MidTangent opens 5 year anniversary run of 'Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens'
Thu. April 10, 2014 1:42 PM by GoPride.com News Staff
Chicago’s own campy niche theatre company revives and celebrates its beloved show at Boystown's Hydrate
Next week, Chicago's own MidTangent Productions is reviving "Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens," the campy drag jukebox musical that helped define the niche company blurring the lines of theatre and drag. As drag rises on the national culture-o-meter, especially thanks to mainstream influences like RuPaul's Drag Race, and here in the gay world as well, MidTangent thought 2014 would be the perfect time to revamp their dragged out reinterpretation of the classic fairy tale, to be performed at the newly revamped Hydrate, the club that helped start it all.
"Our mission has evolved over the years, but we have always coined ourselves a progressive theater company entertaining our audience by exploring active topical issues and social commentary... twisted tales of truth without apology," Tony Lewis, MidTangent's founder and artistic director, told ChicagoPride.com. "What sets us apart from others is our irreverent approach to the classics, be it Shakespeare or the Brothers Grimm. We embrace camp, comedy and spectacle and our audience has come to expect just that from us."
Lewis, a native of Louisville, KY, came to Chicago as a student of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. After graduating in 2004, Lewis and two classmates decided to collaborate on a queer interpretation of a Shakespeare play, and thus "A Midsummer Nights Dream: A Queer Tale" and MidTangent Productions were born. "Midsummer" ran for four consecutive summers and MidTangent began producing other small shows.
At a cast party for the final run of "Midsummer", Lewis was asked what was next for MidTangent. "I may have consumed a couple libations," he jokes, when he gave an impromptu, but inspired, answer of "Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens" -- "there was an intrigue from myself and others around me when those words left my mouth."
"We had success with our earlier shows, but location was always an issue," Lewis told ChicagoPride.com. "We were producing gay, niche, camp theater, but the closest we could get to Boystown was just outside the 'gay-i-sphere'. With no real home of our own, building an audience from show to show proved tricky."
That's where Hydrate came in.
While working on a benefit at Hydrate, owner Mark Liberson approached Lewis and MidTangent about doing more at the club, which hadn't previously dealt in this kind of drag theatre. MidTangent pitched a couple ideas that didn't particularly intrigue Liberson until Lewis offered "Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens," which had grown from a cocktail-fueled-concept to a paragraph blurb. Liberson gave them two month's to open and, with the opportunity to perform right in the heart of Boystown in front of him, Lewis said yes, despite the fact that opening included writing, casting, rehearsing and putting everything together -- essentially everything BUT the initial idea.
Lewis quickly got busy writing. What he ended up with was a fun one-act spoof full of pop culture references and song-and-dance-numbers that replaced dwarves with drag queens and featured a cisgendered woman in the role of Snow White as well as an appearance by a hunky prince. The rag tag cast featured several local drag queens and every member of the company, including Lewis himself (who appeared as Dopey), donned a wig and heels at some point throughout the show's run.
"We had actors who had never done drag and drag queens who'd never acted," Lewis said. "We begged and borrowed every wig, sequin and high-heel that we could. We learned to use nightclub lighting for theatrical productions. And somehow -- by the grace of RuPaul -- we opened the show two months later."
"We always throw all of ourselves into our productions," he added. "We set very high expectations for each other as collaborators."
The show proved a huge success, drawing crowds to Hydrate throughout their initial four week run. The success of that spring production lead to five more weeks in the summer, where the show continued to play to more and more sold-out houses, and was spun-off in the winter into "Snow White and the Drag Queen Who Stole X-Mas." These early revivals saw the first changes to "Snow White," including expanding the show into two acts. That summer, the second act (dubbed "The Ever After Show") was a themed drag review that changed from week to week and took on everything from Broadway favorite "Wicked" to pop maven Lady Gaga.
MidTangent had found a happy home at Hydrate and Lewis continued to work with Liberson and his club -- "it is great to have such a unique space to bring our draggy theater to the forefront of Boystown," Lewis said. Hydrate has since seen the group produce several benefits and one-night events as well as a group of similar twisted, campy tales, including "Twinkie and the Beast," "Alex in Wonderland," "Dueling Divas," "Santa's Dead" and "Dirty Carol's Christmas."
