When I heard that internationally famous performer Miz Cracker would be appearing at the NACL Theatre in Highland Lake last weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to grab tickets for myself and the …
When I heard that internationally famous performer Miz Cracker would be appearing at the NACL Theatre in Highland Lake last weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to grab tickets for myself and the dog. Honestly, it did not occur to me that the show would be a standing-room-only sold-out type gig here in the Upper Delaware River region, but it was, and (IMHO) with good reason.
Made famous by appearances on television’s mega-hit reality competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Miz Cracker (aka Maxwell Heller) is best known for placing fifth on the 10th season of “Drag Race,” and for being a runner-up on the series’ All Stars version as well.
Cracker’s show, “Foolish,” was entertaining, funny and touching—all rolled into an hour-long pastiche of filmed sketches, dance routines and stand-up, mixed with musical numbers, and peppered—not salted—with personal anecdotes that often dug deep. The stories gave the audience insight into the life of a modern-day drag queen; some of it is less than savory.
I’ve seen RuPaul’s show, but am also well aware that drag has been around as long as performers have appeared on stage. In fact, the word could actually be an acronym. Some say “D.R.A.G.” stands for “dress resembling a girl.” Ostensibly coined by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), it was used as an actor’s note, since women were not allowed to appear on stage when plays like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream” were originally written.
So while hardly new, the popularity of drag has been steadily rising since my parents sat in front of a 12-inch black-and-white screen and watched a bewigged Milton Berle teetering around on high heels, while he starred in shows like the “Kraft Music Hall” way back when in 1958. And don’t get me started on Bugs Bunny!
Since then, the genre has been featured on television for decades, including “The Flip Wilson Show” (1970-74). The TV variety show star may be best remembered for creating the role of Geraldine Jones, a “spirited modern woman” according to Entertainment Weekly (EW); she had a boyfriend named Killer. Geraldine’s signature line—’’The devil made me do it’’—became a national catchphrase.
Simultaneously, on the “other side of the pond,” as the Brits are fond of saying, Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-74) had “the Pythons famously [writing] funny female parts, then—instead of getting women to play them—they donned frocks and makeup to play the roles themselves.”
The magazine’s website also had this to say: “Know what Tom Hanks was doing before he became the revered Academy Award-winning actor he is today? He was on TV in ’Bosom Buddies’—a cult comedy that found him and Peter Scolari as two pals who—after being kicked out of their apartment building—pretended to be ladies so they could stay in a women’s boarding house.”
Even Canada got in on the act with the CBC’s cast of “The Kids in the Hall” (1989–95). It’s said that the Kids “didn’t dress as women for comedic effect necessarily,” but that “since they played most of the parts themselves, and it was a male-heavy cast, cross-dressing became a hallmark of the show.”
Movie audiences found actors in drag so fun and appealing that films like “Some Like it Hot” (1959) starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (oh, and Marilyn Monroe!) became box office gold. In this comedy classic, Lemmon and Curtis play two guys on the lam after witnessing a crime. EW’s description states that “they discover jobs that’ll take them out of town. The catch? The positions are with an all-women band leaving for a gig in Florida. What to do? Put on dresses and join the group, of course!”
Then there’s Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” (1982). Hoffman’s character, soap actor Michael Dorsey, had a reputation as “difficult to work with,” which inspires him to transform into Dorothy Michaels, and the rest is cinematic drag “herstory.”
Also noteworthy: Robin Williams famously donned women’s clothes for the highly successful “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) and again for “The Birdcage” in 1996—another blockbuster hit.
Final words on films starring men in drag: Tyler Perry.
Not to be outdone, women have been dressing and acting as men (D.R.A.M.?) for eons, too. Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl” (1983) is about a Polish Jewish girl who disguises herself as a boy named Anshel to study at an all-male Hebrew school. Won her a couple of Oscars©, too.
I had never heard of “The Associate” (1996), but recently learned that it stars Whoopi Goldberg as Robert S. Cutty, an investment banker. Goldberg’s character, Laurel Ayres, goes into business for herself as a stockbroker and invents a fictional male associate named Robert S. Cutty to do business on her firm’s behalf. (www.hornet.com). I don’t recall any rave reviews, but then again, Miz Cracker wasn’t in it.
I also discovered that Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan in a 2007 film called “I’m Not There.” Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, a folk musician who represents Dylan during the mid-’60s. Who knew?
So it would appear that Miz Cracker is in good company. She’s taking drag to the next level with touring shows like “Foolish,” which was developed at the NACL Theatre over the last 18 months. Since drag has been around as long as it has, it’s a good bet that performers like “her” are here to stay. That’s entertainment!
The NACL mission is “to cultivate a culture of creativity through the development and presentation of original actor-generated theatre, and to nurture an engaged community of artists and audiences.” To learn more, visit www.nacl.org
Want to know about that man in drag? Go to www.mizcracker.com
Fun Fact: according to the Google, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been on television for 14 seasons since 2009, and won 11 Primetime Emmy Awards, making it the most-awarded reality competition show in history.
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