Thursday, December 18, 2014

So Long, Dearie!

It's that time of year again (relax, I'm not talking about Christmas sales or the winter solstice). I'm talking about the time of year when bloggers and journalists start publishing their annual "Top 10" lists and politicians who have been in front of the public for many years must step down because they've decided to retire or have been voted out of office.

One could suggest that Santa Claus knows who's been naughty (Michele Bachmann) and nice (Henry Waxman, Carl Levin). Politics also bade farewell to Marion BarryJane ByrneJim JeffordsJames BradyAriel Sharon, and Joan Mondale,

With regard to popular entertainers, a very different phenomenon comes to our attention. Throughout the year, many beloved public figures have died or stepped down from their familiar roles:

Death, however, is not the only way to make an exit. Some people not only retire from one phase of their life, but go on to second marriages, second careers and, in some cases, attempt to have a second childhood. Some actors are driven to keep working until their last breath.

David Burns (who played Horace Vandergelder opposite Carol Channing in the original Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly!) died during an out-of-town tryout performance of 70, Girls, 70 in Philadelphia. Channing, who recently appeared here with Tommy Tune at the age of 93, has always confessed that she wants to die "with my boots on."

On rare occasions, one sees a popular entertainer decide to leave while still on a high note. Greta Garbo craved privacy; Beverly Sills wound down her singing career while preparing to become General Director of the New York City Opera.

Last Saturday night, Bay area fans had a chance to say a fond farewell to an entertainer who has increasingly captured their hearts over the past two decades. One of the original members of the Kinsey Sicks, Irwin Keller decided to leave Winnie's dress, glasses, clarinet, and big hair behind and embark on a new phase of his life.

Irwin Keller with his alter ego, Winnie

Keller (who writes a blog called Itzik's Well) wrote a long and extremely poignant piece entitled Reflections of a Retiring Drag Queen which describes his history as a gay activist, drag entertainer, rabbi, and gay father. It's a wonderful read that is well worth your time. His final San Francisco performance with the Kinsey Sicks took place at the Castro Theatre as part of the group's annual holiday show, Oy Vey In A Manger.

This was hardly an event for tears and sadness. The beloved "Dragapella" quartet consisting of Winnie (Keller), Rachel (Ben Schatz), Trixie (Jeff Manabat) and Trampolina (Spencer Brown) performed many of their familiar numbers, including "I Had A Little Facial," "O Come Ye Unfaithful," "Soylent Night," "God Rest Ye Femmy Lesbians," and "It's Crystal Time in the City.

Keller charmed the audience with his old standards ("Papirossen," "Tranny Boy") while Schatz scored strongly with "Where The Goys Are," "Jews Better Watch Out," and "Worry!"

Spencer Brown's eternally clueless Trampolina was as endearing as ever with her renditions of "Oh! Hoey Night" and "Plastic Jesus." While Trixie made hay with "Satan Baby," the quartet brought down the house (as usual) with their complaints about only being served frozen food at the Donner Party ("I had a ball!").

Nathan Marken and Irwin Keller reviewing Winnie's music

Unlike many a diva's farewell tour, Keller and his colleagues had found and groomed a replacement for Keller as Winnie. After thanking his fans and introducing Nathan Marken (who appeared in identical drag in one of the theatre's aisles), Keller was asked to take a seat onstage as the new Kinsey Sicks serenaded him with Ben Schatz's latest musical parody "The Wind Beneath My Wig."

Irwin Keller and Nathan Marken as Winnie

The evening (which marked one of the most graceful and loving acts of passing the torch I've seen in show business) reminded me of the theme song which Carol Burnett used as her signature throughout her television career. So, from all of us, with all our hearts, to all of Irwin/Winnie: Thanks for the memories.

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