Liquid Zoo set for soft opening Friday in former Drama Room space

ZooWe’ve had enough of your Drama! Yep, the Drama Room closed nearly two years ago, and the space has remained vacant … until now. New owner Nell Scarborough has taken over and rebranded the space as Liquid Zoo.

The new club will feature pool, darts, shuffleboard and karaoke every night, with Wayne Smith performing host duties on Wednesdays and Saturdays, plus Bingo Thursdays, Trivia Wednesdays, Open Mike Tuesdays and poker three nights a week. There will be a full kitchen in time for the official grand opening in January, but until then, enjoy a limited menu.

And enjoy it sooner than you might expect: Liquid Zoo goes live tomorrow evening (Friday, Nov. 21)  at 6 p.m. Head on by for free food, drink specials and giveaways.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

So, they let Leslie Jordan in the Round-Up Saloon

Leslie Jordan performed at the Round-Up Saloon on Thursday night in a fundraiser for Oklahoma state Sen. Al McAffrey, who is running for Congress from Oklahoma City.

Jordan was in rare form telling stories, including one about how he was thrown out of The Round-Up 20 years ago. This time they let him in — but only through the back door.

McAffrey began his political career in the Oklahoma state House. When he ran for state Senate, Kay Floyd, a lesbian, replaced him in the House. Now that McAffrey is running for U.S. Congress, Floyd is running for McAffrey’s state Senate seat, and a gay man is running for Floyd’s state House seat. Obviously, liberal Oklahoma is going to hell.

One thing’s for sure — no one else running for Congress from Oklahoma had ever had a fundraiser like this one.

—  David Taffet

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

Best Bets • 12.31.10

IMG_0107Friday 12.31

Chortling in the new year
You’ve chortled, don’t lie. Backdoor Comedy offers a funny approach to your midnight plans with its New Year’s Eve Extravanganza. The lineup includes BET’s Chris Brown, Emmy-winning funny lady Linda Stognar and headliner Paul Varghese who got his start in Dallas but went on to the big time with gigs on Showtime and Comedy Central. Chortle away.

DEETS: Backdoor Comedy, 8250 N. Central Expressway. $27–$43. 8 and 10:30 p.m. BackdoorComedy.com.

Sunday 01.02

Drag royalty says goodbye to Dallas
After 18 years of performing, Wayne Smith will do a final show before saying farewell to Dallas. Smith is most famous for his spot-on impersonation of Cher. This month’s Drag Brunch isn’t just about the mimosas and frittatas, it’s about saying goodbye to Smith who’s become legend in these parts.

DEETS: Dish, 4123 Cedar Springs Road. 11 a.m. For reservations call 214-522-3474.

Tuesday 01.04

Waiting for that schwanzstucker?
We hear it’s huge, but that was from the movie. Will the musical version of Young Frankenstein be as funny and have all the sexy innuendo? With Mel Brooks still behind it, we’re betting yes.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Through Jan. 23. $30–$98. ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Logo’s ‘Bump’ highlights Dallas

Wednesday night (and again Thursday morning), Logo aired an episode of the travel series Bump! that profiled Dallas. And Dallas looked damn good in it. Of course, anything near host Charlie David is bound to bask in his reflected beauty, but still.

The episode, which was filmed during last year’s Pride Weekend, painted the well-rounded portrait of gay Dallas we know to be the reality. Yes, they hit the Round-Up Saloon with the two-stepping queerboys, but we also got interviews with drag diva Wayne Smith and mayoral chief of staff Chris Heinbaugh; a scrimmage with gay rugby players the Dallas Diablos, pictured; and a session with NOH8 creator Adam Bouska, who picked Dallas as his first locale outside California. Plus there were scenes of the parade, a stop by Blythe Beck’s kitchen at Central 214 and other things that set Dallas apart. (The ep was actually screened at a preview party last week at the ilume, which got plenty of good press as well.)

The episode is set to re-air next week. Take a look, and see how gay America sees Big D.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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