I've always been so impressed by strong show business broads. You know - the Betty Huttons, Carol Burnetts, Madeline Kahns, Eileen Brennans, Bea Arthurs, Bette Midlers... There was something about those bright, witty, sharp tongued, strong female entertainers that caught my eye. It was more than just their torch songs or their endless collections of zingers... but their ability to make people laugh and draw just about anyone in with their magnetic personalities. It was their ability to radiate a kind of positivity and light that was seemingly unmatched by anyone else on stage or screen. But, most importantly, it was their ability to make everything better for not just their co-stars, but for their audiences. They could make you forget about your life for just a moment and be transported to a new place that was better... bolder...
When I was nineteen and working as a performer at Disneyland in California, I was in a place where I was still discovering who I was - as an actor and writer, but also as a person. More specifically, a gay person. When I fell into a crowd of proud and confident young gay friends, naturally there was bound to be one or two drag queens in the mix.
As is the way with most drag performers, an opportunity presented for me to give it a try. You know, just around a friend's apartment. An old wig, a hand-me-down gown, and someone else's clunky attempt at drag makeup. It was baby drag.
When a local bar in Anaheim was looking for new performers, one of my nearest and dearest friends, Jeremiah Power (and his seasoned alter ego, Angel Rogers), added me to the ranks to perform one night. The old wig was styled into a vintage, victory-rolled up-do and from deep down within me, a personality was drawn up. She was the product of the love I had for those old-fashioned show business broads. She was my own creation that could tell dirty jokes and pull from timeless musical comedies. She was funny and sexy and displayed a class comedic style and appearance. She was a red-headed spitfire I decided to call Dottie Maraschino.
As the years have gone on, I've grown to realize that to call myself a "drag queen" would not be accurate. Drag queens do so much more than I do... But, in Southern California in the early 2000s, there wasn't a place for much else. Furthermore, to be a drag queen in Southern California in the early 2000s was to be a pop princess. There wasn't a place for a vintage comedy actor... When I was asked to perform or a new potential gig would came up, I was always asked "who do you do?" Meaning impersonation... All the other boys in town were bringing Britney Spears and Madonna to life in the clubs. There wasn't really much of a dialogue available for a performer with their own unique character that created new numbers from the ground up.
Another element that I was dying to bring to my act was something that was not to be seen on the club stages of Southern California: live singing. I was a singer and a musical theatre performer and it made no sense to not sing live as Dottie... Well, when I was unsuccessful in finding a club space that would allow me to do what I wanted to do with Dottie, I bit the bullet and decided to rent out a theatrical space and just put on my own show. I wrote and created the very first Dottie Maraschino Show (directed by Stephen K. Wagner), hired a small band (under the direction of Daniel Thomas), and took over The Maverick Theatre in Downtown Fullerton for one night only. It was then that Dottie started to take shape into the entity that she is today.
The true catalyst to Dottie Maraschino's development was moving to New York City. In New York, Dottie found a stage that truly welcomed her and everything she could be. Here in New York, I was also able to meet incredible mentors like Phillip George (Forbidden Broadway, When Pigs Fly), who's guidance and knowledge of comedy helped shape me as an actor, as a writer, and also shape Dottie into a more defined personality.
Several years after moving to New York, I was teamed up with a composer by the name of David Caldwell on a small original musical called Gotta Getta Girl. David and I hit it off right away and soon discovered that we both had a profound love for jazz harmony groups of the 1940s and 1950s. It didn't take long for a great partnership to develop and for The Dottie Maraschino Show to take on yet another fantastic element, which was David Caldwell's brilliant musical arrangements for Dottie Maraschino and her back up group, The Stems.
The show has played cabaret spaces across New York City and has also graced the main stage at The Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria, Arizona where Dottie came to life in our biggest and flashiest Dottie Maraschino Show ever, complete with a dancing ensemble and seven piece orchestra!
As I said before, I am far from a drag queen and when it comes to Dottie, I view her as so much more. That being said, I have the upmost respect for Drag Queens and what they do for our community and how they have shaped gay entertainment. But when it comes to Dottie, she is a fictional character and as real as she possibly can be as a fictional character living in the real world. She has a story and a history and a family. She has wants and needs and likes and dislikes... And yes, I created her, but in the end, she's the one that has created something magical within me. She's a beautiful soul who inspires me to be better, kinder, and always demands of me my best and brightest. She inspires my creativity and challenges me to continue to grow every day. Yes, she wouldn't be here without me, but I realize now that that goes both ways.