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May 15, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


All Dolly-ed Up

Reporter stars in 'An Evening at La Cage'
 Watch the Video

Corey at La Cage
MP4 | MOV | AVI

 

 

click on the photos to enlarge them...


Review-Journal reporter Corey Levitan portrays Dolly Parton onstage at the Riviera in "An Evening at La Cage."
Photos by Ronda Churchill

Kenneth Blake (left, dressed as Madonna) uses a common gluestick to flatten Levitan's stubborn eyebrows, a task which takes 45 minutes longer than expected.


"An Evening at La Cage" emcee Frank Marino (center, dressed as Joan Rivers) supplies some good-natured ribbing as Levitan's transformation begins.


A female impersonator's makeup must be vivid enough to overpower masculine features and be seen well from a distance and under bright lights.


Blake completes Levitan's look with the placement of a big blonde wig


Levitan's fake breasts are constructed of Nerf balls.


Levitan awaits his costume backstage.

I'm trotting around in 5-inch pumps and a blond wig, as triple-D boobs threaten to bust my red gown open.

What distinguishes this from a typical weeknight for me is that other people are watching. (That's just a joke, Mom.) I'm Dolly Parton in "An Evening at La Cage," the renown celebrity female impersonator show at the Riviera.

 

Oh, come on. You knew you'd see me like this sooner or later.

"He's enjoying this too much," says the show's emcee, Frank Marino, as I'm transformed backstage by female impersonator Kenneth Blake, who plays both Parton and Madonna.

"La Cage" — which opened in 1985 and if I flop may close tonight — features Marino, as Joan Rivers, introducing men who pose as Cher, Celine Dion and Michael Jackson (equivalently gender-bending portrayals, when you think about it).

No outsider has ever joined the cast, according to Marino, the only original member. And for a while, one part of my body makes it uncertain whether I would. (No, unfortunately for me, not that part.)

"Who told you to shave your eyebrows?" Blake asks.

My brows grow straight out, entering rooms before me. So I figured I'd give Blake a break and trim them — since I already had to shave my hands and the sideburns I harvested since "Beverly Hills, 90210."

What I actually give Blake is an hour of extra work gluing what feel like prickly pear needles down against my forehead, before he can even think about trying to conceal them with flesh-hued putty.

"Your eyebrows are severely not cooperating," he beefs between tongue clicks.

Wait until he tries to glue my honker down.

On the subject of big noses, if you're thinking I'd have made a better Barbra Streisand, so am I. But there's no Babs in the lineup, and it's too much trouble to program a new number just for one night. (Computers run the lights, which sync to the music — along with the dozen pairs of glossed male lips.) Blake donated his Parton slot to me, since it's the shortest and has no choreography.

"Can you get me the silver moustache wax?" Marino asks one of his two assistants.

"Not for his eyebrows," Blake responds. "It'll crack."

As the clock ticks dangerously close to our 7:30 p.m. curtain, there is talk of shaving my brows entirely off. It does not emanate from me. I need them to raise in response to just such proposals.

I'm not the only masculine performer tonight, by the way. Before his transformation, Britney Spears is muscular, 6 feet in heels and thin up top. (That said, however, the simulation J-Lo — even before makeup — is someone I'm glad I never met in a bar during my drunken single days.)

Marino, a Long Islander, started doing drag at age 17, after winning first prize for his Diana Ross getup at a Halloween party. An agent watching the contest offered him a job impersonating the former Supreme for $150 per show.

A drag queen, Marino explains, is not a transvestite, who is usually a straight man cross-dressing for kicks. And he's not a transgendered person, who feels trapped in the wrong sex.

"I hate to be in makeup if I'm not onstage," Marino says.

Marino claims you don't have to be gay to be a drag queen. But, he reveals, all but one of his show's male cast is.

"And I'm not the odd man out," he says, pinching my butt.

Nothing is taboo backstage here — except age. Blake tells me he's 35.

"Oh, tell the truth!" Frank responds.

"OK, I'm two years younger than Frank," Blake says, leering at Marino. "So I'll be 50 next year."

Two full horses' worth of glue-stick later, my brows cave in and Blake cakes on enough makeup to repaint the Riviera lobby. I close my eyes for 10 minutes at a clip as liquids set like pottery glaze.

"Chez Chez La Femme" is wafting through the filling theater, and I feel manly compulsions to watch football ... crush beer cans against my skull ... run with bulls.

While this is more fun than I probably should admit, it's also incredibly embarrassing. If my eighth-grade gym teacher, Mr.. Playa, could see me now, he'd say his prediction about my future was correct.

Blake draws a pencil-thin moustache below my nose. Briefly, masculinity returns.

"That's your upper lip line," he corrects me.

I look like the Joker.

"Good," Blake says. "Dolly looks like the Joker."

Flesh-hued Danskin In Motion women's skate tights unfurl over my gorilla-haired legs as Marino wonders about what is known in this business as tucking. He looks down at my crotch and shakes his head.

"Not big enough," he says.

Marino — who appeared in "Miss Congeniality 2," has two Las Vegas Walk of Fame stars and was honored by Mayor Oscar Goodman with "Frank Marino Day" on February 1, 2005 — says his parents didn't understand his career at first.

"My mother asked if I was selling insurance," he says. "I said, 'No, ma. That's an HMO.' "

Mom's a fan now, however.

"After all, I've doubled her wardrobe," Marino says.

Dolly's chest is part of a stretch of fabric that hangs from my neck and pins to my waist-cincher. Her breasts, which resemble two spare heads, are made of Nerf balls.

After Blake crowns his creation with a wig, I gaze at the woman staring back from the mirror. I was never much for girls with buttocks protruding from their chests, but I have to admit I'm all right — only about two beer cases away from my own dream girl.

"Not only can you pass, honey," Marino says, "I think you should go to Fremont Street after and see how much you can make."

But I'm not acting like a woman. In fact, I'm skewing macho to compensate. This simply will not do.

"Don't walk with your shoulders," Marino commands. "Shoulders back."

I'm actually not bad walking in heels, and homophobia compels me to explain why: The ones I'm wearing are only 2 inches higher than the elevator shoes I used to wear before meeting my girlfriend.

"You're not fooling anyone with that girlfriend talk," Marino says. "This isn't your first time at the rodeo."

The crowd applauds loudly for Judy Garland. My debut is minutes away.

"Are you nervous?" Marino asks.

I can't respond, since Blake is touching up my lipstick.

"Well I'm nervous!" Marino yells.

So he lets the cat out of the handbag, introducing me as a reporter. The sympathetic crowd cheers as the curtain lifts to reveal me air-typing to the intro of "9 to 5." They scream louder as four of my 10 puttied-on nails fly off and my left heel catches in my dress while segueing into "Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That."

As a woman at least, I'm a show-stopper.

"There's another one for our side!" Marino proclaims as I trot offstage.

It's probably a coincidence, I can't say, but the day after my debut, the Riviera's owners announced that their hotel was sold.

 

Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.


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COREY LEVITAN
FEAR AND LOAFING


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