"We take something that you think you know and turn it on it's ear," MidTangent regular Aaron Michael Adamkiewicz told ChicagoPride.com. Adamkiewicz is one of MidTagent's original members and considers himself an "actor who does drag" -- he appeared as Helena in 2006's Midsummer and most recently wrote and starred in MidTangent's "Dirty Carol."
"People know what to expect from a typical play or musical, or a drag performance, from a fairy tale or even a night out at Hydrate -- MidTangent takes what is familiar and makes it fantastic," he continued. "The drag performers you are seeing are not just drag performers, but actors with excellent comedic timing who all sing live. If you come to any MidTangent show, just be prepared to have a few drinks and have a night of fun like no other."
Lewis promises that this run of "Snow White" will be the best one yet. First, he says, MidTangent has learned a lot about producing a show in the last five years and the production value of everything from lights to costumes to sound has taken major steps forward. The script itself has also been overhauled and the plot spans two full acts, which have been updated with Top 40's music and fresh pop culture references that bring the show into 2014.
"When we did the show the very first time the script was much more bare bones and a lot of the show you see today was born out of improvisation and playing around together on stage that Tony was able to harness and refine," Jennings Wynn, a MidTangent regular who is reprising her role as Happy Rosebud, told ChicagoPride.com. "Originally Happy was a kleptomaniac... the majority of her personality, bubbliness, speech pattern, etc... was born of Tony and I just experimenting together until we were both satisfied. It's incredibly freeing as an actor to be able to develop a character that openly with a director. Tony is always great about that."
While Wynn is returning in the same role she played throughout the initial runs, 2014's cast is flush with new talent (Casi Maggio, Dixie Lynn Cartwright, Specificity Jones, Tequila Mockingbird, Suki Shore, Daniel Piechocinski and Kyle Blair) to complement a few of its more longstanding members (Katerina Papadatos, Debbie Fox, Aaron Michael Adamkiewicz and Wynn). Lewis remembers the first time "Snow White" went up when he had to jump in the show a week before opening after a drag queen dropped out and beg his buddy to play Doc, but this year he found actors clammering over one another to be cast.
"This cast of queens is the real deal," Lewis said. "They sing, they dance, they act and they do it all in heels and fiercely painted faces."
Five years of performing in Boystown has also integrated MidTangent more deeply into the fabric of Chicago's gay scene, something Lewis hoped for all those years ago before the initial run of "Snow White" at Hydrate.
MidTangent held "The Snow Ball" on March 21, featuring performances by the cast to help raise money for "Snow White" and has one pre-show event left: this upcoming Sunday's "Princess Brunch and Bar Crawl." The cast and crew of "Snow White" invite you to join them for a Sunday Funday like no other, starting with brunch at Halsted's Bar and Grill, 3441 N Halsted, at 1 p.m., followed by beer and games next door at Replay Beer and Bourbon at 2 p.m. and rounding off the afternoon with go go boys and special performances at Hydrate at 3 p.m. So grab your favorite wig and your sparkliest tiara and get ready to party!
"A great part about working on a MidTangent show is the sense of ensemble and community we bring to the table," Lewis told ChicagoPride.com. "We always have a good time. We work hard, and we play hard. We thought this would be a great way to promote the show and bring the cast together for a Sunday Funday not to be forgotten! The queens will be serving up princess real-ness and I am sure some of the other MT Peeps will thrown on a costume or two for the day!"
The special five year anniversary production of "Snow White and the Seven Drag Queens" opens at Hydrate, 3458 N Halsted, next Friday, April 18, and runs every Friday and Saturday through May 17. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., with the show slotted to start at 8, and tickets are available for $15 at the door, or online at www.tix.com. For more information, check out MidTagent's Facebook page or RSVP to the event.
Don't miss this truly unique night of sisterhood, song, dance and campy drag fun! Who knows, you might just find your true love's kiss (though, I'd beware of anyone in platform heels bearing appletinis. Just a tip.)
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