In NYC, Theater Is Everywhere

In NYC, Theater Is Everywhere

Story by Mickey Boardman / Photography by Timothy Greenfield-SandersMay 29, 2024

There are many fabulous things about New York City that make it the greatest city in the world — and one of them is the quality and quantity of the best theater performers on the planet (sorry, London). At PAPER, we love an on-stage spectacle so much we invited our favorite theatrical artists to come get the star treatment at the studio of OG portrait photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. From Tony-winning legends to way-Off-Broadway sensations to Real Housewives to Drag Race’s Queen of Queens, we present here a cavalcade of talents that are the best NYC, and the world, has to offer. We hope this inspires you to go support these superstars in-person at a theater, cabaret or dive bar near you.

Countess Luann de Lesseps

Suit: Stella McCartney, Shirt: Christian Cowan, Shoes: Gianvito Rossi, Rings: Mattia Cielo, Lady Grey Jewelry, Lionheart, Earrings and necklace: Talent’s own

How did you get involved with Richard Jay-Alexander?

He came to my first cabaret show that was being filmed for The Real Housewives of New York! And it was love at first sight.

Do you go to many other cabaret shows?

I do! I love to see Bridget Everett when she is in town. I was lucky enough to see Chita Rivera at 54 Below before she passed — what a legend.

There is a Q&A portion of your show. Have you ever refused to answer a question?

There, I use Andy’s line: I plead the fifth. It doesn’t happen very often!

TV Guide called you the number-one Housewife of all time.What do you think makes you such a great Housewife? And besides yourself, who do you think are the best Housewives?

I’ve shared my story, and been totally honest about my life. It's hard to hide behind a camera, what's really going on in your life. I think the success of a good Housewife is one that shares in an honest way with their fans.

There are too many great housewives to name — a lot of them have been amazing. I have so many favorites from the franchise, but I admire Phaedra Parks, Kyle Richards, Lisa Rinna, Cynthia Bailey — just to name a few.

Countess Luann is currently touring Europe with her cabaret show, Marry, F, Kill.

Trans Voices Cabaret

What’s the mission of Trans Voices Cabaret?

Donnie Cianciotto: Trans Voices Cabaret's mission is to raise the visibility of trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming performers, to build relationships and foster communities with casting directors and theater companies, and to highlight the talents of marginalized performers who are often overlooked by the entertainment industry.

How does the visibility of trans performers help advance trans rights?

Donnie Cianciotto: Visibility helps tremendously. Lots of folks don't think they've ever met a transgender or nonbinary person (they probably have!), so trans rights issues don't feel particularly personal to them. When trans performers put themselves out there, people are exposed to who we are, how we live, and that we just want basic human rights, access to adequate healthcare and human decency, like everybody else. Visibility is a huge tool when it comes to opening hearts and changing minds.

How can performers get involved?

Donnie Cianciotto: Trans Voices Cabaret doesn't hold auditions in the traditional sense, but we accept submissions on a rolling basis. The best way to stay abreast of that is to follow us on Instagram at @transvoicescabaret. We'll always announce when we're looking for performers for upcoming shows and performers can fill out our Casting Form through links we'll share. You can also always email transvoicescabaret@gmail.comwith an introductory email!

Trans Voices Cabaret will hold their Pride show on June 22 at Caveat at 21A Clinton Street, Brooklyn, NY.

Cynthia Nixon

Silk dress: Loewe, Crystal dress: Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Coat: KidSuper, Shoes: Louboutin, Earrings: Grace Lee, Rings: İTÄ & talent’s own

Before your last play, you had not been on stage in seven years. How was it?

It was fantastic. It was shocking to me that I hadn't been on stage in seven years. Ever since I started doing plays when I was 14, I think I had not had a number of years away, anything close to that. But, of course, it was the pandemic, and I was shooting two shows. I ran for governor, and a lot of things happened in the interim. But it was great. It was an extremely challenging part — eight parts — and just a two-character play, so an awful lot of lines to memorize. But it was really exciting and wonderful.

You just played a performance artist in The Seven Year Disappear. Did you do any research?

Yes. I read a bunch about Marina Abramović, and I watched, of course, a lot of footage of her. I watched the documentary about her. I watched a lot of her videos on YouTube. There's some big books out recently about her, so I had those. But also, I guess, while she is a part of the story, I also am playing these eight different people. So I think I spent a lot more time trying to develop those characters than I did learning more about performance art.

