Talk about single-name gay nirvana.
Celine. Bette. Liza. Cher.
And talk about it to the guy at the front table of “Diva’s Las Vegas.”
You can argue that drag is passe, lost its shock value, no longer makes Midwestern tourists feel as if they’re taking a walk on the wild side, yadda yadda.
What you can’t argue, at least not to this dude on this night, is the gay-icon “gasp factor” of nearly every single pop star impersonated in an hour and a half.
Almost every introduction, every reveal, was enough to make said fan clasp both hands to the sides of his head, or jump out of his chair to rejoice in sharing said star’s name with the rest of the audience.
“Through the magic of ‘Divas,’ we’re able to bring back the now-legendary Whitney Houston,” host Frank Marino announces.
“I love you Whitney!” front-row guy declares, as Chris Woods — who has impersonated Houston since she was not only alive, but a young thing — steps out in a bodysuit adorned with coin-sized silver circles.
But heads weren’t done exploding yet.
There did also pour forth full names, who may actually be one-namers in some circles, but fully name-checked by Marino for those Midwestern tourists who may need help: Lady Gaga. Katy Perry. Mariah Carey.
Depending on the night you attend, the lineup also can include impersonations of Adele and Rihanna. Both are 25, three years younger than the show that opened as “An Evening at La Cage” at the Riviera with, as Marino tells the crowd, some of the same cast members still performing today.
Marino doesn’t point out that some of his joke targets in the opening monologue are also nearly Rihanna’s age: O.J. Simpson, Paris Hilton and — really? — Lorena Bobbitt.
But he does work in a Paula Dean gibe eventually. And what Marino has done as producer forgives any neglect of his stand-up material.
When “La Cage” folded in early 2009, Marino made good on his ongoing feud with producer Norbert Aleman and reopened the show as “Divas” seven months later.
Some of the improvements were no-brainers such as new costumes, a sleek set and quality lighting. Life always involves trade-offs, but the cosmetic upgrades only could be argued by those who feel drag must occur in a run-down, seedy environment, a la the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
The other changes are more subtle and just as progressive as including today’s pop stars. (The real Gaga does make life easy for drag acts, doesn’t she?)
When “La Cage” debuted in the ’80s, to be “a gay show” was a bit transgressive and risky, so Aleman buffered his impersonators with real female showgirls for uneasy men to ogle.
But Marino went all in. The six male dancers are often shirtless, sometimes parading around in boots, suspenders and sequined jock straps.
And it used to be that each “La Cage” act would perform the entirety of a song. Now, thanks to the magic of digital editing, a hit or two from each star is blended to get them in and out of there.
I’m not usually a fan of things that shorten our attention spans. But drag? C’mon. It’s not like they’re really singing this stuff. It’s all about the reveal, what the impersonator looks like. Any longer than it takes to chime in an anthem or two is just time away from seeing the next one.
The approach comes with a risk of too many peaks. Steve Wayne’s best-of-show Cher, right after Sammy Gonzales struts in front of the big L-I-Z-A letters? Get some oxygen for that man down front!
But the rat-a-tat speed also makes shorter work of the misfires: Gonzales was announced as Mariah Carey, but looked as though he had put on the Adele outfit by mistake. And three “Queens of Country” (Shania Twain, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton) were at least one grotesque “Walking Dead” cowgirl too many.
But that’s part of the fun, too. “Divas” is what President Barack Obama might call an “all of the above” approach to drag. You’ve got “Proud Larry” Edwards offering us a comic burlesque of a future plus-sized Beyonce, and you’ve got the astonishingly female curves of Derrick Barry as Britney Spears.
You’ve got your traditional moment of empathy and appreciation for the art, with Kenneth Blake’s dress-to-trousers conversion to Charles Aznavour’s “What Makes a Man.” And you have Marino’s requisite one-liners, such as “If I turn the wrong way in this (outfit) you’ll see the operation was not a success.”
Some things must change and others should not. Fortunately, “Divas” figured out which is which.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.