Derek Please!
Beauty for Everybody 

By Derek Murawski-Harguth

Review: Queen of Pop Madonna Lives to Tell at Xcel Energy Center

February 14, 2024

The ever-provocative musician took St. Paul, Minnesota on an epic quest through her hit-filled songbook as part of The Celebration Tour

Four decades. One artist. One show. Madonna’s The Celebration Tour stopped in St. Paul, Minnesota on Tuesday, February 13 to the delight of its Xcel Energy Center audience. The show told the life and career story of the undisputed Queen of Pop, Madonna, while re-inventing what a greatest hits tour can be. 

Whereas typical greatest hits tours tend to focus on musical hits, Madonna took it a step further, adding her visual iconography to the mix. Anything iconic was fair game. Actors even popped up throughout the show dressed as eerie, near-faceless incarnations of Madonna — wearing only red lipstick. This included her classic “Madonna wannabe” look from the early ‘80s, and the black catsuit from her ‘90s music video for “Human Nature.”

An actor later dressed up in Madonna’s iconic, Jean Paul Gaultier gold corset from the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. Here, Madonna took her concept of making any career highlight a "greatest hit” one step further, grinding on her 1990-self in a recreated red bed from that groundbreaking tour. Here Madonna proved that any successful past incarnation of herself was fair game to titillate her audience — even specific “hers” from past tours. This scene is famous for simulating masturbation on stage.

If you’ve never been to a Madonna concert, you may not know she likes the venue environment to feel like a nightclub. This means noticeably warm temperatures, and warnings at entrances about haze, pyro and strobes being used in the live production. The club floor-like stage reflected this, taking up almost the entire floor section of the arena. It’s no surprise; Madonna has always been at the cutting edge of tour video screens and video interludes, ever since her touring career began. 

The stage consisted of a back video wall, a large carousel stage with a giant, tilted ring light above it, and various runways with end stages attached to them. It was nothing short of the most exciting pop concert stage the Twin Cities has seen in quite some time — maybe since Madonna’s own Rebel Heart Tour at the same venue in 2015. The stage was capable of so many configurations and special effects, it was mind-blowing. 

Comedian and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen was billed as Madonna’s Special Guest, playing various roles throughout the sprawling, two-hour-plus show. He opened the show, walking through the crowd wearing a stunning tribute to Madonna’s Marie Antoinette-inspired 1990 MTV VMAs “Vogue” performance look. Many audience members were confused where Bob the Drag Queen’s voice was coming from. Catching on, the boisterous comedian teased the crowd by mimicking them, asking, “Where’s that soft, dainty voice coming from?” 

Bob the Drag Queen explained that Madonna arrived in New York City in 1978 with $35 in her pocket, only to "become the undisputed Queen of Pop.” This made Madonna’s grand entrance feel even grander, as she spun on the carousel stage singing a surprising opening tune, the impeccably-selected “Nothing Really Matters." Her entrance look was an ornate, draping black outfit with large, hanging sleeves. The sleeves featured large circular cutouts midway down.

Bob the Drag Queen appeared several more times throughout the show, playing a club bouncer, a sad clown with a red balloon, a rodeo clown during “Don’t Tell Me,” and a Ballroom emcee during the “Vogue” section. His fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race star Manila Luzon joined him and Madonna on stage. Manila Luzon and Madonna rated dancers 10s or “CHOP” as they came down the runway, including Madonna’s young daughter Estere, duck walking and vogueing. Estere received 10s across the board.

Estere wasn’t Madonna’s only child on stage; in total, four out of six of the Queen of Pop’s children performed in St. Paul. Daughter Mercy played piano during Madonna’s sizzling performance of “Bad Girl.” Daughter Stella was one of the many dancers recreating the iconic “Don’t Tell Me” country choreography. Son David played guitar throughout the show, and even sang verse two of the 2003 deep cut “Mother and Father” solo, as pictures of his and Madonna’s mothers played on screen. Tuesday night, Madonna proved her children are some of her greatest hits as well.

Not every artist can pull off big sing-a-long moments in an arena concert. Not every artist is Madonna. Whereas many musicians desperately point their microphones toward their crowds and beg, Madonna achieves better audience participation results by just being herself. Her songbook stands for itself. Throughout the night, the crowd roared along to her hits from the ‘80s (like “Crazy for You”), ‘90s (like “Vogue”), ‘00s (like “Hung Up”) and ‘10s (like “Bitch I’m Madonna”). 

In a surprise setlist change, Madonna performed “Take a Bow” in the spot where she usually sings either “Rain” or “Frozen.” It was a special treat, as she hasn’t performed “Take a Bow” since 2016. The audience loved every second. She even did acoustic renditions of “Express Yourself” and Prince’s “Kiss.” 

On Minneapolis-St.Paul’s own Prince, Madonna said, “I’m in the birthplace of Prince Rogers Nelson. I’ve been here so many times.” She went on to speak of spending time with Prince, Michael Jackson, and all the fallen icons she pays homage to. “There’s death everywhere. So let’s celebrate life.”

During an emotional, vocally-stunning performance of her ballad “Live to Tell,” many screens came down from the ceiling all around the stage. The screens featured photos of legends and friends of Madonna that died of AIDS — many of whom were queer. As the song came to a close, the screens were flooded with countless images of those lost to the virus. It was heart-wrenching.

Just when the stage couldn’t get any cooler, the final end stage of the furthest runway grew into a cube on an epic scale. This was for “Bedtime Story,” containing elements of its Sound Factory Remix. A strawberry-blond Madonna was depicted floating in a dream world. She achieved this by being filmed from above the cube, with said video of her being pasted over other-worldly CGI visuals on the sides of the cube. There were also CGI visuals on the back video wall, creating a further world-building effect. 

Madonna was then picked up by a flying black square window, which served as a visual for a time portal. This led to my favorite performance of the night —“Ray of Light (Sasha Ultra Violet Mix)” — featuring Madonna donning a holographic catsuit, and the black, Alien eye-shaped sunglasses featured heavily on her Instagram. Madonna went wild with her dancing during this, free-styling to the beat in an energetic and flashy way.

