Make room on your social calendar for another night of song and sass as Arizona Drag Stars joins the ever-growing ranks of don't-miss drag nights throughout metro Phoenix.
The show returns to the Crescent Ballroom main stage on Thursday, September 1, with a stacked lineup of outrageous personalities and local veterans, including Savannah Stevens, Miss Gay Arizona America 2016, and last year's title-holder, Nevaeh McKenzie.
They'll be joined by McKenzie's drag mother and longtime performer Mya McKenzie; high fashion drag star Coco St. James; Luna St. James, whose celebrity impressions have graced the stage at Tempe Improv; Eddie Broadway, crowned Mister Phoenix Gay Pride 2014; and Dee Jae Galaxy, who won the same title the following year.
"It's a great, professional, clean type of line-up — a professional type of show," says Drag Stars' hostess, Nevaeh McKenzie, who has been a drag entertainer for six years. "It's going to be a show that a lot of people can expect to come and be entertained [by]. It's not going to be messy."
Show producer MK Underwood, who performs as drag king Dee Jae Galaxy, describes the semi-monthly show as a drag collective, with the ultimate goal of increasing the visibility of the Valley's LGBTQ+ and drag communities.
The hours-long event features three sets from each performer, with a heavy sprinkling of sex, comedy, and political incorrectness for good measure. There will be duets and large production numbers complete with back-up dancers, and plenty of snap-worthy moments, McKenzie says.
The event also boasts something audiences aren't used to seeing: Drag kings. As Galaxy, Underwood performs as a James Dean-esque heartbreaker, with more crooning and swooning in songs than salacious splits or a typical twerk-off.
Also on the bill is Broadway, a multi-faceted performer whose magic lies truly in the makeup: He's been know to turn himself into any number of characters with the stroke of a brush or lining of the lips.
"Drag kings aren't as common or well-known as queens, [and] this is a mold [we're] determined to break," Underwood says. "Drag kings can hold an audience, have the same dedication, colorful talent, amazing costumes, and just as sickening numbers as a drag queen can! Arizona Drag Stars will always make it a point to book at least one drag king a show — and I promise, it won't always be me."
Perhaps eventually, but for now this week's show marks the return of Galaxy, alongside Luna St. James and both Nevaeh and Mya McKenzie, to the same Crescent stage.
The Arizona Drag Stars act debuted in mid-June as a one-off party event that, in the wake of the devastating Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., quickly morphed into a fundraising effort. The weeknight revue played to a packed audience and raised more than $1,000 for victims and LGBTQ+ organizations in Orlando.
"We felt it was our duty to give back what we received," Underwood says.
"We really hope that we can branch out and bring a lot more people to shows and give them an understanding that we’re here for the community," adds McKenzie, who hosts "High Heels and Halos" Wednesday nights at Charlie's in midtown. "I really hope that we can start working with Crescent Ballroom to start creating charities and doing fundraisers and all sorts of things. We're very, very excited."
For Coco St. James, joining the rotating cast was not only an opportunity to give back and bring attention to the community, but to perform alongside an eclectic group.
"I get to work with some of my favorite entertainers in the Valley," she says. "We are all different types of entertainers, so the show should be filled with a little bit of everything! As drag queens [we] are always evolving and changing. I have [become] a lot more experimental."
In addition to Drag Stars, St. James performs weekly at the Thursday night Neon Paint Party at Charlie's ("I usually wear an obnoxious neon-colored outfit and I get to paint people's bodies," she says.) and DJs the competition-based "Stars Choice" show Tuesdays at BS West in Scottsdale. Like many queens and the Drag Stars cast, St. James has become a staple of the gay bar scene where the audience knows — mostly — what to expect, but that doesn't mean she tones it down for those who might be strangers to the tuck-and-strut routine.
"To be honest, I love performing at 'straight' venues because they tend to react so much bigger. It's not something they see week after week," she says. "I don't really need to change anything about my persona when performing. If I did, they wouldn't get the full experience."
"The biggest misconception of drag is that it is a 'gay-only' industry," Underwood adds. "My experience has told me the exact opposite. A mainstream audience is always looking for a spectacle, something that stands out, to give their attention to: Lady Gaga, Sia, Trump, et cetera. The social bar scene has dipped in attendance due to the world shifting to social media, [and] drag queens are the perfect act to bring newcomers and regulars back into a bar."
Newcomers indeed. Drag Stars welcomes an 18-and-older crowd, something of a rarity for the scene — and the venue.
"An 18-and-up crowd doesn't get to see drag in person. To feel their love and their energy and their excitement for the show, it's one in a million and I absolutely adore it," McKenzie says.
But this is hardly the concert hall's first dip in the drag scene. In 2014, Crescent partnered with host Olivia Gardens for "Truth, Drag, or Dare" (tagline: "Life's a Drag, Party Like a Queen"), a then-weekly hybrid of raunchy games and dance numbers.
"'Truth, Drag, or Dare' was a show filled with audience participation games, like anywhere from The Price is Right to hula hoops," says St. James, who appeared on the bill as Gardens' special guest a number of times. "Whereas 'Drag Stars' is just a straight up, all-out, performance show!"
"The beauty of drag performers is that everyone can offer something (often drastically) different," Underwood adds. "They dance, they sing, they make you laugh, and they craft stunningly beautiful illusions. People live for these drag queens!"
Arizona Drag Stars slays on the Crescent Ballroom main stage on Thursday, September 1. Doors open at 8 p.m., struts and songs start at 9 p.m. at 308 North Second Avenue. Advance tickets for this 18-and-over revue are $10 through crescentphx.com; $15 at the door day of. Click through to the event page at facebook.com or dial 602-716-2222 for all the drag details.
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