May 15, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
All Dolly-ed Up
in 'An Evening at La Cage'
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
Blake draws a pencil-thin moustache below my nose. Briefly,
"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
"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
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
"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
As a woman at least, I'm a show-stopper.
"There's another one for our side!" Marino proclaims as I trot
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.