The Celebration Tour was given deeper meaning after the North American leg was rescheduled from summer 2023, due to a viral infection Madonna had. She has explicitly spoken about her previous illness on this tour, stating she had to survive for her children. We are so fortunate that she lived to tell her story on stage with her children, and share her hits in such a profound way. 

5/5 stars

Dance-Pop Musician Eric Gordon is Authentically Starting Over

July 05, 2023

Eric Gordon is a Twin Cities-based musician with a message of being your authentic self. In June of 2021, he came out as a gay man, while a worship leader at a big church here in Minnesota. After a “bow-to-fate resignation” from the church, Gordon went on a journey of self-discovery through experiences like Twin Cities Pride, and creating new music with a dance-pop direction. Take a look behind the curtain in this candid and heartfelt interview with the music star. 

You’ve been a part of our city’s musical community for over a decade. How did you get started as a musician?
My music career began in the church. I grew up writing and singing worship music and my career began to move when I was a finalist on American Idol. Eventually, I accepted a worship leader position at a church here in Minnesota. It was the only world I knew, that unfortunately resulted in a bow-to-fate resignation after I publicly came out as a gay man in June of 2021.

You came out publicly as a gay man in June 2021. How did that feel?
Like so many others, my decision to “come out” was accompanied with loss. Ultimately, my wife and I retired our 13-year marriage (but still remain friends), but it disrupted my relationships with family and friends. It also brought my 12-year career as a worship leader crumbling down. For over a decade, I was center-stage, leading music at Minnesota’s biggest church, until one day I decided I couldn’t lie anymore. Quietly battling anxiety and depression by protecting a secret and presenting an unblemished mask, no longer secured my position of leading worship every week at a church that could not support me being myself.  I was at a crossroads that held me at rock-bottom for about a year. The pain of loss, by being bold and telling the truth, is something I know well. But at the end of the day, I know I am not alone. When your eyes are opened, you can’t unsee things. Too many people within the community, much like myself, continue to experience discrimination and injustice. I see across the country, a series of laws and policies targeting the LGBTQIA+ community and at the very core, conveniently lies an absence of love, masquerading as freedom of religion. It’s made me ask - at what point do we stop allowing a country where this “separated church” no longer influences laws that govern the state? I am excited to be part of this community and to use my music and influence for positive change. 

You wrote your debut dance-pop single, “Keep Watching Me,” about your experience at your first Twin Cities Pride. How was that experience?
I went into my first Twin Cities Pride with the same energy I wanted to receive. It was something brand new, but beautiful. It was also the first time I was able to experience the world outside of everything I knew. I wrote “Keep Watching Me” after a liberating experience over Pride weekend, where I felt fully comfortable expressing myself. Free of judgement. Open and accepted. The song is about embracing one’s sexuality through exploration. Its message is a perfect nudge to honor yourself and your desires.

Did you take part in any Pride festivities this year?
Pride this year was pretty special for me, with Taylor Swift bringing her tour to our city over the weekend. I attended The Pride Beer Dabbler on Friday evening with some friends, (so much fun!) and made my way to Loring Park on Saturday afternoon before ending the evening at US Bank Stadium to see Taylor’s show. It was a busy, but an amazing weekend I’ll never forget! I’m still recovering. [Smiles]

You went with a ‘90s-inspired sound on the song. What’s your favorite music from that decade?
I love 90’s house/dance music. As a kid, the first three albums my parents bought me were CeCe Peniston (“Finally,” “We Got a Love Thang”), La Bouche (“Be My Lover,” “Sweet Dreams”), and Robin S (“Show Me Love,” “Love For Love”). It’s all I listened to as a kid. Every year before summer, I go back to these albums. I have always wanted to release original music with the same 90s inspiration. I recorded a demo for “Keep Watching Me,” sent it to my producer, Beck Nebel, along with a list of song references from the 90s, and he delivered what you hear. The song will get you moving!

How has the response from your fans been since you went in a dance-pop direction with your music? 
Over the last decade, my music has shifted from Christian Pop to R&B. Unfortunately, I did lose listeners when I decided to switch genres. My fanbase declined after I left the former church and even more after I came out as gay. But I am motivated to rebuild something I am fully proud to create. I’m forever grateful to those who’ve stayed and am excited for every new listener and fan who clings onto this version of myself where I am simply being myself, creating music that I love.

You’ve said there’s an art to starting over. What advice do you have to other creatives that want to start over? 
What is meant for you will flow into your life without effort. The summer I came out, still exploring what faith meant to me as a gay man, I was continually turned away from church leadership roles, because I was gay. I received plenty of exploitative counter offers that would allow me to volunteer my time and talents, but when it came to membership or employment, I was consistently denied. My hope is that no queer person has to ever feel what I felt or experienced growing up immersed in the church. I want people to know that spirituality comes in many forms and sizes and there is a way to maintain faith not under the systems of religion.
There is an art to starting over again… going back to your quintessential self and learning to rebuild personally and professionally. Through deconstruction, I learned that the handful of losses, although painful, made way for many new and meaningful things. Ultimately, I discovered beauty in being completely honest and honoring myself. I learned what I do want and what I do not want. Most people desire to get things right — remove what isn’t working and learn what does work. It was important for me to explore myself and learn to love myself and be comfortable in my skin. When all you see around you are ways to be part of something bigger than yourself, and the positive changes you can make, your perspective becomes more about others. It’s powerful. And the world is big. And when you know yourself well, that fire behind your specific purpose makes a person unstoppable.

You released “Keep Watching Me” on June 2. How has the response been?
I wrote the song with the intention of using it for television. But after it was recorded, I decided to make my dance-pop debut and release it as a summer single. The response to the song has been really positive. There’s always a nervous-excitement putting out something you want others to love as much as you do, but I did it anyway. I finally released the 90’s-inspired dance single I’ve dreamt of for years! It was a good move and I’m excited to put many more singles out in the world this fall and to release an entire album next year! 

www.ericgordonmusic.com

Drag Icon and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Favorite Coco Montrese Is Coming to Roxy’s Cabaret in Minneapolis 

July 05, 2023

Coco Montrese is a drag icon. Beyond her multiple appearances in the acclaimed RuPaul’s Drag Race television franchise, and its Las Vegas live show, she is a queen that has cemented her legacy as the Janet Jackson impersonator. She has more to offer now than ever before. Snatch your chance to see her perform live in Minneapolis July 14th, 15th & 16th at Roxy’s Cabaret.

