Hippo's drag show is a tuneup for Miss Gay America

`Wickedly Fashionable' is a takeoff on `Oz' theme

Scene: Clubs, Bars, Nightlife

September 09, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Straight people are more entertained by drag than gays," said Mark Hughes over an untoasted bagel at City Cafe in Mount Vernon. "Not that I can speak for straights," he added with a laugh.

Hughes, a 30-year-old female impersonator, is the reigning Miss Gay Maryland. He lives in Charles Village, and next month he'll travel with his entourage to Little Rock, Ark., for his fourth bid to win the crown at the Miss Gay America contest.

But Baltimoreans can get a sneak preview. Tomorrow night he'll appear in a drag show at the Hippo from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $5 and a table is $28. A portion of the proceeds will help pay Hughes' expenses at the national-level competition.

"It'll be a bunch of his friends in the show," said Roger Dimick, the general manager of the Hippo. "They donate their time and money."

The show is called Wickedly Fashionable and will be loosely themed on the Broadway hit Wicked -- a show about the witches of Oz. Twenty drag queens will perform.

Hughes wears hip pads, four layers of stockings and 3-inch heels when he performs. And he keeps it all on all night. "If you come as a girl, you should go as a girl," he said.

His shoes are, for the most part, specially made with a flexible shank to make them more comfortable. Hughes does try to find women's shoes in department stores. He's a woman's size 11.

And, when he goes to the Miss Gay America competition next month, he'll have a new gown. It is covered in thousands of beads, weighs roughly 25 pounds and costs several thousand dollars. But this is just part of what is necessary to be competitive in the event.

"It is really hard to win at Miss [Gay] America; your hope is to make top 10," said Dimick. Hughes "has good talent and he has a good [performance] package. He has dancers and costume changes and all that kind of stuff."

The Miss Gay America contest is one of three major national pageants for female impersonators. And it is the only one where the competitors are not allowed to surgically enhance their bodies -- below the neck.

"They can have facelifts, they can have chin or cheek augmentation," said Norman Kristie, who owns the Miss Gay America pageant. But, "You have to be able to take it off at the end of the night and get ready to go to Wal-Mart."

And this is just fine for Hughes. "I have no desire to be a woman," he said. Hughes, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and has a master's in art history from New York University, started doing drag as a lark. "A friend in a salon said, `Let me paint you one night,'" he recalled.

Although he's tall (6-foot-1) with a large frame ("I don't weigh 100 pounds," he said) he took to drag quickly. "I'm kind of lucky," he said. "My face is soft; I don't have chiseled features."

He won the first contest that he entered.

That was in 2000. Later that year he came in second in the Miss Gay Pennsylvania contest, which won him a slot to his first Miss Gay America.

But his debut on a national stage was a disappointment. He came in dead last.

"I was horrible, I was so horrible," he said scrunching up his face. "I didn't know anything about wearing hip pads. I had years of doing theater makeup, but I hadn't done drag makeup. I didn't have anyone to guide me."

The next year, Hughes improved considerably, finishing in the middle of the pack.

He competed a third time in 2002, came in 19th -- but had hoped to make it in the Top 10. This will be his goal again this year.

It is common for contestants to enter year after year. "It is a learning experience, too; it is a challenge," said Kristie, who's owned the event for the past 30 years. "Practice makes perfect ... eventually."

The Hippo is at 1 E. Eager St. Call 410-547-0069 or visit www.clubhippo.com.

For more club events, see Page 32.

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