The Howard Theatre evoked its historic past on Tuesday night with its first drag show since the 1960s, in a show that brought the likenesses of some of the most famous divas ever to grace the Howard’s stage back to life. Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Erykah Badu and Beyonce were impersonated by a cast assembled by D.C. drag star Shi-Queeta Lee for a show that sold out the theatre for the first time on a Tuesday night since its reopening. D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced the show, praising D.C.’s diversity.
Shi-Queeta performs regularly at gay bars in the District, but said she wanted to bring the show to a wider audience.
“I always had the idea of doing a show like in Vegas or Atlantic City, but we don’t have that in DC. The hetero set love what we do but don’t want to come to a gay bar, so I wanted to bring the show to the theater,” Shi-Queeta said. The Jewel Box Revue, a famous traveling drag show from the mid-20th century, was the last to appear on the Howard’s stage before the theater’s closure.
Shi-Queeta said she was shocked at the size and range of the audience of about 600, which seemed to span both the younger LGBT community and also older fans of the original divas who came out for the music and the performance. A table of four near the stage identified themselves as grandmothers having their monthly “girls’ night out.”
When asked what she thought of having drag performances at the Howard, one of the women, Barbara Kelliebrew, raised an eyebrow and replied “diversity!” echoing city council member Mary Cheh’s introduction. Kelliebrew and her friends said the performers were “wonderful,” “quite a show” and just like seeing the original divas. Another fan, U. Johnson, brought an enormous bouquet of flowers and a stack of bills to tip performer Alicia Kelly, who portrayed Patti LaBelle. He said he is a “huge” Patti LaBelle fan, and Alicia’s portrayal was spot on.
Shi-Queeta was overjoyed with how things turned out.
“Words can’t describe how I’m feeling. To be able to be accepted by a theater of that stature, what’s happened there in the past, to bring it back and reincarnate it, I don’t know what else to do in my career but to go up,” Shi-Queeta gushed. She said she is already in talks to bring the show back and hopes to make it a monthly event at the Howard.
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