It is an honor to interview you. You’ve been a part of the rotating cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! What is your favorite aspect of performing in that show? 
I will say that for me, that show is a much different experience than any other cast member. When a girl is cast for the show, they come in and they learn only one role, and that is the only thing they perform throughout their entire contract. I am the ONLY cast member since opening the show that knows every single role (including the host role), and I get to perform different variations of those roles nightly, and that’s my favorite part of performing in the show. It’s a lot more stressful for me each night, but I love it. I worked for Walt Disney World for Walt Disney entertainment in Orlando for 11 years in all four parks, so my training consisted of this kind of work for a very long time, and that’s why it’s no problem that it’s a different show for me every night.

Your drag daughter, Kahanna Montrese, competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 8, and is competing in The Fame Games. How has it felt watching her shine?
It’s been truly amazing watching her get to glow and be herself. When you come from a drag family as well known for excellence as we are, sometimes it’s hard to stand out and shine on your own without being compared to your mother (Coco) or your glam mother (Mokha Montrese, a legend in pageantry), and this time Kahanna was prepared and I am so, so proud of how far she’s come, I mean let’s face it, she looks incredible. And that, along with her talent, is undeniable.

All Stars 2 is considered to be one of the best seasons of Drag Race ever, if not the best. What is it like being a part of reality TV history like that?
Honestly it feels really good, although I would’ve much rather spend more time there and it felt good to get the apology from Roxxxy [Andrews] and her telling me it was a big mistake sending me home, because she felt like more than others I really wanted to be there. It did feel like the fans were robbed of getting to see more of me, and I was robbed of that moment to shine. It’s truly an honor to be a part of that season, and hearing RuPaul say, “Coco Montrese, you are an all star” And by the way, I was over the moon that ALASKA won. There was so many girls there from season five, that there was no way that All-Stars 2 wouldn’t become the holy grail of RuPaul’s Drag Race. A lot of the girls in that season were already legendary entertainers before appearing on TV, so it was the perfect formula. I don’t think they’ll ever be another All-Stars to cast.

You are my personal favorite drag Janet Jackson. What do you do mentally to channel Janet when you perform as her?
I have this ritual in my head that I go through every night while preparing to perform this icon. It’s called  the “WWJD moment” (WHAT WOULD JANET DO). It allows me to channel my inner Janet, and recreate the mannerisms, the demeanor, and the aura around this icon legend — then I take the stage, and recreate her on stage for people to enjoy.

What’s your favorite song to perform in drag?
Janet Jackson “Escapade” is my favorite song. It is so much fun, and it’s just a song that makes you feel happy. You can’t help but smile when you’re performing that song.

What’s one thing about the Las Vegas drag scene that people may not know?
One thing about the Las Vegas drag scene that people may not know is that they were not many places for drag queens to perform in Vegas, you would think the entertainment capital of the world was overrun with ample places for drag queens to display the craft. Unfortunately, that is a myth when it comes to Las Vegas.

Last year you performed with Katy Perry at her Play Las Vegas residency. What was that like?
Performing with Katy Perry was a lot of fun, she was so sweet and kind and just so down to earth just like most of the artists I’ve had the pleasure of taking the stage with, or sharing a one-on-one personal conversation with. Don’t recall meeting any rude artist.

You are most certainly a lip-sync assassin, and performed as such on All Stars 6. In your opinion, what makes a lip-sync assassin?
Being a lip-sync assassin does not require you to be a great dancer. The requirement is in the title alone, “LIP-SYNC.” Executing kicks and splits and death drops only means you may be a DANCE ASSASSIN. What makes a lip-sync, assassin an assassin is one who knows every single word to the song, be it fast or slow, no mater how complicated the lyrics are, and they deliver it as if it was coming directly out of their mouth. Being a lip-sync assassin is not as easy as it sounds, and for those who have been deemed such and think it is easy, you’re probably not a lip-sync assassin. You’re just a lip-sync survivor, kicking and splitting or jumping off of furniture on parts of the song that you don’t know the words to. Trying to cover up the obvious does not make you a lip-sync assassin, [Winks] IN MY OPINION.
I also wanted to say it’s truly an honor to come and work along side Nina DiAngelo at Roxy’s Cabaret. I think it says a lot for this community that this establishment is named after a drag legend, who I came to know through pageantry, and admired her artistry.

Reservations: RoxysCabaret.com 

Review: Ava Max Serves Pop Escapism at the Varsity Theater 

July 05, 2023 | Photography By Jacob Murawski-Harguth

The Top 40 radio sensation brought her catalog of hits to Minneapolis, MN on her first headlining tour

Ava Max is a proven pop radio hit-maker hailing from Milwaukee, WI. Her debut album Heaven & Hell (2020) was pandemic pop escapism with a dance twist. She was able to tour it as a supporting act, opening for Maroon 5 in 2021 and joining the Jingle Ball Tour 2022. With her second album, Diamonds & Dancefloors (2023), she’s at last been able to headline her own tour. On June 30, Minneapolis was one of the final stops on the tour, entitled, “On Tour (Finally).” 

Max’s voice-over opening for the Varsity Theater-held show promised escapism from all worries. With dancing under twinkle lights, in a place where love and freedom reign. This promise was kept, with a tight, 18-song setlist filled with an impressive range of bops. 

From her sample-heavy dance anthem “My Head & My Heart,” all the way to her biggest solo hit, 2018’s “Sweet but Psycho,” Max had the queer- and kid-friendly crowd in the palm of her bejeweled hand. Her hair was styled wavy blonde, which recalled Britney Spears’ Britney (2001) heyday. 

The stage was a simple setup, with a giant, disco ball material-covered diamond structure in the center. On the left and right were Max’s band members, and in front was space for her and her four dancers to do full choreography. Max impressively kept up with this high-octane dancing, all while singing live, and not missing a note.

Max kept things interesting visually in other ways, like with her highly animated facial expressions while singing defiant bangers like “Maybe You’re the Problem,” and “Not Your Barbie Girl.” The show felt poppy, yet not over-the-top. It culminated in songs like the excellent “Dancing’s Done,” an ode to figuring out who you want to go home with after a night out at the club.

It was hard to believe On Tour (Finally) was Max’s first headlining tour, as she’s so polished as a performer already — only two albums deep. She even showed vulnerability, with voiceovers of haters saying, “Ava Max can’t sing,” “They made her cut her hair,” “One-hit wonder,” “Copycat.” This vulnerability only made the Varsity Theater crowd love Ava Max more, and success like that is the point of any concert tour.

Review: Taylor Swift Brings Epic The Eras Tour to Sold-Out US Bank Stadium 

June 24, 2023 | Photography By Jacob Murawski-Harguth

Multitalented icon Taylor Swift served her greatest hits to Minneapolis, MN at US Bank Stadium in an epic, yet genuinely friendly, stadium concert experience. The first of Swift’s two consecutive nights at the stadium was a testament to the inclusive and friendly energy of her epic, “Minnesota nice” crowd of fans. 

The Eras Tour is named such because it separately explores nine of Swift’s studio album release periods. Visuals and music from these nine eras were fully realized by her and her team as ten onstage acts (including a surprise acoustic act of two songs, “Paper Rings” and “If This Was A Movie (Taylor’s Version)”). The album acts were not presented in chronological order, however, but smartly shuffled to keep the audience guessing. 

The tour featured dazzling imagery on a giant video wall, three huge stages connected by a central runway, an array of dance styles from a baker’s dozen of diverse dancers, four brilliant backup vocalists, and a live band with propulsive sound. There was a tangible feeling of fan euphoria during big moments of the giant show, like Swift’s grand entrance. 

Throughout the show, the audience would occasionally add a bonus lyric to a song. It was like the Taylor Swift version of how Rocky Horror Picture Show fans yell lines back at the theater screen — that aren’t in the movie. I witnessed one instance where Swift herself was perhaps expecting it. I saw she was delighted at how loud the audience delivered the line. It reminded me of how many Easter eggs and references she buries in her ever-growing, audio-visual catalog. 

Musically, the show was exceptionally diverse, from the aforementioned acoustic surprise act, to profound performances from her pandemic LPs Folklore and Evermore, to her Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), and Red (Taylor’s Version) country-pop roots, to her humongous pop radio hits from 1989, Reputation, Lover, and Midnights.

The acoustic songs felt organically and perfectly picked, as Swift told the crowd, she’s been hearing fans request her 2019 Lover track “Paper Rings” in “mass amounts” throughout the tour. Swift said the requests correlated with this summer’s streaming resurgence of the Lover album. “Paper Rings” was presented as an upbeat, joyous acoustic guitar rendition. “If This Was A Movie (Taylor’s Version)” was played and sung beautifully by Swift on an ornately-decorated piano. 

Swifties seemed equally as excited about every album era, but uniquely excited for the pandemic era music of Folklore and Evermore. Swift confided with the audience that she didn’t write some of the songs with live performance in mind. That’s likely why they felt so special and rare to fans. 

Swift’s country-pop albums Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), and Red (Taylor’s Version) were presented as three separate era acts throughout the night. Swift explained that she had always dreamed of owning her recorded music catalog. She is making that dream a reality by re-recording all of her pre-Lover albums as “Taylor’s Version” albums, to denote her ownership. 

The big pop hits from the 1989, Reputation, Lover and Midnights album eras were staged in grand ways. 1989 hit “Shake It Off” was so joyous, it felt like a giant, shared rush of serotonin. The grand theatrics of 2018’s Reputation Stadium Tour — which Swift also performed to a sold-out US Bank Stadium — were brought back during the Reputation album era act. 

This was met with the delight of audiences that may or may not have seen Reputation Stadium Tour in-person, as it’s also a Netflix special. Having reviewed Reputation Stadium Tour in-person for SCENE, I loved the shortened revival. From hissing onscreen snakes, to the decorative snake wrapped around Swift’s microphone, every detail perfectly popped during songs like the hit single, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Lover single “The Man” was presented in a giant office environment, complete with physical corporate ladders Swift climbed up. She made it to the top office desk in time for the song’s crescendo. Her baker’s dozen of talented backup dancers had acting skills, too, really selling it as frantic office workers. 

The Lover single “You Need to Calm Down” is a real Pride banger, with lyrics like, “‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay.” During the Lover era act, onscreen visuals featured a house which had various color rooms, creating a rainbow effect that resembled the LGBTQIA+ Progress Pride flag. 

Every act felt wholly unique, especially since they were shuffled around in the timeline. However, no act could bring things to close quite like the epic Midnights era act — it felt like the final exclamation mark on the night. It featured eye-popping cloud visuals, both onscreen and off. Dancers held up ladders that went into physically-crafted clouds during Midnights single “Lavender Haze.” 

Forget a fake-out encore — Swift instead closed the Midnights era act, and the Minneapolis night one show as a whole, with her current single “Karma.” The single version features Ice Spice, but Minneapolis’ version was solo. Swift then took time to thank all the people that made the show happen.

The connection Taylor Swift shares with her fans is tangible, but the fact that her fans share that connection with each other — within their Swiftie fandom — is incredible. I knew I was in for a special concert gathering when I received a handful of friendship bracelets from different audience members before the show. That “real deal” feeling of being in a pop culture moment that will live on as iconic, was mind-blowing, but thankfully not lost on me. 

It’s what Taylor Swift fans love about the Swiftie fandom. After countless bonding experiences throughout Swift’s epic career — whether it be a music video premiere in the YouTube comments, a clever Twitter thread, an album release day at Target, etc. — the Swifties have deep, commonly-shared experiences centering around Swift’s art. 

It was only deepened further by the physical isolation of the global pandemic, during which Swift released some of her most acclaimed work ever, and fans bonded over it virtually. The inclusive attitude of Swiftie friendships is a humbling thing to witness in person, especially within such a giant space as a stadium.

BE Breaks New Ground in Twin Cities Music Scene

June 21, 2023

The non-binary, alt-pop artist has just released their newest mixtape, Vol.Z3r0

BE is a Twin Cities non-binary, alt-pop musical artist inspired by the likes of Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Madonna. They are a talented individual that continually releases new material — and recently played a First Avenue & 7th St Entry stage. It wouldn’t be Pride without artists like BE that are representing our local queer community year-round in the Minneapolis-St. Paul music scene. Read our interview to get to know this amazing artist better. 

