Female impersonators bring laughs
Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 17:02
The colors were bold, the music electric and the atmosphere vibrant. Squealing birthday girls, nervous frat boys and the clinking of martini glasses could be heard over the DJ. And when the lights dimmed and the music stopped, everyone huddled inside Hamburger Mary's knew it was showtime.
The first Saturday of every month, diners of the 40–year-old gay-friendly franchise are treated to Leigh Shannon's "Illusions in Revue," a celebrity look-a-like contest featuring famous figures like Cher and Lady Gaga.
During the performance, local drag queens dress up to lip sync and dance to their favorite songs, all while the host, well-known female impersonator Leigh Shannon, keeps guests entertained with his raunchy humor.
"Tip the titty boys," he said as he taunted the young and straight men who were regretting their seats up front.
Gabriel Pagan, a freshman mechanical engineering major at UCF, was pulled up on stage by Shannon to discuss his sexuality and engage in a little bit of public humiliation. Despite what looked like embarrassment, Pagan was a good sport.
"I thought it was a really fun show, and going on stage was my favorite part," Pagan said.
Another famous face to turns heads with her legendary cone bra was Tia Milan as Madonna. Milan has been performing for about six years after she entered a contest in high school to help her mom pay the bills. In her winning act she played Madonna, a role she has continued on today. However, the material girl wasn't her only act in the show on Saturday, she also performed as Lady Gaga. That's one thing Milan loves most about performing: there are no restrictions.
"I can go out there and it's like an empty box or a blank canvas. There are no limitations," Milan said.
Though Hamburger Mary's is known for its involvement in the LGBT community, the eclectic and certainly flamboyant franchise guarantees that everyone is welcome.
According to the company's website, "Hamburger Mary's quickly established itself as a staple in the gay and lesbian community. Almost 40 years later, we're thriving as an ‘open-air bar and grille for open-minded people.'" Hamburger Mary's currently has 11 restaurants open across the United States, though the original from 1972 was shut down.
Mary's is known not only for her burgers but for her wild entertainment as well. Although the celebrity look-a-like is only once a month, the "women" dress up every Saturday at Hamburger Mary's for Leigh Shannon's Cabaret Dinner Show. Shannon, who has been a female impersonator for 35 years, got his first gigs at local gay bars in his hometown Louisville, Ky., after leaving home at 17.
"I was a singer in high school and church in redneck Louisville, Ky., dealing with a Klan father who had no tolerance for gay people, foreign cars, black people and so on," Shannon said. "I hit the gay clubs and thought, ‘I could do that.' So I shaved my beard and was hired. I was popular for I was a good-looking guy as well as a pretty-face queen."
Recently, Shannon has been able to put his experience into a film. He will star as Sal/Miss Sal in the low-budget indie film My Fair Lidy alongside actor Christopher Backus. The movie, which was filmed locally around Orlando, is a Valencia College film program co-production about a straight man who stumbles upon his talent for impersonating Marlene Dietrich and tries to fight the struggles and confusion.
Shannon's character acts as a mentor for him in this "dramedy," and he hopes that the real message of acceptance will shine through.
"The movie is a message about tolerance, dreams and finding your dream no mater the road to it," Shannon said.
My Fair Lidy will be screening for the first time on Feb. 16 at the performing center at Valencia's East Campus. For more details, call Valencia's Film Production office at 407-582-2413, and to see the trailer visit www.sandwomanfilms.com.