All the Kings Men: Treat Yourself to a Genderbend
Last October, I went to the Milky Way in Jamaica Plain for the annual “Scaryoke” night, certain that the highlight of my evening would be the three minutes I got to sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” dressed as Stevie Nicks. That was until the show opened with a fully-costumed and seriously kick-ass reenactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, complete with zombie movie as backdrop, performed by Boston’s premier drag king troupe All the Kings Men.
In a world where drag is ruled by Pricilla, Queen of the Desert and Dame Edna has a recurring role on Ally McBeal, the concept of drag kings often meets with a confused stare. “You still get tons of people who say, ‘you’re a drag king? What does that mean?’” says troupe member Karin Webb. “And then they still don’t get it after you explain it’s a drag queen in reverse.” That number of people is gradually declining, though, as All the Kings Men steadily gains a diverse following. The highly original scenarios and costuming with which they interpret popular music, as well as their captivating energy and theatrical sensibilities, have a broad appeal that goes far beyond the concept of women dressing as men. Working together, the seven troupe members convincingly convey to audiences that the socio-political element of drag performance is only one important part of what they do.
While the group first performed together as All the Kings Men in April 2002, several members had previously started to explore the idea of performing in drag. After doing small drag shows in college, Maria Kogan moved to Boston and met Ali Butchko (yes that’s her real name), where the two entered a drag contest at the Midway Café on a whim. “We threw it together in two seconds,” says Butchko, “and we just really had fun with it.” Meanwhile, Jen Winslow and Leighsa Burgin were throwing together their own whim, rehearsing choreography to N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye.” They entered a contest at the Midway where, according to Burgin, “some girl who was giving a blow job to a dildo won, but we thought our act was pretty good.” The four got to know each other through several amateur drag slams, started joining up for group numbers, and eventually jelled as a group of seven with the addition of Webb, Julee Antonellis, and Jill Marks. Highlights of their two years together range from deafening applause at the BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Youth) Prom, to a wayward Mr. Softy that slinked its way from Webb’s jockeys to the middle of the stage.
As the featured act for the Milky Way’s monthly “Babes in Dragland” amateur night on March 21, All the Kings Men drew a nearly code-breaking crowd of fans. Highlights of their repertoire include Kogan and Butchko in a Bush-Kerry debate set to George Michael’s “Freedom ’90,” Antonellis and Winslow in a hilarious and well-hung duet of “Agony” from Into the Woods, as well as the aforementioned “Thriller”. While the show is very much a group performance with all members getting equal stage and star time, Antonellis delivers some real virtuosic moments in solo excerpts from her truly awesome one-woman show. While Antonellis, Burgin and Webb have years of theater training, the other four have less formal performance experience -- although they have clearly become extremely comfortable with it, so entertaining and convincing are they in their wide range of characters.
It is these characters, of course, which define the drag element of their performance, the element which drew them together in the first place. According to Webb, who studied acting at Boston University, “consciously doing drag is a little more political and self-conscious” than playing other kinds of roles. “What I love about All the Kings Men is that we play every gender we can think of, we don’t just play men and women, we play all the in-betweens.” Despite the association of drag with the homosexual community, the group has found surprisingly few obstacles to connecting with mainstream audiences. “We got very comfortable with our gay following,” says Antonellis, “and we all really wanted to push that out.” She mentions that the mainstream acceptance of other drag king groups (of which there are at least a few in every major city) depends on the group and their message, but “we have so many messages that it reaches so many different kinds of people.” Marks admits that “If we’re playing in a place we’ve never played, or the crowd is older, it can be harder to get them hyped up and into it”. While they have few really negative stories, one does include “a really awkward gig we did for a 90th birthday party,” says Kogan. “I did a Neil Diamond solo, singing to a birthday girl who wouldn’t even look at me.” In terms of their personal lives, all members of the group are comfortable telling most people that they do drag. “A lot of questions come up and I don’t mind answering them,” says Winslow. “Usually the conversation winds up with me saying ‘you really should just come check out a show.’”
The group’s long-term plans are not certain, but it is evident by their words and behavior that they love what they’re doing and with whom they’re doing it. “Some really wonderful opportunities have come to us through lots of different channels,” says Winslow, “so hopefully that trend will continue.” If you haven’t seen girls scratch their balls with impeccable timing, you should hope so too.
All the Kings Men are producing and performing at “Babes in Dragland”
this Sunday, April 18, at the Milky Way Lounge and Lanes, 403-405 Center Street,
Jamaica Plain. 8pm, $7.