Picture it. Broadway Playhouse. 2024.
Four queer men dress in drag to portray iconic women. Murray & Peter present Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue, a parody written by Robert Leleux and directed by Eric Swanson.
The cast includes Ryan Bernier as Dorothy, Adam Graber as Rose and Christopher Kamm as Sophia. Actor Vince Kelley channels the unforgettable Rue McClanahan, who passed away in 2010, as Blanche.
The storyline has been updated to fit into modern times. These days, Sofia is out on bail after running a drug ring, Blanche and Rose are meeting hookups on the CreakN app and Dorothy has taken up with a young lover. There's a lot to be thankful for in 2024, friends!
Kelley, with over 30 years of performing experience under his belt, has starred in productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Boys in the Band, among others. He's not only a talented triple-threat who acts, sings and dances, eitherKelly designs costumes for the stage as well. He recently spoke with WCT about the show how he channels the Southern charmand finds the outfitsthat make Blanche tick.
Windy City Times: Hi, Vince. Start by telling the readers about your background.
Vince Kelley: I am a Michigan native and from the Detroit area. I have lived here my whole life and I work for the public school system. I am currently putting the finishing touches on Footloose, so I am here in the theater's costume shop before I leave on tour.
WCT: Footloose is fun as a musical isn't it?
VK: It is. The kids are so excited about it. I was surprised because I thought maybe they would think it was old material. I played Red McCormack 21 years ago. I still had some of my costume pieces, so I brought them in for the person playing him now. He was fascinated that I had these relics from so long ago!
WCT: You have been in the business for a while haven't you?
VK: Yes, I started when I was eight years old and I have never looked back.
WCT: Have you visited Chicago often in the past?
VK: Yes. What is fun about the whole cast is that we are all from the Midwest in one way or another. We are excited to come back. When we visited before, it was on short trips, but this time we get to sit down there for a whole month. We are looking forward to experiencing the city like the people who live there.
WCT: I noticed that Rue McClanahan's birthday happens while you are in town, so you have to do an homage to her.
VK: Oh, we are going to do a whole thing, maybe sing "Happy Birthday" or eat more cheesecake. I don't know…
WCT: Are there any straight-identifying cast members of Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue?
VK: We just added our first one. His name is Tommy Favorite. He plays Stanley and Burt, so if it was one actor that is straight his characters are perfect for it.
WCT: What a great name.
VK: It seems fake, but it's not. He is the cutest little ally that you ever will see.
WCT: Speaking of favorites, what is your favorite Southern expression?
VK: I use "bless your heart" on a daily basis, aside from the show. That is the perfect way to cut someone in the best way possible.
I also like and live by the motto, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." This is a quote from Tennessee Williams that Blanche used on the television show. Both myself and Blanche always assume everything that needs to happen is going to happen the right way, because someone will help us if we can't figure it out ourselves.
WCT: How did you discover that you were a match to play Blanche?
VK: The Goldenverse is huge. There are wonderful shows everywhere and The Golden Girls are beloved by many. The more people that can experience a show through the drag lens the better. I know Chicago has the fantastic Hell in a Handbag troupe that performs regularly.
Here in Detroit, there is a local group that did Golden Girls parodies. A guy by the name of Richard Payton did a Blanche impression. Honestly, I am doing Richard doing Blanche. It was just over-the-top enough, and a little tuned up with the Southern accent. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I borrowed bits and pieces of that.
For me, a big character thing, which is going to sound so gay, is the shoes. I rehearse in my tennis shoes, but as soon as I put the heels on I feel like Blanche. It helps me in the way I carry myself and the way I move my body.
WCT: I am sure the costuming helps with her flowing gowns…
VK: That is one of my favorite things. I do the costumes for the show as well. It is a lot of eBay and sourcing. About 90 percent of everything we wear is vintage.
For a short time, Rue McClanahan had a clothing line that was sold on QVC and several Los Angeles boutiques called A Touch of Rue. My favorite piece in the show is a palm print nightgown from her collection. It is so meta, and can't get any better than that. I am very Rue McClanahan on my body!
WCT: You are bringing her spirit back to life.
VK: In every way possible.
WCT: Have you been to Golden-Con yet?
VK: No and we will be on the road on the other side of the country instead of being there for it. Poor planning this time out.
WCT: Is there any singing in the show?
VK: It is not a musical, but there is a little song and dance to get a real theatrical experience as an audience member.
WCT: What is your favorite musical?
VK: Ragtime comes to mind. When I hear the end of Act One I sob and lose my mind.
WCT: What is the worst part of dressing in drag for you?
VK: Shaving. I have thick hair. I am Italian and Greek. If there is a double show day, I have to do a touch-up or else I have a five o'clock shadow.
The nicks and the cuts cause ingrown hairs. I have tried every chemical known to man to prevent this. I have asked professional drag queens for tips and they have explained that everyone is different. It is an unnecessary evil of the business.
WCT: Do you tuck?
VK: No, because I did the costumes I made sure that I don't have to. [laughs] Some of the cast does need to "park the car in the garage" as we say.
WCT: Are you a RuPaul's Drag Race fan?
VK: Yes, I am obsessed with every season. Not just me, but everyone in the Golden Girls cast. We have viewing parties when we are on the road with pizza.
A fun little story: When we were in Los Angeles, we stayed at a hotel directly across from the theater. Jason Bowen was playing Stan at the time. He saw RuPaul having breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel and immediately went up to him to offer a free ticket to the show. RuPaul said to put two tickets at will call to attend possibly, and would see if he could make it. Ru didn't attend but I thought it was a gracias way to say no. Jason was shaking after the experience and beside himself.
WCT: What is different about The Laughs Continue than other Golden Girls parodies?
VK: It takes place in 2024, so the show has never gone off the air and has kept going as a streaming television show instead of network TV. We can get away with more adult stories than they did in the original run.
It is a fun time warp. The clothes and set are the same, but the characters talk about recent events. It transports the audience to a place to see their old friends with new storylines.
There is also a lot of improv in the show, so it is never the same performance twice. We like to keep it fun and topical. If something exciting happens in the news that day, we will find a way to put it in the show that night. We love trying to get each other to break character and laugh. It is like a bloopers reel from Saturday Night Live.
We have been given controlled freedom to keep it new with green-lighting our fresh jokes instead of sticking to the script, which can be boring for many actors.
WCT: Have you done a ton of homework on Blanche for improvisation?
VK: Yes, there is a lot of research and I take it very seriously. It is not just a show that we made up in a couple of weeks. We have practiced these mannerisms and writing out the dialects individually, such as Rose's Minnesota accent. We are very serious about our ridiculousness.
WCT: What trivia do you know about Rue that others don't?
VK: Rue was on Broadway and in Wicked as Madame Morrible. I was lucky enough to see it. Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty were both associated with Broadway. I am a true blue singer, actor and dancer, so to be in a non-musical show, I like to associate with Rue who had another passion. It was just not what she was known for.
WCT: What are your plans after the Golden Girls run?
VK: I will probably finish playing Blanche when I am old enough to be her. After Chicago, we hit the road for one-night shows in Madison, Wisconsin; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Peoria, Illinois. We are going to ride it until the wheels fall off!
Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue runs from Feb. 6-25 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut St. Tickets can be found at BroadwayInChicago.com and GoldenGirlsTour.com .