One of nightlife’s most beloved “gown-clowns,” Sutton Lee Seymour’s meteoric rise to New York fame began with winning the “So You Think You Can Drag” competition back in 2013. She took her self-penned one woman show “The Way Off Broad” to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for several months, but now Sutton’s back in town for gigs old and new. She dishes with Thotyssey about divas, Drag Race, and Mexican Grindr!
Thotyssey: So, welcome back to New York, Sutton! Have you readjusted to your old life yet?
Sutton Lee Seymour: ¡Hola Jim! Es tan bueno estar de vuelta en la ciudad Nueva York, pero es bery frío. Oh. Sorry. Habit! It’s been great being back in New York and catching up with everyone! I feel like I never left, winter went by so fast! And I dove right back into gigs so… No rest for the weary.
LOL! I was gonna ask how strong your Spanish got.
It could be better. Always a work in progress. The great thing about Puerto Vallarta is that mostly everyone speaks English. But I tried working on the basics of Spanish.
And you were there for five months?
Just about, yes! I needed a little break from the city. I’ve lived here for nearly ten years, and after the past couple of harsh winters, I snatched the opportunity to escape to a tropical paradise. Can you blame me?
It sounds wonderful! So, When you were down there you were alternating performances between “The Way Off Broad,” a stage show that you wrote, and a Charles Busch play. How did that all come about?
The venue is called Act II Stages, and the owner saw my videos on YouTube after a fellow cabaret performer, Carly Ozard, recommended me. He reached out and over a period of several emails and Skype chats. I had a nice long term gig. Right people, right time! I got lucky!
Was “Broad” your first time writing a showcase for yourself?
Yes! It was nerve-wracking because you hope what you wrote is funny, but you won’t know until you perform it in front of an audience. And my schtick is so based on improv, so adding a stronger sense of structure to my act made me a little nervous because I think I do best with spontaneity.
But as the show opened and continued running, I could easily tweak what wasn’t working and enhance what WAS already working. It was fun and very freeing. Nobody could tell me I was doing it wrong because it belonged to me.
That must have been very liberating! Who were your audiences? Were they largely tourists?
It was very mixed between tourists, locals, expats, gays, straights, and drunk straight girls. I never had the same audience twice. Which made it fun. Because the audience was so broad, I had to try to make the show accessible for everyone, so I couldn’t just resort to top and bottom jokes. The humor was more about celebrating and poking fun at Broadway, Hollywood, and Disney.
Did you scope out the gay scene, there, at all? Do they use all the same apps?
Oh, you betcha. But you don’t really need the apps in Puerto Vallarta. Sure, they’re useful, but everyone was so nice there. It was easy to meet people and make new friends. Between the beaches and the bars, you could easily find your way into a new group of friends, find a “vacation boyfriend,” or have a one night fling.
Yay romance! And when you returned to New York, you were immediately in The Witches of East Village with Chad Michaels, Peaches Christ & Coco Peru at the Grammercy Theater. Was that just a “right place right time” thing, or was it already something scheduled when you were in Mexico?
A little bit of both. I had planned to come home beginning of April anyhow, so the timing worked out perfectly. And I enjoyed having something to work on immediately to keep my mind focused, and also distracted from depression leaving
Puerto Vallarta. It’s really a magical place. But working with Chad, Coco, and Peaches was an extraordinary experience and getting to share that with some of my drag family was a perfect “welcome home” party.
So, speaking of the stage, I know your first passion is acting. Do you ever feel that Sutton is totally stealing all of [your boy self] Prescott’s thunder?
Sutton pays the bills, so Prescott has the freedom to play! It’s kind of a beautiful relationship. As Sutton, I get to be a full-time performer. And that’s the dream, isn’t it? And theatrical opportunities have still come along, so I haven’t given up on that by any means.
Where are you from, by the way?
I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Know the song “Big Noise from Winnetka”…? That’s me. I should really start singing that song.
Who was the first diva that consumed you?
Bette Midler, absolutely. And then Bernadette Peters. My mom used to play Bette Midler’s cassette tapes in the car all the time. And I was obsessed with the PBS production of “Into the Woods” starring Bernadette. And I still listen to Bette on a regular basis, and watch “Into the Woods” a lot even, still. It’s a problem, really.
Your name is obviously a partial nod to a key number in “Little Shop of Horrors.” What do you prefer, the happy movie-edit ending, or the cynical stage ending?
The happy ending works for the movie. The dark ending where everyone dies works of the stage production. Stage and cinema are such completely different art forms in that sense. I’ve seen the original ending of the film, and it’s awkward and sad, even though the special effects are spectacular. But why the dark ending works in the stage production is because everyone who dies comes back in the finale, to give the audience their warning and sing one final song. It’s a way for the audience to applaud them, and say farewell to these characters they’ve fallen in love with. In the original ending of the film it’s just like…they die. Too bad. Movie’s over. Get out.
There’s no Curtian Call in film for the audience to transition back to reality.
They certainly helped me get my start! I owe a lot to those two!
How long were you Sutton before you won “So You Think You Can Drag” in 2013, which Paige hosted?
I was such a novice. I think by the time the competition started I was 3 months into drag and by the time I won I was 5 months in. I didn’t think I was gonna win. I did it to gain experience and make new friends. I couldn’t have predicted anything. And that year had fierce competition between Terra Grenade (er, Hyman), Monet X Change, Daphne Sumtimez and Svetlana Stoli! It was a great group of gals! We all just wanted to put on a helluva show, and I think we all did!