Would you ever run for a political office again?

No. I would not. When I was doing it in 2018, I knew it was going to be the only time I did it, and it was very hard. But I'm very proud of our campaign, and the things we brought to light, and the things that eventually got passed in New York State. I really ran against Andrew Cuomo, because nobody else would do it. I was well-positioned, because he couldn't punish me in my profession. I think that's why no one was running against him, because people who are already in politics were very vulnerable if they opposed him. But I'm in a whole different universe. So that made it possible for me to run against him and then not suffer the professional consequences.

The Gilded Age has so many New York theater actors in it. Are there any actors you'd love to have guest spots this season?

Oh my goodness. I mean, Cole Escola, I just was just wowed by him, and Gayle Rankin, I just saw her in Cabaret. I mean, there are so many extraordinary theater performances this year. We have such a wealth of theater performers, but Katie Finneran, who was on the first season, is a particular friend of mine. I think she was so brilliant from the playing the sort of snooty, look-down-her-nose person who was then brought low by her husband's financial ruin and then suicide. Just such a wonderful arc, and I, of course, love Katie, but I also love that character. I would love to check in with her again and see how she's doing.

Cynthia Nixon is currently filming the new season of And Just Like That....

Broadway Bares

How risqué do things get at Broadway Bares?

Mark Mackillop: The midnight show is definitely the one to be at. One year when I was a lead strip they built me a modesty sock to wear for when I stripped. My final strip where I got “completely naked” was facing upstage and the top of the set and I thought I didn’t need to wear it ‘cause no one would see. The 9 PM show I didn’t wear it — but something in me told me to wear it for the midnight show. Thank god I did. During one of my costume reveals, my dance partner accidentally grabbed too many layers and I was stripped completely naked downstage-center except for the modesty sock.

Christopher Patterson-Rosso: I’ll never kiss and tell, you gotta come see the show June 23rd!

Tell us about the first time you ever performed live in NYC.

Mila Adderly (AKA Mila Jam): I slayed a performance of Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” at a small popular bar/lounge in the early aughts in Chelsea. It got me my first weekly show!

What’s special about a New York audience?

Mila Jam: They let you know when you suck!

What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen on stage?

Christopher Patterson-Rosso: A Strange Loop, without question

How did you get involved with Broadway Bares?

Christopher Patterson-Rosso: During COVID and the virtual Bares I was asked by Dylan Pearce to be featured in his number for Twerk From Home.

“Hit the Strip” will take place June 23 at Hammerstein Ballroom. Dancer Mark Mackillop is trying to continue his six-year streak of being the company’s highest fundraiser, with a cumulative total of $392,168.

Ani DiFranco

Tell us about the first time you ever performed live in NYC.

I don’t remember exactly, but I would have been 18 and it would have been some set at a little bar that I managed to talk somebody into giving me. I used to take my first cassette around to music clubs in the afternoons and see if anyone anywhere would give me a gig. Some kind souls actually did!

How is Hadestown going?

It’s kicking my ass... in a very literal way. The muscle spasming in my hamstrings and glutes have me contemplating sitting down two-thirds of the way through the second act, most nights. Would it be cool if Persephone just copped a squat right now? How about just crumpling to the floor — would that be cool?

Do you feel like the Broadway community has welcomed you?

Yes, very much.The community is one of the most vibrant and warm and charming and inspiring I’ve ever encountered.

Ani DiFranco is continuing her run in Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theater.

Jinkx Monsoon

Dress: Stylist’s own, Corset: Garo Sparo, Earrings: Christina Caruso

What’s special about a New York audience?

They care. They listen. They know. They come into a show ready for the show. They come in with a history of seeing shows and interpreting them. They appreciate the work, dedication, and craft that is necessary to put on a truly stellar show. I’m not saying other audiences aren’t like this — but with New York City, you don’t have to worry what you’re getting that night.

What would your dream role be?

It has always been Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. While I would never say no to playing her in the current running revival production, but I feel like in order to have this dream fulfilled, I’d want to originate a performance of her.

I gotta say, I love taking over roles — it’s a really fun and unique challenge as an actor! I just feel ready to put my stamp on a character before anyone else does!