What new projects are you working on?
My new mixtape, Vol.Z3r0 (pronounced Volume Zero), was just released on June 2nd, 2023. It has seven tracks, after much deliberation on the track list. This project took me nearly two years to complete. I really wanted to make sure each song on this project held its own, and there were no filler tracks.

How have you been since your last SCENE feature?
I have been continuing my growth as BE the artist in the physical and digital realms. I released two other singles prior to the mixtape, “Black Mamba” & “nightgarden”. I got a new cat, his name is Bug, and he is everything to me! I have been performing a lot, proud to say I got to take the stage at First Ave (7th St Entry) for the first time ever with my friend Destiny Spike, who I have also been working with for her cabaret show every 1st Saturday of the month at the Brass Rail! I have also been doing an Instagram live podcast, discussing my creative journey so far called the BE mix: UNPACKED. So yeah, I’ve been keep myself busy [Laughs].

Describe your creative process in the studio.
My creative process varies from song to song. Sometimes I might start with a hook/chorus, or sometimes I start with a beat that I made. Often I’ll start writing lyrics to a song, and then start a beat in ableton, then try to match up what lyrics fit the beat. There’s a song on Vol.Z3r0 called “white butterfly” that was really interesting to make, because it was the first time I let another person write lyrics for me, and that person just happened to be my friend Dom Laba — who I’ve worked with many times before on many other projects, non-music related. It was super fun to let them take the wheel while I just sang, and composed the instrumental. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever made because every time I listen to it I think of that beautiful night that me and my friend created magic together in my studio apartment.

What made you first want to be a musician?
I’ve always had a super strong imagination as a child, which led to me being very spontaneous and creative. As long as I can remember I’ve always loved to dress up, dance and sing! This love for music only grew when I was introduced to artists like Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Madonna. Growing up in that era of pop greatness was so enriching for my young queer spirit, who was still trying to find a place for themselves in world that always told them they weren’t wanted. I remember being so obsessed with the idea of pop royalty; the tours, the performances, the music! My love for music never came from a superficial or materialistic place, I was just genuinely in love with the power of the feeling these songs gave you — and I still am! As I got older, my music taste has obviously expanded quite a bit, and I started to find artists like Grimes, Bjork and Azealia Banks who really expanded the concept of what it meant to be a musician to me. I eventually started writing my own songs and releasing them online, developing my own persona and sound. I realize now that a lot of the music/moments I valued were heavily based on capitalism and misogyny, but that’s why I’m grateful that I decided to break out of just a fan mindset and actually started contributing to music, it’s created a lot more empathy and understanding in my life.

What’s your favorite part about being a musician?
My favorite part about being a musician is expressing myself! I’m grateful that my musical perspective is being embraced more and more by many different communities. Nothing makes me feel more present and alive then being on stage singing my heart out and dancing my ass off! [Smiles]

What was your favorite crowd you’ve played for?
I love doing Twin Cities Pride in Loring Park each year at the Power 2 the People Stage! Each year the crowd gets bigger and louder! Last year I had a little meet and greet after my set, and the cutest kids/tweens kept coming my up to me to take pictures and it genuinely made me cry so much! The fact that what I’m doing is being embraced by these young souls reminds me that the world is progressing towards being a more equal and accepting place.

Any upcoming gigs or releases you’d like to promote?
Follow me on my Instagram @be.cg to keep up with all of my upcoming performances, podcasts, releases, etc. and I will see you all at Pride on Saturday 12pm in St. Marks Cathedral for a conversation with Bryce Burton for the 12x12 podcast, and Sunday at P2P, stay tuned!

Thank you for holding space for me and my art again! It’s been an absolute pleasure to work together again.

linktr.ee/be.cg

Mistress Ginger is Campy Perfection in Solo Cabaret Show

June 21, 2023

The gender-expansive diva belted their way through the 1980s Broadway songbook, in a show produced by Junkyard Cabaret 

Mistress Ginger took their Broadway, Circa 1986 audience on a journey from musical-obsessed, closeted queer kid, to fully-formed, gender-expansive diva in a transcendent, camp show. She joked that their vocal range is like Bea Arthur’s, but strong vocal skills were presented all throughout the show. Not once did she falter, in a show that felt well-rehearsed — yet off-the-cuff — with room for improvisation, like personally interacting with the audience on a first-name basis. 

Between songs, she talked about their queer journey, growing up listening to show tunes in their bedroom. She took us from Barnesville to the big city in a compelling narrative. The Broadway songs were perfectly curated for this narrative, and lyrics within were at times changed to fit that journey. To great effect, no less.

She had a blast doing an iconic song from Phantom of the Opera with both femme and masculine vocal parts, both of which she took on with excellence. She did wild gestures, and even lip-synced some falsetto vocals. She comedically took a long drink of water while said pre-recorded vocals kept playing. It was hilarious.The intimate show had a great audience that was clearly thrilled with Mistress Ginger’s performance.

There was a hilarious video interlude she presented as a faux “live” backstage peak at their dressing room. Getting ready for the second half, they suffered mishaps like smudging their makeup and ripping their costume. After being told two minutes were left by a stage manager, they skillfully fixed everything in a jiffy. She emerged back on stage in a fabulous outfit, complete with roller skates. She pretended she couldn’t control their movements, in a skillful and playful way that felt inventive, all while vocalizing. She interacted with the audience, asking someone to take the skates off.

Another highlight from the show was a number from Dreamgirls, complete with puppets that tried to upstage her, so she shoved them into a pink trunk. Other great moments included music from Into the Woods, like “Hello, Little Girl.” She altered the lyrics to make it even more queer. The show ended with a fantastic, disco-ball lit show-stopping number, modified especially for this fantastic performance.

5/5 stars

mistressgingercooks.com

Uptown Theater Is Born Again As Beautiful Concert Venue

June 21, 2023

I highly recommend checking out a show like Owl City at the venue, coming up October 21.

