Covid may be making shut-ins of us all, but The Golden Revolution rages on! “The Golden Girls” was a long-running, much loved TV sitcom portraying the adventures of four colorful old ladies that has never really faded from pop culture, and today several “Girls” tribute acts help keep our beloved characters front and center. Stage performers Gerry Mastrolia, Andy Crosten and Jason B. Schmidt (above, left to right) discuss our endearing queer love for all things “Golden Girls ” and how The Golden Gays NYC stand out in a sea of stage Blanches, Roses and Dorothys (and sometimes even Sophias). They also explain how their digital take on the Girls may be exactly what we all need right now.
Thotyssey: Hello Gents / Girls, thanks so much for talking with us today! How was everybody’s July 4th? I hope no one was at the Pines!
Gerry Mastrolia (The Rose): I escaped to the Jersey shore with the family for a few days, and it was much needed. I’m Italian, so it’s homemade wine, delicious food and loud conversations!
Andy Crosten (The Blanche): My husband and I had a small, socially distant picnic in the park by our house in the afternoon… and then from our bed listened to fireworks go off in our neighborhood until 3:00am!
Jason B. Schmidt (The Dorothy): I was at Shady Pines. Is that what you mean? It burned down, so I visited the site. It’s a Starbucks. The old people work there now.
It seems like Florida is becoming the new hotspot for Covid. How do you think the Girls would handle life in quarantine?
AC: World of Wonder did a really fun series with “The Golden Girls in quarantine” sketches starring queens from Drag Race! Oh, poor Blanche would have been going stir crazy trying to get a date…
JBS: Dorothy has been planning this for a long time: curl up with a nice book by an anti-semetic writer, and then fall in and out of anger-naps for several months. She’s too chronically fatigued to get out there and fight the good fight in the streets, though, so she’d have to write sternly worded correspondence to local officials.
So, let’s get a little background on the Men behind the Girls. Where are you all from, and what is your background in performing?
GM: Originally from North Jersey, I was introduced to the classics and began entertaining at the age of 3 with Three Stooges routines! I knew sports weren’t my thing, because I was much too fabulous for them. So, what does any other normal boy do? Join a theatre class, of course! I started acting at age 9, and professionally began in New York at 18. Since then, I have written many of my own solo performances and created three production companies.
AC: I was born and raised in Cumberland, Maryland, and I’ve been performing since I was a kid. My sister and I used to act out Disney movies in our living room for our family. I got my BFA in musical theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia. Been living in NYC ever since, performing here, there, and everywhere!
JBS: I’m from Lubbock, Texas? What? Yes. I played a lawyer in Huck Finn in, hmm… second grade? That was when I got my first agent. Not really. I was mostly a singer with intentions of singing in professional operas. Through a detour, I ended up in a BFA Acting Program at Adelphi University on Long Island (the alma mater of Coco Peru, Justin Vivian Bond, Jonathan Larson and now…me). I worked mostly in musical theatre in off-Broadway box offices, and created my own comedy work with The Parodivas (a song parody duo in the comedy club circuit) for several, many, all the years. I auditioned for a raunchy drag version of The Golden Girls back in 2010, which set me on this path.
What were the circumstances to bring you all together to form The Golden Gays NYC at RuPaul’s New York DragCon in 2017?
GM: Early 2017, I just came off of playing Rose in a different production in New York that was short lived. As a character actor, I was still itching to play the part that I had spent weeks creating, and that I had quit my part-time job for. Flash forward to May of that same year, I had reached out to a Facebook friend, Jason.
JBS: Gerry Facebook stalked me.
GM: I had never met him in real life. Side note: I’ll never forget when I sent him an invitation to an upcoming cabaret show of mine where he wasn’t able to make it, but wanted to purchase a ticket. I instantly admired him for his message, and his work as a Bea Arthur impersonator. I told him about a vision I had, which would involve us making a special appearance at the Rue-La-Rue Cafe that had just opened in Washington Heights. Jason then called his musical director Mason Griffin to play piano, and asked his boyfriend Andy Crosten to play the role of Blanche!
AC: Jason B. asked me if I could “do a Blanche” for a quick appearance at Rue-La-Rue. I said “for you, sure.” I slapped on his mother’s 80s blue jumpsuit and a really rough Edward Cullen Twilight wig, and the rest is herstory.
