Two beloved Connecticut queens are taking their long running diva impersonation act to NYC for the first time. If you think you’ve seen everything there is to see from drag tributes to Judy and Babs, you have never attended the incredible master classes of Summer Orlando and Barbra Joan Streetsand!
Thotyssey: Hello, ladies! Thanks for talking to us today!
Barbra Joan Streetsand: Well hello gorgeous! We are so excited to speak with you!
I can imagine you are both quite busy with rehearsing The Judy & Barbra Show, which will make its NYC debut on February 1st at Green Room 42! But you two have done this show a lot throughout Connecticut previously. Have you had to tweak it a lot this time around?
Summer Orlando: The show is in its third year, and every time we do it we have tweaked it a little more here and there. We are both perfectionists, and strive for the best show possible.
BJS: We are always changing the show a little bit in order to stay current with times. As you know, a lot has happened in the past three years to our country alone… and I’ll just leave it at that, for now!
SO: With the help of past audience feedback and recent enhancements to the show, we feel that NYC audiences will love this production.
Speaking of our “changing country”… I was wondering what you thought of Barbra Streisand’s (aka that other Barbra) anti-Trump music from a few years ago. Was it well-intentioned but goofy, or actually good music?
BJS: I loved her Walls album. And “Don’t Lie To Me” is my favorite song. It’s an album that we really need. Too bad the people who really need to listen to it won’t.
SO: I find it’s a little of both. It’s a truly amazing collection of musical pieces, but she does use comedy at times. One example I can think of is her Trump parody of “Send in the Clowns” from last year, which she added as a surprise for her audiences during her live concerts.
BJS: I have combined both versions of Barbra’s “Send In The Clowns” parodies (she also did one for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser that I performed at Rise) into my own version. Unfortunately, it is not in our show. One of the many things I admire about Barbra is that she is so political, and is an advocate for the rest of the 99%… and especially the LGBTQ+ community. She doesn’t forget where she came from, and how she got her start. Barbra was political before it became en vogue for celebrities to become that way. She has been a leader for women and for her peers to be active in causes that mean a lot to them.
SO: We both adore Judy and Barbra so much! I have always admired how fearless and outspoken Barbra Streisand is. She has no problem with speaking her mind, whether about political issues or otherwise. What better way than to vent her truest feelings then through her music?
And, any thoughts about Renée Zellweger’s recent Oscar nominated portrayal of Judy Garland?
SO: I highly enjoyed the film. I thought Renée Zellweger was a good choice to play Judy. In perfect honesty, I lost Renée and only saw Judy when she was doing acting and dialogue scenes in the film. She had the posture, the speaking voice, the body language, the look–and, what I like to call “mic-ography”– down pat.
BJS: There were moments in the movie where I thought I was actually watching Judy, herself, and there were moments where it was “meh, not so much.” Although I’m a purist and would have liked her to sound just a little more like Judy with her singing.
SO: Judy had a very distinct and recognizable voice–a voice that is very tricky to mimic and get right. Renée is a phenomenal actor, and also has a a very recognizable voice. I thought it was very brave for her to do all the vocals live in the film, and that must have been a huge undertaking and a lot of pressure on her end. But sadly, the illusion for me was broken, as she didn’t sing like Judy.
BJS: I do love how she put a little Renée in there and made it her own. Otherwise, Renée did a wonderful job, and the direction was amazing! I’m anxious to see what awards she and the cast and crew bring home for this picture!
SO: I was fortunate enough to be one of the promotional Judys to represent the film on the red carpet for World Pride NYC. It was an amazing experience, as it was also celebration for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and Judy’s death. It was truly a magical experience that I will always remember being a part of.
We mostly don’t see tons of celebrity female impersonation in drag anymore, yet for some reason there is still so many drag tributes Judy and Babs. What do you two think it is about these two women that is so enduring with gays and queens?
SO: Judy Garland is timeless, and an icon–not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for everyone. Judy loved her gays, and spoke on their behalf on her views of matters on marriage and equality when it was a touchy subject. She didn’t label them as most did back then. In 1965, at a San Francisco press conference, she was asked if she minded having such a large gay following, to which she responded: “I couldn’t care less. I sing to people!”
I think drag queens enjoy performing as her because she had a camp aesthetic to her performances–the most spectacular wardrobe, wigs and costumes… some of which you will see at our show. I think the way her personal struggles seemed to mirror those of gay men in America during the height of her fame also made Judy feel closer and more personal to them.
Gay men resonate and feel connected to not only Judy, but to her characters from her films. At a young age after watching The Wizard of Oz, I felt a close personal connection with Dorothy. If you told me that I would get to be the first male actor to play Dorothy in a licensed production of the stage show in the world, I would have told you you were crazy. Judy will always be one of the greatest entertainers in history, and her legacy lives on through the performers and artists who continue to feature her work and her story.