It was her Tuesday night show and competition on Fire Island. That’s where I met Holly (though we knew each other before from a theatre gig), Pixie Aventura, Ari Kiki, and Kimchichi Carr/Jasmine Rice.
What was the theatre gig you did with Holly?
I don’t know how much they’d want me to reveal but imagine this…before Holly Dae, Bootsie LeFaris, and Sutton Lee Seymour existed… The three of us met and worked on a cruise ship involving mice, princesses, and very spoiled children.
Oh God, Holly told that story! It sounded like it was a nightmare, but kind of darkly fascinating!
Everyone has a different experience. I enjoyed it for what it was, though Holly’s feelings are not invalid.
We’ll leave it at that! So, you’re one of the nicer queens onstage. Do you often find yourself fighting the urge to read a disruptive audience member?
I’ve rarely had a disruptive audience member. Though I have used my heel to push someone on their back while singing “Maybe This Time.” It was a very “Jessica Rabbit” moment while she sings her song. You have to keep calm and in control. Oh, I’ve also locked people in the bathroom too…in the name of fun.
Hedda Lettuce has my favorite retort to a disruptive audience member: “Was that my asshole again?” But I AM nice! Though I don’t think this answer quite paints that picture…
It was terrific! You don’t really realize what kind of impact you have on people until you step away, At the homecoming show I received a very loud, loving round of applause, and that felt great! It makes me feel like I’m doing something right, and it makes me want to work harder. I want to give back as
much love as I receive.
Somewhere, a homosexual is reading this and thinking “Ha, receive.”
Can you just remind us what goes down at that show?
For about an hour I sing, I dance, I prance, and lip sync to many a stupid comedy mix I’ve created. I usually have a guest star from Broadway, or an established drag queen from the community, or an up-and-coming talent looking to pound the pavement. It’s a silly little show celebrating everything Broadway!
Have you caught up on RuPaul’s Drag Race? You’re hosting the viewing party there right before Broadway Mondays.
Oh yes I’m caught up! And we have a fabulous large screen and several TVs around Hardware. It’s a fabulous, theatrical set up! I watched the premiere there with Roxy Brooks, who was holding the fort while you were out of town. it’s a great venue for a viewing!
And the crowd is fun! I’d been watching alone in Mexico, so it was really fun hearing the responses certain queens were getting from the crowd.
Who are they loving and hating?
They love Bob and Thorgy of course. Acid Betty was getting some hisses, which was disappointing because I think she was pretty great! Yes, she’s a bitch, but she had loving/redeeming moments, on Untucked especially.
New York does not like Derrick Berry. (Expects an angry tweet and email from Derrick’s publicist now.)
You seem to be campaigning hard for a season 9 slot. Do you just feel that you’re ready this season?
I look at Drag Race like I look at sky diving. Whether you’re ready or not, if the opportunity comes you have to take the plunge. I’ll pursue it, but I’m gonna keep doing me. I’m gonna keep learning and growing, and putting on the best damn show I possibly can.
If you’ve been to a Marti show, and if you’ve been to my show, then you know there’s a clear, distinct difference between the two of us. I love Marti, she’s a good friend, and I respect the hell out of her. If she’s Liza Minnelli, then I’m Chita Rivera.
That’s an illusion show I need to see you two in ASAP!
Oh, we’ve been talking about it, so stay tuned!
I hear that your one-woman show is coming to New York very soon.
What can audiences expect from the NYC version of Broad?
A compete dissection and destruction of Broadway Booze Bags, Disney Princesses, and your favorite musicals.
Can’t wait! And, you’re also doing Paige Turner’s Pride show at Laurie Beechman this summer, right?
The Pride show is at the Beechman, and I’m not sure how much Paige wants me to say, but it is of course going to be a fabulous celebration with some wonderful herstory.
And in the meantime, you’re going to be a Stonewall Diva?
YaAaAaS! I’ll be at Stonewall Friday, April 15th at 10:30 PM on the main floor singing songs and shittin’ the shoot…(is that how that phrase goes?).
More or less! Anything else coming up?
And look out for me and my pal James Mills at the Pride March this year, we’ve been asked back to announce the festivities!
So a busy spring will be turning into a busy summer! Last question: when you finally keel over at age 187, what song should be playing at your wake?
Well if you’re not singing “Suddenly Seymour” I think we have a problem. But if I’m being serious, I have always loved “The Best of Times” from La Cage Aux Folles. Life should be a celebration and that songs taps into that idea and I love that.
“Live and love as hard as you know how. And make this moment last because the best of times is now.“
That’s beautiful! Thanks Sutton!
Thank YOU babe!
Sutton Lee Seymour hosts a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party, followed immediately by Broadway Monday, every Monday night at Hardware starting at 9pm. She’ll perform on the main floor of Stonewalll on Friday, April 15th, and she’ll be a guest performer for Dusty Ray Bottoms’ happy hour show Had It at Pieces the following afternoon starting at 4pm. Her one-woman show “The Way Off Broad” runs May 18th, May 25th and June 1st (Wednesdays) at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. This summer, she’ll appear in Paige Turner’s Pride show, also at Laurie Beechman, and she’s announcing the acts at the Pride parade march alongside James Mills. Sutton can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
See Also: Sutton Lee Seymour (3.13.2017)