The Miss'd America Pageant goes 1920s gangster drag for its return to Boardwalk Hall this year.
Oh, the sacrifices that have to be made to put on a good drag show.
Just ask Robert Hitchen, stage name Sandy Beach, who again is writing, producing and performing in the Miss’d America Pageant Sunday (Jan. 16) at the Boardwalk Hall Ballroom. Like many things in the resort these days, the annual drag queen competition, that was reborn last year, has been touched by the Boardwalk Empire mania that has held sway in the city since the HBO show premiered in September.
So last week, there was Hitchen, head to toe decked out as “Knockers Johnson,” filming the opening skit for this year’s pageant on the beach. Other characters were Lucy Luckyano and Ally Capone, possibly the first time some of America’s most famous gangsters — Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Al Capone, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson — have been given the drag treatment.
“Let me tell, you,” says Hitchen. “It was cold. I’m out there in a sleeveless blouse and I’ve never been so cold in my life. And it was an hour and a half shoot. But we wanted to open with a spoof of the show. It spoofs scenes that actually happened in the show.”
And it will also mark a much more ambitious and scripted show than was seen at Boardwalk Hall last year.
Not that last year’s show wasn’t a winner, but ever since the Atlantic City GLBT Alliance brought back the venerable Studio Six tradition, the show has been on a roll.
For the uninitiated, Miss’d America has a storied and treasured past, tied deeply to the city’s once beloved institution, the Miss America Pageant.
Started in the early ’90s at the now-defunct Studio Six nightclub by owner John Schultz, the drag show was the culmination of the Miss America weekend in the city. A simple little nightclub promotion for pageant personnel and fans still in town the day after the pageant grew into a tradition as revered as “show us your shoes” or Miss America scandals.
But in 2005, Miss America left Atlantic City (eventually relocating to some little cow town in Nevada) and so did Miss’d America.
That is until the alliance stepped in and resurrected the show in 2010. The response was terrific as the GLBT quickly gained casino sponsors and the support of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.
Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy signed on to host and Hitchen took on the writing and producing, choreographing production numbers even as he battled a hernia and health problems. The production was staged on its traditional date, the day after the Miss America Pageant, and raised $30,000 for charity.
This year, there was no place to go but up.
The first step was to find a new group of contestants, all of which are professional performers as female impersonators.
“The way we expanded this year is that we did a much more thorough search for contestants,” says Rich Helfant, president of the GLBT Alliance. “We were looking for applicants from all over the whole country. We took out advertisements in gay publications such as The Village Voice and The Washington Blade. We have contestants from New York and Washington and we even had a contestant from Los Angeles, but she cancelled at the last moment.”
The eight remaining contestants are all professional performers, with stage names such as Kitty Hiccup, Victoria Venom and Gusty Winds.
Since all are professional performers, it gives Hitchen a chance to really put together a themed, and expressive show.
“Basically it’s a play that is happening in two places,” he says. “The past and the present. The show goes back and forth into the ’20s, and then comes back to the present. “Boardwalk Empire and the ’20s is a great theme and it fits in nicely with a drag show.
“But it is challenging,” Hitchen adds. “It’s not easy to create a show like this, but I think we’ve got some great numbers.”
Not the least of which is a closing salute to Atlantic City as images from the resort’s past are flashed on stage.
“It’s a love song to Atlantic City,” says Hitchen.
The show has also brought in a new host, comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer. Openly gay, Westenhoefer is a frequent performer in the city.
“She’s a sweetheart” says Hitchen. “This is going to be a lot of fun with her.”
Already, ticket sales for the show are ahead of the pace set last year when about 1,000 people attended.
“You have to remember that we sold the most tickets at the door [last year], nearly 400,” says Hitchen. “So this is very gratifying.”
Helfant says that hopes for the show are limitless.
“Our ultimate goal is to someday operate much as the Miss America Pageant operates,” he says. “We’d like to have local pageants and then state pageants and then finally the national competition in Atlantic City.”
