Say ‘More w--re:’ A celebration of feminine expression
Buffalo Queens celebrate 38th annual Curtain Up at the Shea’s Smith Theatre Friday night
The crowd chanted “more w--re” and dropped dollar bills as Keke Valasquez-Lord entertained the audience to “Last Dance” by Donna Summer.
Club Marcella held “Curtain Up’s a Drag” in collaboration with Shea’s Performing Arts Center at the Smith Theatre Friday night. The 237-seat Black Box Theater was nearly full –– surprisingly with an older audience. It featured individual performances from Sasha Storm, Cece Vergara, Chyna Dior, Nicky Monroe, Valasquez-Lord, Winter Storm, Bebe Bvlgari and Armani, along with a group act at the end. Reigning Miss Gay Buffalo Icon Valasquez-Lord –– an entertainer in the Buffalo drag community for the past 13 years –– hosted the show.
The performances featured an amalgamation of ballads and up-beat music. The elated crowd offered dollar bills to the queens during their acts throughout the show. Hostess Valasquez-Lord encouraged the excited audience to say “more w--re” to cheer on the queens. She dressed in a vibrant silver sequined gown and stripped down to a black corset, a sparkly sheer bodysuit on top with elaborate rhinestone and fringe detailing.
Velasquez-Lord said the show brought together queens who normally don’t perform together, bringing an explosive energy.
“It was all of us working together in the name of sisterhood and putting on a great and professional show,” Velasquez-Lord said.
Valasquez-Lord’s is currently learning Megan Thee Stallion to cater to her Saturday night crowd and said she chooses her music for each show depending on what crowd she anticipates.
“Like for this show I had these oldies-but-goodies for the crowd,” Velasquez-Lord said. “I might do something more youthful for our midnight show.”
One of the most challenging parts of drag is challenging herself to the ultimate potential and influencing others to do the same.
Long-time drag queen and former Miss Continental –– one of the most prestigious drag pageants in America –– Armani stunned the audience in a red, knee-length, cold-shoulder dress with a black corset. She accessorized it with a rainbow hand fan, black gloves, a rhinestone-embellished choker and earrings.
She performed a rendition of “Bring On the Men” from the musical “Jekyll & Hyde” and incorporated splits in her performance, ending by thrusting an audience member’s head between her thighs.
“We were told to give them a fierce song, to welcome everybody to the opening of the theatre district, so I went with my favorite topic: men,” Armani said. “And for the women who hate when we come around, I did my second number ‘Bang Bang.’”
Aligning with the theme of Curtain Up, Cece Vergara’s emotive performance drew inspiration from Cinderella. She danced along to a ballad of “In My Own Little Corner” from Cinderella, using a broomstick as a prop to convey the story. She dressed in a brown gown and a blue headband to further emulate the character.
Drag show and theater producer Stefan Brundage said his favorite performer was Winter Storm.
“She was obviously a theater girl,” Brundage said. “Really great with hands, eye contact and she was just there in the moment with the song.”
Winter Storm performed “Be Italian” from the musical “Nine.” According to Brundage, she “danced the hell out of it, with a lot of homages from the actual movie itself.”
Storm rocked a high-neck white bodysuit, adorned with fringes and little sparkly rhinestones, with a circular cut out below the neck line. The white bodysuit was complemented with black thigh-high boots and a rhinestone necklace. Storm said parts of her performance were surprising, even to her.
“[It was] intense, you know, I tried to really get into character for it,” Storm said. “The tambourines, I try to get a routine for it, but sometimes I stray depending on how the crowd reacts. And the cartwheel was a little kind-of-a surprise kind-of-not-a surprise. I kind of expected it but I loved it. I think the crowd really enjoyed it too.”
Brundage was happy to see many artists of color working under the same space, adding that it is important for artists to support drag, burlesque and nightlife artists.
“I think it is kind of shunned all the time,” Brundage said. “It is just as valid, it takes a lot of work, a lot of money and the girls that did this show were some of the best I have seen in Buffalo … and they are as good as anyone else in the rest of the country.”
The closing act showcased a group rendition of “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” The queens looked exquisite in their glittery gowns and ravishing ornaments. After the show, the theatre district was filled with the happy crowd interacting and clicking photos with the queens of Buffalo. Cops patrolling seemed to be thrilled and were spotted taking pictures with them –– specifically Armani, who no longer lives in Buffalo but still came back.
“Right now seriously, I am at a loss for words. I’m just really happy to be a part of all this,” Armani said. “ I am a Buffalonian, I call this place home, I moved away but I always come back because of all this love here.”
Vindhya Burugupalli is a senior multimedia editor and can be reached at Vindhya.Burugupalli@ubspectrum.com