GM: The woman I had in mind to join us as Sophia had to back out at the last minute, so I dug through my costume trunk, found an old lady puppet and viola! We had our “Ma.” Or so we thought! On June 10th, 2017, The Golden Gays NYC were born. After going to DragCon later that year, we found that the audience wanted to be even more included in the fun that we were having! That’s how we came up with our #TokenSophia bit.
I regret that I never got to see the short-lived Rue-La-Rue Café in Washington Heights, which was a Golden Girls-themed eatery that Rue McLanahan’s friend Michael J. La Rue owned, where you three performed. What was that experience like?
AC: Rue-La-Rue was a dream come true!
JBS: It was crazy!
GM: It was a Mecca! You walked in and you were immediately overcome with a sense of safety and community (not to mention all of Rue’s dazzling memorabilia).
JBS: I was at a point in my life where I was “going where the ‘yes’ is,” and so when Gerry suggested we head over there dressed in the garb, I went for it. The phone from the kitchen, Rue’s outfits, the piano and the fabulous desserts… it was a really neat place to just be.
AC: Michael really created a beautiful place that captured the essence of Rue and The Golden Girls perfectly.
JBS: He set us on the path to create our own show, though at the time it was a musical trivia night that morphed into what became our Off-Broadway show Hot Flashbacks. Now we have three musicals! Also, the video of us singing at Rue La Rue was my first 15 minutes of viral fame. I couldn’t believe thousands of people were watching us sing “Miami!”
GM: We were all there for the same thing, the thing that the girls introduced us to: friendship. The Golden Girls is like a religion to some folks, and people really believe they are friends with these women. It feels great for us, as performers and actors, to deliver that and connect.
AC: We were all sad to see it go. We actually performed our sold-out trivia show there the night before they shut the doors. I still see Michael from time to time, as he lives in my neighborhood. He tells me he is working on a book and a documentary about Rue.
Do any of you consider yourselves drag queens?
JBS: Nah. I have used drag theatrically since college, but I never went out as Va-Chronica Fatigue or anything. Okay, a few times in a blonde bob in the early 2000’s at The Tunnel. I’m an actor, and now the world’s premiere Bea Arthur Impersonator. But I love drag queens: Coco Peru, Varla Jean, Hedda Lettuce, Miss Richfield, Bob, Bianca – I would happily be one of them if / when I grow up.
GM: I call myself a character actor. Being from the theatre, I love playing many different roles! Rose Nyland is one of my favorites, but I don’t want to be known for doing one schtick. I am greatly inspired by the impersonators of yesteryear, like Jim Bailey, Craig Russell, Charles Pierce and Mr. Danny La Rue. Of course, I have a soft spot for the talents of Jinkx Monsoon, Bianca Del Rio and Varla Jean Merman.
AC: Female impersonators, drag queens, character actors…Call it whatever the hell you want, I’m a man in a dress!
So past histories aside, it was all a given which Girl each of you would portray when you finally all came together.
JBS: 100,000% – it’s hardly acting. I have a very deep voice, I’m 5’9 ½ in my stocking feet, and I have enormous breasts. Okay, that’s a stolen quotation from Bernice Frankel. But yes, it was clear from that first audition post I saw back in 2010 – a “Bea Arthur type” – that’s me.
AC: I’m definitely a Blanche with a Rose rising. I am from the South-ish, so Blanche’s southern drawl does come pretty naturally to me.
GM: As Jason says: “if you don’t know what you are, you’re a Rose.” But one day, I can see myself falling into the Sophia category!
And it’s still working out for you that you don’t have a Sophia?
JBS: We do! It’s you! In every show we have at least one (if not more) Sophias on stage with us. In our show, a member of the audience gets to make their Golden dreams come true and be the fourth Golden Girl.
AC: We quickly realized we were onto something special by inviting audience members to be in on the fun and having them be Sophia. It always keeps us on our toes, as we never know what’s going to happen.
It seems that the The Golden Girls are even more popular now, with audiences of all ages, then they ever were before. What do you think it is about the show that continues to resonate with audiences so much?
JBS: It’s actually funny. And the archetypes of the show are easy to self-identify: “Oh, I’m the Dorothy and you’re the Sophia!”
GM: Hands down, the writing and the topics they spoke about. Having mature women further the difficult discussion of AIDS or addiction was monumental during those times.
AC: You just can’t beat that top-notch sitcom writing. And now more than ever, people want to be Marie-Kondo’d and spark joy. Also, the political and social issues they discussed are still as topical today as they were when the show aired.
Actually, two episodes of Girls are getting some press nowadays. Well technically, we’re just talking about one episode of The Golden Girls that Hulu removed from rotation due to a scene where the girls are in mud masks that might be reminiscent of blackface. The other topical episode that’s been reexamined is actually from the show’s short lived spin-off series The Golden Palace, where Don Cheadle’s character explains the harmful symbolism of the Confederate flag to Blanche in a conversation that is so relevant today. What are your thoughts on these?
AC: I completely understand why Hulu made the decision and support it. But I do hope that our society can begin to shift the trend of cancel culture to include “more conversation and less cancellation.”
JBS: I’m not a person of color, but those scenes do elicit icky feelings in me. I understand having these pieces of history exist in a way that we can show our kids can be important, like “hey, do you know why they did that joke? Well, Al Jolson…..” But to have it readily available and just blasting into people’s eyeballs every so often via Youtube or Hulu or Hallmark, I can see why they pulled them. It’s icky. Also, they probably got a huge influx of DVD orders, so… Does Disney ever lose?
GM: I completely agree with both Jason and Andy. I do think there needs to be more conversation and less cancellation.
GM: Well, the gift basket seemed nice… only kidding! I loved Mariah as Blanche! The design of the room was simply Golden! Do they offer dry cleaning services? Polyester, you know…
AC: Their hotel was super cute! I’d stay there. I thought the queens could have been better cast in different roles–I could see Miz Cracker as Sophia, Mariah as Dorothy, and Shea as Blanche.
Shea mixed in Sophia’s “Picture this…” tagline into her Dorothy impression. Is that an acceptable practice, or is it a Golden Crime?
GM: I didn’t mind Shea doing a little of Dorothy and Sophia, but there needed to be a punch!
JBS: Since we don’t have Sophia scripted into the show until certain parts where the audience member or a famous drag star like Mrs. Kasha Davis play Sophia, we do sometimes appropriate fabulous Sophia lines to one of the other girls because she had such great jokes. So it’s not a crime. And if she had just said the jokes in a Dorothy way, then it would’ve worked. She looked cute!
There seems to be a lot of Golden Girls themed stage shows going on these days, starring actors and drag queens and even puppets. Do all these bitches need to retire themselves to Shady Pines, or is there room for everyone?
GM: They can do whatever they want, because we love and support them as much as we can! We aren’t the first ones to do this, but we are different because we are a musical and do make it interactive by adding audience members! It’s all about the experience.
AC: We always say “it’s a Golden Revolution!” We enjoy meeting and working with other Golden-queens, and think it’s important to support each other.
JBS: The thing about cult-followings is that there’s room for all of it. Just think of all the queens and queenies reenacting Rocky Horror all over… the world?
Tell us more about what a live stage show experience is like with The Golden Gays NYC.
AC: It’s Golden Girls meets Pitch Perfect meets The Three Stooges!
GM: You will be a part of a glorious musical adventure down the road and back again! We sprinkle in your most favorite Golden Girls moments, mixed with a dash of The Carol Burnett Show and viola! It’s Vaudeville for the new generation!
JBS: We take the musical bits and bobs from The Golden Girls, we sing intricate harmonies, we pay homage to the fabulousness and then we take you on a whole new adventure – to find Sophia! Where in the World is Sophia Petrillo? Cue the song…
Have you all had any favorite or most memorable experiences touring with one of your shows?
GM: Every show, every venue, every time is something different. Which is great! In many a case, we get one or two drunken Token Sophias. One moment that sticks out was the summer of 2018: we’re Off-Broadway and Sophia’s microphone wasn’t working. So in true Carol Burnett Show fashion, we acknowledge the mishap and I say, “well then, you can talk into mine” and Jason and I proceed to thrust our wigs into this person’s face! Good times.
AC: Performing on the Golden Fans at Sea cruises was pretty unforgettable. The love and laughs shared among the fans, the huge theatre we performed in, the beautiful places we got to visit… let’s all do it again next year when this pandemic is over, shall we!?
JBS: We play a really cool theatre in Hamtramck / Detroit called Planet Ant. It has a real old-school Williamsburg feel to it, and the audience was very interesting / cool / weird. A bunch of the Detroit fans took us out after to the gayborhood, and we were out much later than our normal bedtimes (mine is 9pm). We had a lot of fun that night, and saw a few of them on the Golden Fans at Sea Cruises… more late nights! I can’t wait to go back there.
In these Covid times, The Golden Gays NYC have gone digital! First off, you are all on Facebook every Monday night for a live chat show (7pm EDT). What’s that show like?
GM: We have a lot of fun and chat about all things Golden Girls!
JBS: It’s a fun chat show. We sing songs and sell some merchandise and play trivia. It’s great. I love reading the comments in real time, and I like being able to try out new songs with no pressure.
JBS: This is the shortened digital version of Act 2 of our Hot Flashbacks musical. It’s an exciting adventure through space and time to find Ma… where is she? Rochester, NY!?
AC: It’s the must-see event of the summer for Golden fans! We’re thrilled to be presenting a special at-home version of our hit Off-Broadway musical adventure Hot Flashbacks. Our bosom buddy Mrs. Kasha Davis will be making a guest appearance as Sophia!
GM: So thrilled to have Kasha playing Sophia! This Stageit show will be extra special because this is the first time that all of GGNYC will be together, as we haven’t shared the stage since the Golden Fans At Sea cruises back in March.
A must-see! Anything else coming up for any of you, either in the world of The Golden Gays NYC or any individual projects?
GM: I am currently working on the fourth season of my comedy web series, Four’s A Crowd Productions that recently debuted on PBS, as well as my own show Very Gerry NYC Presents: Legendary Divas, Kiss my Sass! It’s my solo out-of-drag Impersonation show where I salute the legendary broads of Old Hollywood, while paying tribute to the style of Mario Cantone and Rufus Wainwright. I always find time to write and create. After all, you are the only one who can create the life you want to live.
JBS: I do Books with Bea where I read to kids at the local bookstore, and I do Bingo with Bea at the local LGBTQ Center–I think we’re moving to half digital at this point. And I am beginning to mentor and do career coaching for like-minded people who want to actually make some money doing the thang. We record Cameos too, so that keeps us getting dressed up and having little bursts of fun. And please god, let us have our holiday tour this December! Thank YULE for Being a Friend is arguably our best show, and we have such fun doing it: The Golden Girls in A Christmas Carol but also The Nutcracker? I mean…
AC: I’m creating a new one-man show inspired by The Wizard of Oz. Andy ventures “Over the Rainbow” to meet the Wizard who will grant him all his wishes. In the show, I play all the characters; it’s gonna be a hoot, I’m really excited! My hope is to be able to tour the show this fall. That, and booking The Golden Gays NYC holiday tour this December. Contact us if you want us to perform in your town!
And finally…. What are your own favorite episodes of The Golden Girls?
GM: It’s hard to choose. There’s a Mae West joke in there! Owwww! One of my favorites is when the girls meet Patrick Vaughn, “The Actor!” We also meet “Miami’s answer to Meryl Streep” Phyllis Hammarow… and Rose and Blanche play non-speaking townspeople, while Dorothy jumps in to play the sheriff because Ronald Braunberg came up with the flu!
AC: Everyone should watch “Old Friends” (Season 3, Episode 1) with Sophia and Alvin. It’s a beautiful story of friendship and compassion. Estelle Getty won an Emmy for this episode. It’s also the episode guest starring the infamous Fernando, Rose’s cherished teddy bear!
JBS: “My Brother, My Father” — Emmy award for Beatrice Arthur! “Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself” – can you tell I’m re-watching Season 3 right now? “Journey to the Center of Attention.” The ones with famous guest stars, and the ones where they sing and / or dance. If I say “The Empty Nest” episode, I’ll get booed off the page.
Thank you, Gays!
- Follow Gerry Mastrolia (The Rose): Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube
- Follow Andy Crosten (The Blanche): Facebook, Instagram and YouTube
- Follow Jason B. Schmidt (aka Bea Arthur: Astral Dame, The Dorothy): Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube