The Greatest Beauty Shop Quartet
Nathan Marken (aka Winnie) from The Kinsey Sicks tells Stephen A Russell all about the legendary Dragapella which is making its way to Adelaide.
There were two strangely reassuring signs of universal alignment when Nathan Marken joined world-famous, San Francisco-based drag a cappella quartet, The Kinsey Sicks. Firstly, stepping into the shoes of much-loved character Winnie was physically easy given Marken shares the same shoe and dress size as the first person to play her, retiring founding member Irwin Keller.
He also happened to be the same age, 34, as Keller was when the all-singing, no lip-synching, no instruments group first came into being 23 years ago. The original four lads donned dresses and big wigs in honour of 1920s harmony group the Andrews Sisters while attending a Bette Midler concert, and the rest is history.
What makes these happy coincidences even sweeter is that when I chat to Marken a couple of months before the current line-up appears at the Garden of Unearthly Delights in Dragapella! Starring The Kinsey Sicks, he has just performed on stage with Keller, both playing Winnie at the same time.
“I love sci fi , so people existing from multiple universes and timelines makes perfect sense to me,” Marken chuckles. “It’s like a reboot, if you will.”
Their double act was all the more unusual given Keller retired to become a rabbi, which Marken insists is not the set up to a joke.
“Before he was a drag queen, he was an attorney, so it’s one of the most unique career paths you’ve probably ever seen.”
It’s not just shoe size Marken and Keller have in common. “I share his neurotic, vegetarian, Midwestern, and Jewish sensibility, though I was not raised Jewish at all,” Marken says. “I don’t have the rabbi cred that he does.”
Marken, singing bass, joins sole remaining founder Ben Schatz as the “absolutely disgusting,” Rachel. Schatz also scripts the show’s rapier political and potty mouthed wit, and the parody songs sung in blissful harmony.
In keeping with the theme of strange career trajectories, Schatz is a Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer, who advised Bill Clinton on AIDS/HIV policy for his ultimately successful 1992 Presidential campaign and a former director of the national Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
Then there’s Jeff Manabat, who assists in the writing of their vocal harmonies, as raging ego Trixie, and Spencer Brown as the lovably dumb Trampolina. As the newest member of a long-running gang that’s seen a fair few face changes, Marken says he was welcomed wholeheartedly.
“I was going into what could have been a hornet’s nest of people who love Irwin, But I didn’t need to be stressed about it because the group, and our fans, have been very gracious allowing me into their hearts as Winnie,” he says.
Snapping into character, with his voice soaring up an octave or two, Winnie describes herself as, “a very lovable lesbian, with red hair who’s a stickler for grammar and loves to clean.”
While he and Keller are uncannily alike, personality-wise, Marken admits he’s amped the sex factor with the irrepressible Winnie. “She has room for all kinds of people in her heart and all sorts of body sizes, and audiences tend to resonate with her because she’ll do anyone.”
Apart from the glorious harmonies sung for real, there’s a real Golden Girls camaraderie as well as the sass between the girls. “There are singing drag queens in San Francisco and New York, but they’re all solo acts,” Marken says. “All the girls I know I can’t imagine them putting together a group and not killing each other, because they’re all larger than life, but the Kinsey Sicks characters kind of need each other, we’re foils. I think on their own they would be absolutely insufferable.”
While The Garden of Unearthly Delights audiences can expect a touch of Trump-bashing from the Dragapella! girls, who aren’t shy of sharing their opinions. With Schatz pouring over the papers for stress-induced new material, Australia will not walk away from this unscathed, including a few classics retuned, like ‘Waltzing my Dildo’.
“Nothing’s off the table. We want to challenge our audiences and we’re not going to hold back. We leave a trail of destruction and bad decisions in our wake, and delight too. Queer people, weird people, people who don’t fit in anywhere else, they love these shows because we’re so god-damned weird.”
Dragapella! Starring The Kinsey Sicks, February 17 – March 19, Studio 7, gardenofunearthlydelights.com.au