BJS: Barbra [told a story] in her 1994 concert that she was walking down 5th Ave and no one recognized her because “there are enough people in town who impersonate me that nobody thinks it’s really me.” Judy, Barbra, Cher, Bette, Celine and Dolly are classics that I still see impersonated to this day. They are the classic divas in the way that they remain current to this day, even if Judy does it posthumously. She will probably outlast all of the above because of Wizard of Oz. It’s still one of the most popular movies for children 80 years later!
Tell us about Connecticut drag!
SO: Just like NYC, Connecticut drag is very diverse. There is a little bit of everything: dancing queens, lip sync assassins, comedy / camp queens, bio divas and even drag kings, from club circuit to cabaret.
BJS: Connecticut has a smaller LGBTQ+ community, and its residents can be bit more conservative than our beloved Big Apple’s. So it’s a bit more difficult, as drag has really taken off thanks to RuPaul. We have oodles of drag queens here, and we sometimes climb all over each other for gigs. Yet at the same time, most of us remain close with one another, like a family. I just need to give thanks to RuPaul for bringing drag to the mainstream, because many in the straight world (what I like to call the Gentiles) have taken a huge interest in us and hiring us.
SO: Barbra and I have been working as business partners for the last three years. we are known as Connecticut’s #1 live singing dynamic drag duo, as outside of Judy and Barbra we do other regular shows and performances. For me, it’s rewarding to be able to do this as my full-time profession, but it’s also challenging. Like in NYC, you have to know how to hustle and be prepared to work very hard and be ready for lots of long hours. It’s lots of investing and honing your craft, and always learning new things.
BJS: Lately, I’m grateful to live in a state where most of the time I can walk around and not have to worry, even in Trump’s America, about getting beat up or killed.
SO: As much as we love Connecticut, we are very excited to be branching away from home to share our talents with new audiences.
Are you both Connecticut natives? How did you begin as performers?
BJS: I’ve been a Connecticut resident all my life, born and raised with brief stints of living in the City. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, when being gay was not what anyone would want to be, especially when AIDS came around. I was always very effeminate and loved dressing up as a woman. I grew up listening to Barbra, and modeled my voice after hers with her vocal inflections and type of vibrato. She was at the peak of her career, and I got to witness it.
SO: I was born and raised in Waterbury, CT, and I’m now based in New Haven. I come from the world of musical theater. I started out at a young age performing in community children’s theater, and I caught the acting bug and continued to pursue it.
And then how did professional drag come about?
BJS: On Halloween of 1991, after being hounded by friends to do it, I dressed as La Streisand and sang “People” at the club I attended. By March 13, 1992, I was impersonating her. For years, I only lip synced. Then technology happened, and I was able to transpose the instrumental tracks into my own key and create mashups to mimic Barbra’s, such as the Gypsy / Funny Girl medley she performed in her 2012 concert series. That, I’ll be singing on Saturday night! Once I was able to sing live, I was off and running.
SO: [For me,] cut to 2012. I was doing a production of The Rocky Horror Show, which I’m sure most people know requires you to wear women’s clothing, makeup and heels. I was discovered by a local drag entertainer Marita Bonita, and the rest is herstory. I’ve been doing drag professionally for nine years now (four years full time). I take my background in theater, and incorporate it into my drag. My aesthetic is very theatrical, Broadway, showtunes, campy and over the top… which is why they call me Connecticut’s Premier Theater Queen.
Summer, I’ve seen you perform (not as Judy) with a cast of queens for a reading of Julie Mains’ original musical at Icon in 2018. And Barbra, I was working coatcheck at Pieces last year when you performed with your New York sis Bootsie LeFaris!
BJS: I remember! It was before I was piled with free drinks all night! I hope I remembered to tip you, as I stumbled out of there like Judy would! Since then, drinking is off my menu.
You were a class act! But does New York drag seem more challenging or overwhelming when compared to drag elsewhere?
SO: NYC drag has a great track record for high quality entertainment. I enjoy watching it, supporting it and being a part of it. These queens in NYC work a lot. There are a lot more venues that produce drag events and shows in NYC then there are in Connecticut.
BJS: I love, love, love how our NYC sisters have been nothing but welcoming and supportive of our endeavors. New York City gets such a bad wrap, and I’ve found the city to be exactly the opposite since I was 18 years-old (that was when I still lived next door to Jesus Mary and Joseph in Nazareth! I’m that old).
SO: I feel that Babs and I both have a NYC performer mindset, as we are go-getters and when opportunities do not present themselves. We make our own opportunities and successes. I feel that to make it in NYC as a drag performer, you have to be ready to wear many hats and have a lot of different skill sets. Not only do I sing live and do character and celebrity impersonations and illusions, but I can turn out a killer mix or lip sync number when needed, and dance and make the children live. I think drag is similar and different everywhere you go, and that’s what makes it enjoyable to watch and be a part of.
BJS: As an aside, Paige Turner and I share a the same birthday–though she’s much younger–and I’ll go down to one of her shows to celebrate it together. Anyway, we have become friends with many of the city’s beautiful and talented queens who have given us much needed feedback and a foot into some of the venues on our upcoming national tour–which may become international. I adore my New York queens!
Barbra, you also do non-Streisand drag as well.
Why just last Sunday, I did Dolly Parton in tribute for her birthday! I had so much fun. Summer and I also have a brunch and wine tasting show where we get to experiment and step outside of our Judy and Barbra boxes. I’ve been known to also sing a Cher song or two, and some Patti Lupone, and I’ve also written parodies. I have a Lady Gaga and an Adele one. They’re about food, of course.
By the way… what were Judy and Babs’ best works, in your opinions?
SO: My favorite film will always be The Wizard of Oz; it’s so iconic, and stands the test of time. It doesn’t matter what generation everyone knows this film. I enjoy all of Judy’s films though; they are wonderful works of cinema, and I highly recommend all of them. Good starters would be Meet me in Saint Louis and Judy’s version of A Star is Born.
BJS: Well I’m, of course, going to say Funny Girl. Nuts is where I felt Barbra did her best acting, but I prefer seeing her in comedic roles. I think she’s hilarious! I mean, who doesn’t love the scene where she’s on top of a still-hot GILFy Robert DeNiro, massaging and riding him like Seabiscuit!?
And what are your impressions of Judy and Barbra’s “Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy” live duet medley that many queens still perform today, and which I must assume you’ll be doing for the show?
SO: This is the number one thing that people think of when they think “quintessential Judy and Barbra.” They only performed together once, on The Judy Garland Show. Probably one of the most iconic duets in television history.
BJS: I first heard the song sung by two friends of mine when we were doing a yearly hometown variety show for the local Boys and Girls Club (the longest continually running variety show in the country, like our amusement park). I was 15 years-old and was enthralled. I then had to find the Garland / Streisand version. It was my absolute favorite song (after Duran Duran’s latest, of course) for a whole year!
SO: Many queens / entertainers do this song, and do a great job with it. We do it live in a very special way that literally takes you back to the set, and lets you get a glimpse at what it would have been like to be in the audience when that performance was happening in 1963.
Tell us more about The Judy & Barbra Show, making its New York debut on February 1st (9:30pm) at Yotel’s Green Room 42.
SO: We go beyond impersonation–this is more than a tribute show. We truly become these icons when we are on stage. This is a completely live vocal show with dazzling visual effects, replica costumes, lots of laughs, storytelling, and songs of the past. We promise to give the audience everything they expect from a Garland and Streisand show, and maybe even a little more than they didn’t know they needed. You will hear classics like “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “My Man,” “The Trolley Song,” and of course “Over The Rainbow.” We really invite the audience to be a part of the show, and there are in fact moments that include audience participation. But we don’t want to give too much away!
BJS: What I also like about our show is that we put our own personalities into it, and don’t solely emulate them. We go inside and try to bring the human side of them out–what we think might be their inner demons, and make light of them. All of it is still done with the devoted love we have for both of them!
What else might be coming up for you two that the kids should look out for?
SO: We are very excited to announce that after this stop in NYC, we will be going on tour with the show all over the United States for 2020, including a 2-week run in Ft. Lauderdale at The Empire Stage.
BJS: We are so excited and so grateful to be going to Ft. Lauderdale, and are currently working on dates with many more interested venues throughout the country… like Phoenix, Detroit, Delaware, Atlantic City, and Chicago to name a few.
SO: We are so blessed and grateful to be able to take this show and share it with the masses. To all you Judy and Barbra fans: we are coming to your town, and you won’t be disappointed.
Lastly: do you think Barbra and the ghost of Judy approve of all of Billie Eilish’s recent historic Grammy wins?
SO: Most Definitely! The only EGOT-level award that Garland won was the Grammy. She won two Grammys (Album of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance, Female) for her landmark 1961 album Judy at Carnegie Hall. Billie Eilish became the first woman to snatch four Grammys in one night, which is a huge deal. I like to believe that Judy would have appreciated Eilish’s win as the youngest Album of the Year winner in Grammy history at just age 18. In 1961, at age 39, Garland became the youngest and first female recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the film industry. So, I think they share somewhat of a connection as hard-working and talented artists.
BJS: Who? Just kidding! One of the things I love about Barbra is that she is very supportive of new artists. She’s friends with Cardi B! I’m sure she is very happy for Billie, and will probably have her in a future album with her.
Thank you ladies, have a great show!