When did you realize you wanted to be a performer?

I can’t remember that far back. It’s just always been known. I came out of my mother queer and a performer. Ask anyone in my family. It’s in my baby book as one of my first sentences!

What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen on stage?

Oh, Mary! written and performed by Cole Escola — with just the most incredible direction, staging and the entire cast held the stage beautifully, countering the comic genius that is Cole. I believe Cole Escola is the funniest person alive.

After blowing away sold-out crowds this spring as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, Monsoon returns to the long-running Broadway hit Chicago as Mama Morton in June.

Kyra Sedgwick

Clothing: Jason Wu, Earrings: Grace Lee, Ring: Ritique Jewelry

When did you know you wanted to become a professional actor?

When I was 12 years old, I played Tzietel in Fiddler on the Roof in my eighth grade play. I was not a happy kid, and it was the first taste of real joy that I’d ever experienced. I felt my soul leap out of my body and dance on the stage.

Was it exciting to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Which celebrities’ stars are near you?

Kevin Bacon is right next to me. I am grateful for the honor and it was fun, but praise from my peers is even more important to me.

Your first job was on my favorite soap opera. What was that like? Did you work with Constance Ford and Victoria Wyndham?

No, I didn’t work with either one of them. Another World was incredible! I had to know my lines, hit my marks, they made no allowances for the fact that I was 16. And that was a good thing! It taught me to be a consummate professional.

Kyra Sedgwick is appearing in All of Me through June 16.

Bebe Neuwirth

Tell us about the first time you ever performed live in NYC.

My first Equity job in NYC was in A Chorus Line on Broadway, at the Shubert Theatre. I played Lois, the ballet dancer who gets cut in the opening scene. It was surreal.

What’s special about a New York audience?

There is fantastic theater all over the country, but I suppose because theater is one of the things NYC is known for, it becomes an alluring destination. Also, the loyal, hardcore NYC audience has seen a lot — and they love the theater.

When did you realize you wanted to be a performer?

According to Neuwirth history, I entered the world dancing. The story goes that, as he delivered me, the obstetrician said, “She’s a dancer.” According to me, I’ve never considered doing anything other than performing on stage.

What was it like working with Bob Fosse?

It’s hard for me to articulate just how thrilling, satisfying, moving, heart-wrenching and inspiring it was to work with him. He was a creative genius, but he was also sweet, serious, funny, kind, and deeply sensitive. He loved his dancers; he saw us each as individual artists, and treated us beautifully.

Bebe Neuwirth is nominated for a 2024 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Cabaret.

Eva Noblezada

Suit: Gabrielle Venguer via Tumbao, Shoes: Acne Studios, Necklaces: Pamela Love, talent’s own, Earrings: Pamela Love, Christina Caruso, Ring: Pamela Love

Tell us about the first time you ever performed live in NYC.

My first time performing live in NYC was in 2013 at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards! Man, what an experience. I was 16? I was so obsessed with anything and everything Broadway. Thank god nothing has changed. It was crazy. Never imagining that you could be dropped in from singing crappy YouTube Broadway karaoke to be standing on the Minskoff stage with tons of other kids just as passionate as you were. It was one of the most mind-blowing weeks of my life.

When did you realize you wanted to be a performer?

I’ve always needed to be a part of storytelling in some way or another. I think my curiosity as a kid for the imagination and its magical existence within our reality really helped me stay on the path of being a performer, entertainer and artist. I knew when I was five! I remember building a stage in my Lola and Papa’s backyard in California. I mean, I’m talking three pieces of plywood on the floor as a stage — nothing fancy. And I sold tickets to the family [laughs].

How is The Great Gatsby going?

It’s going fantastic. I’m getting my ass kicked right now in every way you can imagine! But we sign up for that and we learn how to take care of ourselves in our routines so that we can show up and tell the story again and again. I still pinch myself that I get to do this for a living. It’s the most magical, cuckoo and delicious life ever.

Eva Noblezada is currently playing Daisy in The Great Gatsby at the Broadway Theater.

Shoshana Bean

Clothing: Talent's own, Rings: Lionheart Jewelry, İTÄ

What’s special about a New York audience?

New York audiences are unequivocally my favorite. I think they have incredible taste, are honest about how they feel and are not shy about expressing it. You always know where you stand and I love that. My personal experience is that they are incredibly loyal, supportive and enthusiastic. They have shown up for me over the years through every twist and turn my career and artistry have taken and for that I will be eternally grateful. There is no love quite like a New York audience’s love.

When did you realize you wanted to be a performer?

I just kind of came out this way! Before I even realized it was “performing,” it was a natural instinct for me to create a costume, put on a record and dance and sing around the living room. It was always what brought me the most joy and so I chased that throughout my childhood. I suppose the clear choice was when I committed to studying musical theater in college. That was the moment I really decided it was going to be life’s work.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen on stage?

This is an impossible question to answer! I’m gonna go with the original production of Ragtime. Imelda Staunton in Gypsy on the West End is a close second.

Shoshana Bean is nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Hell’s Kitchen.

Kitten and Lou



How did you two meet?

We met in a show, of course! Our relationship began as a blueberry vodka-fueled one night-stand during a theatrical run in Provincetown (gay!) and just never stopped. That drunken hook up has resulted in an 11-year-long marriage... romance isn’t dead, kids! So, long story short, it began as a showmance and then we just sort of figured out how to turn our whole life together into a showmance.

Describe your performing style.

We’ve been described in the press as “a fluorescent Fred and Ginger” and “the love child of club drag and vaudeville” — and honestly, that feels like a good fit. We like to say that we use drag and artifice as a means to reveal truth. At the end of the day, though, we’re camp clowns who dabble in the surreal and the sublime.

Do you have performers you looked up to as kids?

Kitten: My grandmother infused my life with a deep love of old MGM musicals, and the classic divas who toed the line between glamor and comedy always spoke to me: Rosalind Russell, Lucille Ball. But the number-one influence of all time is Paul Reubens aka Pee-wee, and the world he created. I wanted to be Miss Yvonne when I was little, and now here I am getting paid to be an over-the top, self-obsessed, glamor-loving redhead... dreams do come true!

Lou: Definitely! I was the only one of my friends to have black and white 8x10s of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Roger, and Bob Fosse on my bedroom walls instead of New Kids on the Block posters. I’m really giving away my age here. But I studied every bit of jazzy musical theater dance I could, studying with Ann Reinking, Chet Baker and Jimmy “Sir Slyde” Mitchell. Hell, I’ll admit it... I named my cat Bebe after Bebe Neuwirth.

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen on stage?

Lou: This is so hard to narrow down! I’m so in love with watching a performer be in complete command of an audience. Like when John Cameron Mitchell was performing Hedwig with a knee injury and was able to bring the audience all the way in to him performing sitting on stool with an ice pack. I’m also obsessed with incredibly nuanced physicality. I saw Baryshnikov perform live for the first time maybe eight or so years ago, and he ran backwards in a circle and I wept.

Kitten: There’s been so many, but most recently I would say Cole Escola’s wig in Oh, Mary! has been haunting my dreams since I saw it. Absolute unhinged tightly coiled perfection. (Cole was also brilliant.)

Kitten and Lou are working on their big queer holiday show Jingle All The Gay, which will be touring in December.

Kandi Burruss and Todd Tucker

What made you decide to start producing theater?

Kandi: Meeting Brian Moreland (our producing partner) was a game-changer. He presented the opportunity to get involved on Thoughts of A Colored Man. We loved Thoughts of a Colored Man. We knew it was important and we wanted to get behind it. After doing that show, I wanted to do more and Todd also wanted to be a part of producing theater projects with me.

What’s more stressful, performing on stage or watching the show as a producer?

Kandi: I think both jobs are stressful in their own way. As a performer you’re stressed about rehearsals, making sure you put on a great show, scared you may mess up, scared you may forget a line… As a producer you are stressed about everything. Stressed about ticket sales being good, stressed about making sure your talent is happy, stressed about the sound being right, or if a cast member isn’t feeling well, stressed if the cues aren’t on point, I could go on and on. It depends on what day you ask me. Some days when everything is smooth I say it’s more stress being the talent because you always have to put on a great show. But when everything that could go wrong goes wrong, I say it’s more stress on the producer.

If you had to cast one of your former Real Housewives of Atlanta costars in a show, what show would it be and which housewife?

Kandi: Hmmm, I would pick Shamari Devoe and Demetria McKinney because they both can sing, dance and act. I would put them in The Wiz or Six.

The Wiz is the third Broadway show produced by Kandi Burruss and her second co-producing with her husband Todd Tucker.

Amber Iman

Dress: Victoria Beckham, Shoes: Gianvito Rossi, Earrings: Christina Caruso, Rings: Erin Fader Jewelry, Mega Jewelry, Necklace: Mega Jewelry

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

My mother is an actress, so I guess I always knew. There was no grand epiphany or “ah-hah” moment. I was good at lots of other things, still am, but I think being an artist was always a part of my purpose.

Tell us about your first time performing on stage.

I was in pre-K, so I have zero memories [laughs]. I’ll just tell you what my mother told me. I was Rosa Parks in the Spelman College Nursery School Black History Program. Allegedly, I told my teacher that if she didn’t cast me as Rosa (the lead), I wouldn’t be in the play and I wouldn’t come to see it either... allegedly.

You played Nina Simone. How did you prepare for that?

That was a little over 12 years ago, so the details are a bit foggy. I think I read every book, watched every YouTube clip and probably listened to every song I could find of Nina’s. I wasn’t trying to imitate her, I was just trying to figure her out — what was her “why,” where her sound came from, what caused her pain, what brought her joy. I took all of that information and combined it with the given circumstances of the script and built my “Nina.”

Amber Iman is nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Lempicka, which closed this month.

Arturo Lyons and Omari Wiles

How did you two first meet?

Arturo: We met from the ballroom scene more than 19 years ago.

How did the idea for Cats: the Jellicle Ball come about?

Omari: Bill Rauch approached me two years ago — maybe three, now. He asked me if this would make sense: Could I see a world where Ballroom and the competition scene align with CATS? Instantly I thought yes...but why? Then it was the Jellicle Ball that for me made sense, with each role having to tell their own stories to hopefully be picked to ascend to the The Heaviside Layer. In Ballroom, we compete to win grand prizes to one night be deemed Legendary or an Icon.

Is the fact that the ballroom scene has been accepted into mainstream media a good thing?

Omari: Ballroom being accepted into mainstream is a good thing for the opportunities, respect and visibility of the individuals with the talent to hit the floor. The world gets to see what makes us human and strong and we get to show everyone our power and our creativity.

Cats: The Jellicle Ball is running June 13 through July 14 at the Perelman Performing Arts Center.


Justin Vivian Bond

Blazer: Talent’s own: Corset: Tae Park, Gloves: Garo Sparo, Earrings: Erin Fader Jewelry, Rings: Mega Jewelry, Erin Fader Jewelry, Necklace: Talent’s own

You worked in dinner theater. What was that like?

I still work in dinner theater at Joe’s Pub! The only difference is I don’t have to wait tables before the show and drop off the check after. Music, food, booze, show people? Win, win, win!

What inspires you so much about Julie London?

If high femme was a priestess, their name would be Julie London. She was flawlessly glamorous and could at times sound like someone who could be mistaken for man — sound familiar? She was sexy and she owned it and had fun with it.

How would you describe your relationship to fashion?

As an entertainer the line between fashion and costumes has always been blurred. I have always been fortunate enough to have very talented stitch witches in my life. I’ve worn everything on stage — from haute couture to clothes by the pound!

Justin Vivian Bond will be at Joe’s Pub performing Night Shade from June 20 through June 30.

Kyle Abraham

When did you know you wanted to be a dancer?

Ironically, I never really wanted to be a dancer, but I've always loved dancing. I always thought more about choreography and being a choreographer before I ever knew what that meant. And once I started taking dance classes at age 17, I just thought I was too old to become a dancer, so I set my sights on being a choreographer all the more right then and there.

What was performing arts school like? Was it like Fame?

Not really. [Laughs]. I only went half day for my senior year of high school. I remember the school having a jukebox in the cafeteria and the musical theater and vocal majors playing the group Brownstone all the time, and me playing Madonna's Bedtime Stories and The Cranberries.

Tell me about your Paradise Garage piece and the piece inspired by Boyz n the Hood.

That was a fun one. That was a commissioned project that gave me an opportunity to dive back into my love of dance music and research what was going on before I ever moved to NY.. I don't know if it's a dance I need to put on stage ever again. But I loved the experience inside of it, and I loved how much joy it brought to people who went to Paradise Garage.

Now the Boyz in the Hood work that you're referring to, Pavement, was very different. Pavement was an hour-long dance that took John Singleton's film Boyz in the Hood and W. E. B. DuBois' Souls of Black Folks and put them into an abstracted narrative work centered in Pittsburgh. There were nods to the violence and hardships we faced in the 1990s when Singleton's film came out, and moments of hope, despair and reflection that connected to DuBois' writing. Pavement premiered shortly after the death of Trayvon Martin. And as a result, people thought that the dance was about Trayvon Martin.

It wasn’t — it was a dance about all of the Trayvon Martins. This was a dance that's showing a side of American history and the injustices and hate that Black Americans are still facing in real time.

A.I.Mby Kyle Abraham is touring throughout 2024. Abraham’s new piece, Dear Lord, Make Me Beautiful will have its debut at the Park Avenue Armory in December.


Thorgy Thor

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

My dad was always a classic Long Island ‘80s dad who had that huge camera over his shoulder recording family parties on Long Island. I watch them and think, Oh my god, I was performing at family backyard BBQs as a little crazy gay kid since I was six. So gay. So out loud. I was built for this. It was only a matter of time. And there is so much proof. Thank you to my father for capturing all of this gayness.

Tell me about your work with symphonies.

I never "decided" to combine my drag interest with my classical conservatory training. It was also a duh, yes. I thought to myself, no one is doing this and I'm passionate at both disciplines, so why not? There was nothing that was going to stop me. And now I‘ve brought my show Thorgy and the Thorchestra to more than 40 major symphonic orchestras over the last six years, and don't plan to stop anytime soon.

RuPaul has said getting eliminated on Drag Race feels like the end but really it’s just the beginning. Do you agree?

Do you know what I remember RuPaul saying to me? She came up to me mid-season on Season 8 and whispered "You are very smart. Too smart for your own good, on this show.” I have thought about that since. I'm a fun, great queen and decent at drag, but a great business-minded individual. Do you know who's the best? RuPaul. So her saying that to me was a compliment. Thanks Ru. I'll see you on all stars season 403958 when production finally takes me seriously.

Thorgy Thor is celebrating Pride by performing with the Boston Pops on June 1.

Isaac Mizrahi

Tell us about the first time you performed in NYC.

The first time I ever performed live in NYC was at a club called Eighty-Eights. It was a gay piano bar and they had a tiny cabaret room upstairs. I thought I would not live through it, I was so nervous. I started the show walking through the crowd singing “You Fascinate Me So” by Cy Coleman.

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

I started doing female impersonations when I was about seven or eight years old. I did Streisand and Shirley Bassey and Liza. I did these shows in my driveway for anyone who would stop by and listen.

Who were your favorite performers as a child?

My favorite performers: Judy Garland, Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Liza, Shirley Bassey, Anthony Newley. When I went to High School of Performing Arts, I got heavily into Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, who were starring in Chicago, which I saw at least ten times. Also the performers in A Chorus Line, which was also playing and I saw literally once a week in the standing room.

Isaac Mizrahi is bringing his cabaret show to 54 Below at the end of August.

Desi Drag Artists

When did you start doing drag?

RuAfza: Well I started regularly performing in 2023 in April. But RuAfza has been in my life since I was a kid. LaWhore has helped me translate my expression into drag, but I think I started doing drag when I locked myself in my moms bedroom and used towels as gowns. Lip-syncing to a crowd of one in the mirror.

Are there South Asian divas and legends who inspire your looks? Or your performances?

LaWhore: My divas are the aunties that raised me, my mum and her friends who loved to serve looks on a weekday afternoon for kitty parties, for weekend temple or for singalongs at each other’s houses. These were Sindhi women in Accra, Ghana, who had migrated there from across the world.

How do your families feel about you doing drag?

Bertha Vanayshun: I would say it’s currently neutral/positive. My siblings are fans and my mother mostly wants me to save money on costumes. It hasn’t always been like that, but fortunately my mothers response to Bertha was, “Well, at least you’re pretty.”

When did you start doing drag?

Mercy Masala: I feel like my life has been one big drag show since birth. I’ve been performing since I was three years old at my mother’s Indian classical dance studio on Staten Island. My first drag role was playing baby Krishna in these epic dance dramas my mother would create based on the legacies of Hindu gods. From as early as I can remember, anytime I step on stage, I embody the essence of whatever song, character, or fem/masc energies that come to me.

Are there South Asian divas and legends who inspire your looks? Or your performances?

Mercy Masala: I love the classical Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sri Devi. I loved how expressive their faces were when they performed and that richness of expression adds to my own performances.

Moon Joy Divine: Rekha, as a divine queer misunderstood entity, inspired my looks. Then I would say the Durga-Kali dichotomy is my big inspiration; in terms of look, personality and purpose.

Kahani: My grandmother, who was a poet born in Amritsar and active in Lahore. When we were younger, she used to tell us tales passed down from her mother and aunties. That’s where I get my name, Kahani, which means “story” in Urdu and Hindi. I’m a bit of a chameleon, I love to shapeshift and embody a variety of characters one might encounter in the subcontinent.

The members of the Desi drag scene are regularly performing in Brooklyn.


Cyndi Lauper

Suit: Libertine, Shoes: New Bottega

How is writing a song for a Broadway show different from writing a pop song?

Well, both are stories for me. But one happens to tell a story. The show song happens because there are no more words, so the character sings to complete the moment and move forward. Anyway, Harvey always said when there are no more words, you sing, and I’ve found that to be very true.

Will there be a song in Working Girl using the classic line, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin?”

No, because that’s a male fantasy, not always a woman’s.

What about: “Sometimes I dance around my apartment in my underwear, that doesn’t make me Madonna.”

Maybe. I do love Madonna.

Do you think you’ll ever perform again in a Broadway show?

Sure. It really depends on the story, the role, the book,and the songs. Right?

Do you hope to someday do a musical about your life, using your amazing catalog of songs?

Yes, with some new songs in it too.

Cyndi Lauper is working on the score to the musical adaptation of Working Girl.


Ben Platt

Ben at the Palace, Judy [Garland] at the Palace. Discuss.

Judy has been an idol of mine my entire life. I used to watch The Wizard of Oz every day after school and spent much of my childhood dressed as Dorothy. There’s Judy art all over my house. She was such a singular performer and voice, not to mention a queer icon. Whenever I can follow in her footsteps in any sense, let alone at The Palace, I feel I’m on the right track.

What do you think are Judy‘s best songs? Best movies?

There are too many options to answer this, so I’m limiting myself to one for each. Songs: the entire Carnegie Hall live recording. Movies: A Star is Born. She's the ultimate original!

What’s the first Broadway show you saw? Your favorite shows?

I grew up seeing lots of national tours in Los Angeles, but the first show I saw on Broadway proper was Thoroughly Modern Millie. I was obsessed with Sutton Foster and in love with Gavin Creel. My favorite musical bar none is Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim. It’s all about the joy, pain and sacrifices of being an artist. There’s an amazing pro shot of the original production that you should watch immediately if you’re reading this!

Ben Platt is following in the footsteps of his idol, Judy Garland, and performing a series of concerts at the legendary Palace Theater.

Grant Gustin

Turtleneck and pants: Moschino, Suit and tie: Alexander McQueen

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

There’s not a specific moment that I knew I wanted to be a performer. It’s just always who I was and who I am. No one else in my family is in the arts — it’s just something that was in me from the time that I was born. I was always becoming different characters and putting on little shows and then started doing theater at a young age and it’s just what I’ve always done.

Are most of the fans who come to the stage door to meet you fans of The Flash or Glee?

It’s hard to say what there’s more of. There’s definitely a lot of both and plenty of crossover, where people watched both shows. It’s been pretty incredible to see the amount of people traveling in to see the show.

What’s the best thing about New York audiences?

They are intelligent and have seen it all, so they don’t tend to accept any bullshitting or phoning it in.

Grant Gustin is starring in Water for Elephants at the Imperial Theatre.

Tyler Ashley and Charlene Incarnate

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?

Tyler: I was on my grandparent’s coffee table giving performances since I was a toddler.

Charlene: We were the kids with the hair brushes for microphones. Our experience of music has been intrinsically tied to performance from our beginnings.

How did you two meet and decide to perform together?

Tyler: We met through mutual friends at a performance! Later on in our friendship, Charlene joined me for the second Baby Tea Brunch ever as the special guest. Shortly thereafter we naturally fell into the nonstop marathon vibe and the rest is herstory.

Charlene: Wenoticed quickly our performance style and musical proclivities matched up. Our first number together was “Angel Standing By” by Jewel at Ritual.

How do you handle hecklers? Or loud drunk straight girls?

Tyler: I haven’t had much experience with hecklers! And the drunken straight girls help pay the bills, so have another shot, Katie! We appreciate everyone that comes out to go on the journey with us.

I was fooled by your April Fool’s break-up post. Were other people fooled?

Tyler: Yes [laughs]. Some people even got a little mad at us, I think. Listen, it’s dark times out there, and promotion is a big part of performance in NYC, so it can get very tedious. We needed to have some fun this time around, so we switched up the strategy to encourage a little drama and laughter with us.

Charlene: There were riots in the streets. Brooklyn can’t live without Baby Tea Brunch!

How would you describe your performances?

Charlene: Raucous and rowdy joie de vivre to the music you either forgot you loved or didn’t like before we changed your mind.

Despite an April Fool’s Day joke Instagram post about parting ways, the dynamic theatrical duo of Tyler Ashley and Charlene Incarnate is still going strong.


Darius Rose, AKA Jackie Cox

What’s special about a New York audience?

Oh god, performing in NYC is like pushing yourself through an artery at the heart of the universe. The energy here is electric, the audiences are diverse and even though they are ready for a show they never let you get away with anything. You have to earn every laugh, every tear and every bit of applause.

What’s special about a New York audience?

I’ve basically been belting show tunes since I could walk\. But I remember a few key moments, one in kindergarten where I had to be a sad ghost who aws sad because no one could see them — so they didn’t have any friends, and I remember the teacher told me she really believed I was sad. But to be honest, it wasn't until I discovered the transformative power of drag that I knew I couldn’t ever stop being a performer.

How did your Days of Our Lives casting come about?

It’s all thanks to Lisa Rinna, really. When they brought her back for “Beyond Salem,” they thought it would be fun for me to revive my “Snatch Game” impression from Drag Race to have us do a scene opposite each other, but now I’ve recurred for the past few years and my role has evolved to this wild fictional and mischievous version of me. The head writer, Ron, recently came to see Make MeGorgeous so hopefully he left with some fun ideas where I go next in Salem. It’s always a fabulous opportunity to bring some drag to daytime TV.

What’s more stressful, Drag Race or doing a one-person show in NYC?

Oh, they both have their moments, but what I always remembered during Drag Race was that I just had to be myself, and they will either love it or not. Gorgeous, on the other hand, I had to be 26 other people and also deliver this play as faithfully as possible seven times away. At the end of the day, Drag Race is a fierce competition, but nothing compares to the pressure of keeping a NYC crowd engaged and entertained.

Darius Rose made his off Broadway debut this year in Make Me Gorgeous, while his drag alter ego Jackie Cox continues to appear in clubs, benefits and cameos on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.

Photography: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Styling (Cynthia Nixon, Kyra Sedgewick, Luann de Lesseps): Angelina Cantú
Styling (Grant Gustin): Wojciech Christopher Nowak
Styling (Eva Noblezada, Jinkx Monsoon, Justin Vivian Bond, Amber Iman): Heidi Cannon
Styling (Cyndi Lauper): Nikki

Hair (Bebe Neuwirth, Kyle Abraham, Tyler Ashley, Charlene Incarnate, Shoshana Bean, Justin Vivian Bond, Broadway Bares, Trans Voices, Ani DiFranco, Grant Gustin, Eva Noblezada, Ben Platt, Darius Rose, Thorgy Thor): Kennedy Trisler, Dan Williams
Hair (Cynthia Nixon): Marin Mullen
Hair and makeup (Luann de Lesseps): Spencer Wells
Makeup (Bebe Neuwirth): Anastasia Vavina
Makeup (Shoshana Bean, Justin Vivian Bond, Arturo Lyons, Omari Wilson): Shu Zhang
Makeup (Cynthia Nixon, Kyra Sedgwick, Eva Noblezada, Darius Rose, Ben Platt): Aimi Osada

Special projects director: Mickey Boardman
Editorial producer: Angelina Cantú