Hitchens thinks that day may come as well.
“I can see it getting really big some day, and being nationally televised. Then I’ll be pushed aside like Bert Parks,” he laughs.
Now, now, Knockers Johnson would never allow that.
The Miss’d America Pageant
Where: Boardwalk Hall Ballroom, A.C.
When: Sunday Jan. 16, 8pm
How Much: $100, $65, $35
Drag Queen 'Empire'
Here’s a list with pics of the drag queen contestants (see their photos online at acweekly.com):
• Kitty Hiccup, aka David Hyland, Weehawkin, N.J.
• Victoria Venom, aka Layton Earl Patterson, Newark, N.J.
• She-Queeta-Lee, aka Jerry Van Hook, Washington D.C.
• Dallas DuBois, aka Daniel Logan, Astoria N.Y.
• Phyl Craig, aka Philip Noto, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
• Navaya Shay, aka Thom Gait, Philadelphia
• Gusty Winds, aka Daniel Alita, New York City
• Chichi Rodriguez, aka Reynaldo Rodriguez, Millville, N.J.
Video, photos and more from Saturday's Miss'd America Pageant.
J. Edgar Hoover, perhaps one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, sometimes considered more powerful than the presidents he served under including Roosevelt, Kennedy and Nixon, was also rumored to be a cross-dresser with numerous stories having emerged about Hoover dressed in drag in New York City, usually in red dresses he called "Mary."
“It’s pageantry at its finest. The biggest difference [this year is] we will have world-class entertainment.”
Meet Me at the Chez Paree will take place from 6-11pm and will also include a free “Tribute Wall” for those to post photos and information about their loved ones.
Now, due in large measure to the establishment of the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance in 2009, and the foresight and ambitious marketing strategies of Resorts CEO Dennis Gomes (who recently created the first in-casino gay nightclub, Prohibition) and others, the GLBT community is officially back in “flow” mode.
Female impersonators are nothing new in the Atlantic City landscape. Bally’s hosted An Evening at La Cage for 11 years and the town has hosted the Miss’d America Pageant, a spoof of the Miss America Pageant featuring cross-dressing gentlemen. However, the town has never hosted a show as enticing and hilarious as 'Believe - Divas In A Man’s World.'
'Everything we do as a society is based on love. I want to welcome everyone. Our arms are open to all aspects of our culture.'
Entertainment will become a real drag at Resorts Atlantic City beginning May 5. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s when the born-again First Game in Town will debut the gender-bender production show 'Believe: Divas In A Man’s World' for an extended run.
Funny thing is, it’s the casinos and land speculators who first closed and knocked down gay businesses that thrived for 100 years in Atlantic City. Now, money’s tight, and they’re sorry they did.
The show was created in the early 1990s by former Atlantic City Councilman John Schultz and his partner, Gary Hill, and held at their old Studio Six nightclub, once considered the epicenter for gay life in Atlantic City.
There’s something magical that happens when Atlantic City businessmen start thinking about pageants — and marketing — at the same time. Beloved and cherished traditions that last for decades can be born.
The openly gay comic takes the reigns of the city's newest tradition, Miss'd America, which takes place at Boardwalk Hall Sunday, Jan. 16.
Vicki Gold Levi, an Atlantic City historian and a consultant on Boardwalk Empire — for the second season as well, she has informed Atlantic City Weekly — was one of eight celebrity judges at a drag-queen pageant in Atlantic City while the awards program was being televised.
Definition of a drag queen? A man who likes to eat, drink, and be Mary! It may sound funny to some and it’s easy to crack a joke here and there, but until you get to an event such as this past weekend’s Miss’d America Pageant, you cannot imagine the talent, sincerity, and camaraderie that fills the room.
“I’m very much looking forward to visiting Atlantic City,” says de Medici, who will also be in attendance during Saturday night’s post party at the Pro Bar at Resorts.
Exploring the 1920s in Atlantic City
1912 Prohibition Party Convention