: A fascination with Cherilyn Sarkasian Bono

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

GYPSIES, TRAMPS AND THIEVES  |  Shane Walker, center, successfully bid on the two Bob Mackie originals worn by Cher — and lusted after by Cher impersonator Wayne Smith. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
GYPSIES, TRAMPS AND THIEVES | Shane Walker, center, successfully bid on the two Bob Mackie originals worn by Cher — and lusted after by Cher impersonator Wayne Smith. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Shane Walker remembers the first time he ever saw Cher in concert: He was 16, and went with a family member to a show in Houston.

His life hasn’t been the same since.

More than 20 years later, Walker, a floral designer and event stylist, has one of the most extensive collections of Cher memorabilia around. He’s been collecting so long, he can barely remember the first piece he bought.

“Probably one of the Bob Mackie dolls,” he posits, referring to the fashion figurines dressed in recreations of costumes from Cher’s favorite designer.

But if he cannot recall for sure the first item he purchased, he certainly knows the most recent: Two Bob Mackie gowns — and not miniature knock-offs, either. These are originals, worn by Cher herself.

“If you look in the collar of the print dress, you can see a little bit of makeup. That’s makeup Cher wore!” Walker says. He almost swoons just thinking about it.

Despite his eye twinkling and his voice softening when he talks about her, Walker braces at the suggestion he is “obsessed” with Cher. (Billy Fulmer, his partner of nine years, smiles; he loves Cher, too, though he admits Walker’s enthusiasm out-distances his own.) In fact, while Walker says he’s been collecting the Oscar winner for about 18 years, it’s only been in “the last five that it has grown:” He admits to buying a Cher doll about once a week now. “She makes me very happy on the inside, and her music’s wonderful,” he says.

“When he gets down, he just buys something of Cher on eBay,” Fulmer says. “And her music is always playing at his studio.”

His newest acquisitions, though, are already among his most cherished. Not only were they donated to an auction house directly from Cher herself, but being actually Bob Mackie creations sweetens the enjoyment.

“Bob Mackie is my favorite designer,” Walker explains. “It’s just a legend — when you think of Cher, you think of Bob Mackie. They have been together for years, and she helped build his empire.”

That’s one of the things that got Walker to Las Vegas last month for an auction. He had already purchased third-row seats to see Cher perform at Caesar’s Palace (not his first time — and he plans to see it again before she ends the run in October). Then he heard about an auction that included several Mackie designs. He had bid on many in the past, but never successfully. But one of the gowns, a Pucci-style print, is the original of a dress worn by a Cher doll Walker bought ages ago.

“I had no idea it was all happening the same day. But when I saw the dress in the auction, I said ‘My God, I have to get that.’” This time,he was resolved: He would get something. Anything.

He walked away with two gowns and other swag.

Then less than an hour later, he was in his premium seats watching Cher perform.

And a few hours after that, he was back stage, visiting with her privately for the first time.

It is a day he’ll never forget.

BLING BANG BOOM  |  Walker, left, and his partner Billy Fulmer the day they met Cher. The performer spotted their bling from the stage and invited them back for a meet and greet after the show.
BLING BANG BOOM | Walker, left, and his partner Billy Fulmer the day they met Cher. The performer spotted their bling from the stage and invited them back for a meet and greet after the show.

“I always buy premium seats. We were sparkling in our bling and she said, ‘Come here, shiny boys.’ The looked incredible: Perfect face, smooth. She for sure does not look her age. And she loves her gays.”

It may sound silly, but for Walker — and countless others, many gay men — it is anything but. Cher represents something special, unique. Tell someone you own a dress once worn by Meryl Streep and an eyebrow might raise in interest; say you have one of Cher’s, and people’s minds race toward the outrageous. Because she means something as an icon, not just as a celebrity.

“Everyone associates with Cher,” offers Wayne Smith, a local legend himself for his decades-long impersonations of Cher. “The gay community goes through a lot of bullshit, just like her. She is the most honest person you’ll ever meet, and sometimes honesty hurts. She has been through everything you can imagine and she does not give a shit. She really doesn’t care if they make fun of her.”

Smith speaks from experience. Although Walker only recently met her, Smith has known Cher for years. In the ‘80s, Smith worked in the beading department for Bob Mackie’s prêt-a-porter line, where he met Cher (along with others, like Diana Ross, about whom he has far less flattering things to report).

“When she’s on tour, she’ll ride [in the bus] with the dancers. She loves board games and bowling and old movies,” he says. And he thinks people respond to that realness.

Smith didn’t begin performing as Cher until many years after he worked for Mackie, although Mackie did get him involved in drag in the first place.

“He gave me the idea to dress up. He asked me what I was going to do for Halloween and said ‘I think you should do Marilyn — if you do, I’ll help you with you costume.’” The next day, Smith was offered a spot in the La Cage aux Folles drag show as a Marilyn/Dolly impersonator. It was six years before he tackled Cher. Now, he does no one else in his act.

“You give the people what they want,” he says.

Shane Walker can surely relate to that.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas