Talking to Michael Biedzinski, you get the feeling that ending up on a stage dressed in drag -- or being in charge of guys dressed in drag -- is not a matter of choice. It's a matter of destiny. Retracing his involvement with the Rough Riders gay dance team, he says, "Somehow I wound up getting involved, then somehow I wound up being in charge." What he's in charge of is the Rough Riders Seventh Annual Variety Show, a cabaret-style showcase featuring a whole mess of talents from the local gay and lesbian dance scene. That includes guys like Sal Clemente, a.k.a. Sally West, about whom Biedzinski says, "His brother died from AIDS, and he decided he wanted to raise money for the cause. Somehow he found himself in drag."
Performer Richard Yun makes it sound like an unstoppable force led him to his alter ego, who will also perform at the variety show. Describing his act, he says: "Rhoda came about ten years ago. I had been asked by a director to portray something from RuPaul. Then they started calling me Rhoda -- maybe I looked like a Rhoda? And then it became Rhoda Man... and then Rhoda Manhardt. Once you get a persona like that, you don't get rid of it." Though he has "locked her in the closet for the last three months," Yun says, he plans to unleash Manhardt for the show.
This year, performers are united by a theme: "Fantastic Voyage." The loose plot centers on a newly engaged woman named Didi (played by a man) who asks a friend where she should go on her honeymoon. That call launches the audience on a journey around the world. "We go to Las Vegas," Yun says. "We go to Egypt. We go to Austria. I am playing a demented brat of a girl, like Shirley Temple, with these puppets from The Sound of Music, but my puppets are full-grown people." In case you were wondering, "Yes, it's demented and slightly off."
The Rough Riders Seventh Annual Variety Show
Broward Center for the Performing Arts (201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale)
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, August 21, and at 7 p.m. Sunday, August 22. Tickets cost $26 to $29. Call 954-462-2222, or visit www.browardcenter.org
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The Rough Riders -- 13 men and one woman, aged 20-something to 50-something -- don Egyptian garb, headdresses, and sandals for their piece "Cleopatra: Queen of Denial," which Biedzinski calls "a major, major showstopper." The Southern Country South Florida Sundancers will perform a two-step/swing/waltz routine that involves Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer who go on strike. And the team from Bacabuda Arts is rumored to have a jaw-dropping Indiana Jones act going on. Other performers include the South Florida Lambda Chorale, Dominique, Dolph Edwards, Mustang Mary, Derrick Buford, Bill Dahm (as Peggy Lee), Alfred Lewis (as Bette Davis), and the Julie Christies. Styles range from straight-up to campy, Biedzinski says, but "we do throw a lot of comedy in. When you've got a lot of drag queens running around, that always happens." -- Deirdra Funcheon