The historic Uptown Theater in Uptown Minneapolis has been reborn. What was once a movie theater is now a gorgeous, expanded and revamped concert venue from Live Nation. The new Uptown Theater held a preview party on June 8, and I was lucky enough to attend it with SCENE

The 2,500 capacity venue features many ground level, and upstairs bar tops and lounges, that overlook the large stage area. Perfect for concertgoers who don’t want to miss a beat. It also features a large balcony area that overlooks the stage. VIP couch areas on the side held coveted views of the stage. From my experience at the party, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Even the back row had an amazing view. 

Delicious hors d'oeuvres served at the party included smoked watermelon ceviche, spicy pimento cheese cone, lemon meringue tart, peanut noodles, watermelon tacos, walleye fish tacos, smoked gouda shrimp with grits, smoked brisket tips on cornbread, and mini burgers. Drinks included wine and sweet cocktails, as well as a full bar. 

‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ Rocks at LUSH Lounge & Theater

June 07, 2023

Led fantastically by director Maxwell Freudenthal, the cast and crew give it their all in the show-stopping musical 

Tonight’s performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at LUSH Lounge & Theater was my first experience with Hedwig, and I loved every second of it. The show was fantastically directed by Maxwell Freudenthal, with assistant direction and stage management by Christine Powers. Previously, Freudenthal directed, and Powers assistant directed and stage managed, LUSH’s fabulous presentation of La Cage Aux Folles. 

The musical featured three different actors as Hedwig. Luna Muse, also known as Cam Pederson, played Hedwig (Blue); Malcolm Lee played Hedwig (Pink); Splash played Hedwig (Gold). The musical was 90 minutes with no intermission, so one felt immersed in the theatrical experience the whole time. The actors were immersed, too, running into the audience and interacting with crowd members in an organic and fun way.

The excellent costuming by Samantha R. Crossland was apparent from the get-go, with a standout blue and black costume worn by Pederson. Pederson was a revelation as Hedwig (Blue), having played the role previously at MSU, Mankato. His comedic timing and next-level confidence were a joy to witness, as well as his vocals. Lee was wildly good as Hedwig (Pink), especially with the powerhouse vocals he brought to the stage. Splash was another vocal powerhouse in her role as Hedwig (Gold), taking the stage in delightfully campy fashion. All three actors looked great in wigs by Miss Ava Cado.

Hunky Dory played the role of Yitzhak, filling in for cast member Lux. Hunky Dory’s stage presence was dynamic — lots of poignant lows and euphoric highs — and their character had a great arc in the show. Their vocal performance was a standout in a show full of already very strong singers like the Hedwig actors.

Mother and Tommy were played by M.C.Rawr, also known as Tyler Lanam. They were a delight, bringing hilarity with their facial expressions, and passion in their performance.

The live band was onstage the whole show, as it was formatted as a live rock show telling Hedwig’s backstory through onstage flashbacks. And it was great, thanks to piano and fabulous music direction from Jade Bjelland-Hagberg, guitar from Jeff A. Miller, drums by Jamal McNutt, and Dr. Ryan O’Dell on the bass. Their tremendous work was the score and backing music to some strong acting and singing in this terrific live musical in Northeast Minneapolis. 

Atlas O Phoenix Talks Life, Creative Journey and Powerful Filmmaking

June 07, 2023

Local writer, director, performer, actor, editor, educator, creator and producer Atlas O Phoenix is a truly multitalented individual. 

They sat down to answer questions about their film work, which has become Official Selections at film festivals across the world — and won several accolades. We talked about mental health, audience interpretations, and even shooting a music video on a frozen lake. Their commitment and passion shines through in their thoughtful answers. 

Who is your biggest creative inspiration? 

My biggest creative inspirations are Prince, Love, my quest for self-actualization, and individualism. I’ve taken eight months from social hangs and media. I needed to turn inward. I had given so much of myself to others that by the end of 2022, I felt emotionally spent. I love to hold space for others. It feels good to do so. Sometimes, it can take a toll and knocks me off balance. 

Last summer was the best time of my life. I got to spend time with new and old friends. I also saw recording artist, Peaches, in concert. It was fantastic! An awesome friend, who was DJing the show offered me a free ticket. The show was a revelatory moment for me. It was the best show since I last saw Prince in the 90s. It was one of many amazing things that led me to where I am now.

In these eight months, I discovered who I am meant to be and what I am meant to do: Be apologetically myself. To have no expectations of others but myself. To love myself and my scars so deeply and become my own alchemist. To fulfill my destiny on my terms and not what others need me to be. 

I don’t mind being an inspiration for others, I’m flattered by that sentiment, though, it is important to remember that just because someone loves you today, that love can be taken away for the slightest infraction based on where that person is, if the love is conditional. Sometimes, you find out the hard way that it was indeed conditional and that can bring shame if there was emotional attachment. Non-attachment to outcomes and non-resistance to what will be has been my investment these last eight months, particularly these last six weeks. 

Because I’ve learned about conditional love at an early age, which led to codependency, in these last eight months, I learned that I can continue to love unconditionally and still walk away. This can inspire creativity. Joni Mitchell said that love is touching souls. It’s also breaking away. Love never dies. It’s the energy; a sentient being two people co-create. Love is creativity. Creativity is love. Real Love is unconditional. These last several weeks, as I come out of my deep freeze, I have awakened to something more powerful and meaningful: Letting go to receive. I’ll be releasing a blog Friday that goes into more detail about this journey with some video clips. Readers can subscribe to my website, www.beautifulboi.com to sign up for my newsletters.

Your work, and specifically your film “Ordinary,” has been selected at several film festivals. After all your hard work, how does this make you feel?

I’ve made two earlier films that were blessed with becoming Official Selections around the world. My short, Little Men is a multi-award winning film. It’s been to the Walker Art Center, Bucharest, London, Seattle, and Houston - winning one of four awards there. 

I found out on Instagram that Ordinary won Best International Documentary Film at the Out and Loud Pune Queer International Film Festival in Pune, Maharashtra, India! I left a teary, heartfelt comment on the post.

Ordinary has been blessed with the same fate. I knew when I finished Ordinary that it would catapult me into the stratosphere, and I was prepared for this avalanche of abundance from all around the world. It’s been streamed all over the globe through Genderful, a gender diverse talkshow I co-host, and on the Twitch channel, Gender Federation for Trans Day of Remembrance and for a fundraising event for me. Both are founded by my dear friend, Gender Meowster. There’s an episode where I’m interviewed by them. I dressed up as a Phoenix. I also had covid that day.

I still feel a sense of ecstatic pride and sheer humility when I get the good news about a film festival choosing my films and even more so when I am awarded. I am gracious and graceful about my successes, knowing that more is to come as I continue to stay true to myself and honor this new, untamed pathway with reverence.

You’ve described your film “Beautiful Boi” as, “A visual personal essay about my transition and my relationship with my mental health for nearly 40 years.” What is it like to bare your soul on film like that? 

It could be called,”bearing my soul,” but it’s what I’m called to do. We live dependent on technology and teeny, tiny bit-size pieces of each other’s highlight reels while forever wondering if we are enough and will anybody ever see just how much pain we’re in. Does anybody really like us? Is it okay to ask for help? What if I can’t reciprocate right away? Will anybody ever realize that our smiles are masks? Some of us were masking long before covid. And for some, during the pandemic, it simply broke them. It almost happened to me four weeks after lockdown.

I’ve been through many challenges, so it is my birthright and responsibility to reflect what is inside on the outside, as within, so without. A survivor of nine suicide attempts from the ages of 13-49 (in 2020), I feel there is something in my vast experience across lifetimes that could be of use to others. One person’s story can be a survival guide to another.

“Bearing my soul,” is just another beautiful aspect of what makes me, me. Everyone has the power to do the same, but with inner child wounds buried behind the masks of our smiles and the lack of energy for true solitude, it makes it difficult. Ultimately, personal power, can feel unattainable, at times. 

So I speak and maybe you listen - when you’re ready. Maybe you feel seen, understood, and oddly accounted for in my work. And maybe that’s enough. The need to feel seen is palpable, laying deeply imbedded in the cells in our body. It’s like the air we breath. The need to feel seen is at it’s height during Pride Month. It makes me think of the song by Postal Service, “Such Great Heights.” We want to be loved for who and what we are in hopes to make the world a better place for all.

After a film is released, it’s up for the audience’s interpretation. Do you have any favorite audience interpretations of your work? 

I do. My resident coordinator brought her husband and two sons to see the film early Saturday morning, in late October, at the Riverview Theater in 2019. Her husband saw his life in my film and desperately wanted to talk to me. I was unable to as others had wanted to talk to me first and eventually, Venus and her family left to get breakfast. 

Little Men has an open ending, a cliffhanger, intentionally designed for the audience to confront their inner child and adult demons based on their judgements or grace of the two boys in the film. 

As they had breakfast, her family talked about the film in-depth. Then she asked her sons to go outside on the street corner to try to come up with the ending. They came up with a positive ending and not a cliché. I was so proud of these teens, young Black men, themselves. I trust my audience to do their own work. Film is therapy.

Another funny thing that often tickles me pink, is that people want to know when the sequel is coming out. I say there isn’t one, but I’ve been known to change my mind.

One of your projects is a hip-hop music video, shot on frozen Lake Osseo. What was that shoot like?

Creating, “This One,” by late recording artist, rapper, Brown Child, was an amazing experience. I hired a crew and director of photography. I had a tiny budget and a crystalized vision. I wanted to blend the lighting and compositions in Richard Avedon’s portraits with Kid and Play’s, “House Party”; something futuristic, otherworldly, and earthy all at the same time. 

Intrigued by icehouses and the hobby of ice fishing, I thought, what could be more Minnesotan than ice fishing juxtaposed with Hip Hop? Another avenue for the idea were in pictures I saw that said, “How many people can you fit in a VW Bug?” Those photos were funny and joyful. The thought came to me, “How many people can you fit into a tiny icehouse complete with a DJ and SoulTrain line. I had so much fun coming up with the idea and co-creating with my cast and crew.

It was super cold on Lake Osseo that January day. I had never walked on ice before, but was determined to make this video so I jumped over my fear and had the most fun. The shoot was from 6am to 6pm.

We also shot two days in the big studio at SPNN at its former location. An extra asked if he could literally brush his teeth since this is line in the lyrics. I said sure, and it’s hilarious. Part of my creative process is following the instincts of the actors. Their creativity is channeled too, and it makes for good art. My friend, Erin Erskine, did an amazing job with the art direction. She also did the set dressing for Little Men in 2018.

It’s still one of my favorite pieces of work. In 2003, twenty years ago last month, it won a Silver REMI Award from Worldfest Houston International Film Festival. It was my first solo award and that feeling is still fresh whenever I look at it and whenever I win a new award from them. This feeling is always priceless and affirming.

Is there a Q&A session question that sticks out to you as one you’ll never forget?

Oh, yes. The morning of my premiere for Little Men was a hot mess. I had a few things happening that caused great sorrow days before and then a few moments before the premiere. I didn’t have another film idea, and thought to myself, “What are you going to do now? You’ll probably fail. No one will come to this on a Saturday at 10 am! This was all for nothing.”

In the bathroom, moments after my best friend took my phone and left me to dress, I realized the I wanted to be life partners with them. I felt awful and ashamed of those feelings on this day of all days. When they took my phone, they said that this was my wedding day and nobody calls the bride on their wedding day. I thought, “Thank you for saving me. And how ironic.” If this happened in a queer movie, I wouldn't believe it.

When I walked out of the bathroom, I went to be near them because I was terrified, and their beautiful energy was so soothing. They smiled at me excited. They eagerly pointed their finger at the huge lobby windows, “Look!” It was like Christmas in the 1935 version of The Scrooge. There was a line wrapped around the block. People were standing on the red carpet, that this friend taped down with bare fingers on that incredibly cold morning.  We had to start the film 35 minutes late. I was worried we wouldn’t get out on time.

Valerie Deus moderated my Q&A. She asked me some amazing questions concluding with the question, “So what’s next on the horizon for you? What are you working on?” A deep breath and a deliberate scan of the theater, willful, I said, “This is my last film. It’s too hard to make films, and I’m poor. I don’t have any money. I can’t do this anymore.” Several people gasped out loud. There was deep silence for a moment. Then someone shouted, “Yeah! Right!” The spell was broken and people laughed. But I was serious. 

I told my best friend that I was going to say it. They asked if I was sure, but I was tired and frustrated. I had been advertising for weeks and doing interviews and no one seemed to pay any attention to the trailers that I spent from 6am to 8am every morning for four weeks creating to generate interest. I thought maybe twenty people would show up, and that would probably be cast and crew with family. Even though I was clearly wrong, I couldn’t celebrate it. Shame is a demon best left unabsorbed.

Like I said, I’ve been known to change my mind. And I’m grateful I allowed myself to feel those feelings when I did. I am joyful that I changed my mind. So are others who have been supportive since 1999.

What can audiences expect from your screening at Little Theatre Auditorium in New London, MN on June 10? 

The art director of Little Theater Auditorium, Bethany Lacktorin, a friend I’ve known for twenty years now, reached out to me a few months ago. She asked me to do a screening of my work. Her concern was that the LGBTQ+ rural community of New London needed affirming role models and to engage with someone like them. She thought I would be a good choice. It was a humbling experience to be asked to come there. I am so excited about this screening. There’s a bar in the theater and they are making a special Phoenix drink that they will light on fire!

I’ll be showing Little Men, Do I Qualify for Love?, and Ordinary for Pride month there. I will also do a Q&A after the screening. 

We’re also coordinating a coffee break on Sunday morning where folx can meet and greet and ask me anything. As far as expectations, leave those behind. 

Honestly, it’s possible you’ll be moved and liberated. Art is subjective. Film is therapy.

 

What can audiences expect from “Flight of the Phoenix: A Retrospective by Atlas O Phoenix” at Trylon Cinema on Thursday, June 15? 

First, I want to acknowledge that this retrospective is made possible by our Minnesota senators and the Creative Support Grant for Individuals from the MN State Arts Board for the fiscal year 2023. This is my second time being awarded this particular grant since 2021. The voters of Minnesota paid for most of the work they will see and for the retrospective.

With the grant money, I was able to pay the rental fee for Trylon Cinema and digitizing my first film, Cord, and the music video, This One, at Great Tapes, thanks to Matt. 

Tickets for this retrospective are $10 online. People can walk-in and make donations at the door. There are 80 seats available.

The donations and ticket fees help fund my other project currently in pre-production, Beautiful Boi. Beautiful Boi is about my transition and mental health journey of nearly forty years. It will be an unforgettable experience that’s sure to provide tons of personal insight and whole lot of joy.

This retrospective is different than the one in New London in that I am including my first ever film, Cord. This film was shot Dogme 95-style in 2000, twenty-three years ago this coming September. 

I shot it mostly at my friend, Deidre Hamlar-Stephens’ home over north in Minneapolis. Her home was beautiful. I still miss it sometimes. Due to an accident where I dropped my digital camera while trying to give direction to my actors, we had to reshoot it the following weekend. Deidre was gracious and kind about it. She allowed us to do it again. For both shoots, I put her and her son and his friend up in the Crown Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

Including Cord in this screening, is me at my most vulnerable, definitely bearing my soul. The film is about my relationship with my mother around the time of my high school graduation. Taking cues from the film, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” it’s a gut punch and what will open the screening for the evening. 

The history before the making of this film, was that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a former lover. One of many caveats about narcissism is it’s negatively, indelible impact on your soul; your spirit. 

Scraping myself off the floor would take years. From 2000 to 2017, I hid from my destiny and stopped creating art, ashamed of myself and how I allowed this person to treat me so unbelievably poor. 

That last film I did before 2017 was Cord. It would be another 18 years before I developed the courage to helm another film, Little Men. I was awarded the Artist Initiative Grant from the MN State Arts Board in 2018. Production began three months later. My GoFundMe campaign for Little Men raised over $8,000.

Cord hadn’t turned out the way I had envisioned it, and I was crushed. In 2001, I was told by a mentor I still have today, the same person whom twenty years later would program Little Men and Do I Qualify for Love? in the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, “Do this as a hobby.” He said, “No one in Hollywood will produce your films because Hollywood is only interested in super hero films.” I retreated. 

I recommitted to my filmmaking journey in 2012 with the help of my sagacious friend, Trena Bolden-Fields. I hired her to be my artistic coach and she gave me a sense of direction by asking me to answer some great questions about my worth. It took another five years to 2017, where I would pen Little Men.

So here I am.

What can you expect from the Trylon Retrospective? Leave your expectations at the door. Come with an open mind and an open heart. I promise you. You will not be disappointed. I’ll see you there!

Please subscribe to my website, www.beautifulboi.com and consider becoming a monthly patron. You can also subscribe for the newsletters free of charge. I do offer affordable monthly plans for a little as $3. Two of my plans offer quarterly one-on-ones where you as my patron and friend can ask me anything.

Before I conclude, I want to thank Twin Cities Gay Scene for graciously sponsoring my ad for the Trylon Cinema, Flight of the Phoenix, A Retrospective by Atlas O Phoenix screening. Thank you for seeing me.

Please follow me on Instagram: 

@beautiful_boi_atlas_phoenix

@trans_late_mpls

Currently, I am posting reels about my 30-day challenge that I started May 29th. It’s called, “Get the F*ck Outa the Way Challenge” I’m embracing Letting Go to open myself up to the avalanches of abundance headed my way in regards to wealth, health, love, and perfect self-expression.

If you can’t make it to the screenings, you can still donate to my GoFundMe for Beautiful Boi. Thank you so much in advance! 

Here’s the Link: https://gofund.me/66f20e35

June 16, I’m heading to France to pick up a trophy for Ordinary from the AVIFF Artists Film Festival in Cannes! I’ll be posting clips on Instagram! Be sure to follow me!

🏳️‍⚧️HAPPPY PRIDE!!🏳️‍🌈 

❤️Be safe. 

🧡Be loved. 

💛Be seen.

💚Be held. 

🩵Be Peace. 

💜Be yourself. 

🖤🩶🤍🤎You are enough.

John Early Live! 
The Fitzgerald Theater on Saturday, June 3

May 24, 2023

How did you get started in comedy?
I played Juliet in an all male production of Romeo and Juliet and I was horrible in it. I totally shit the bed. The humiliation of that finally pushed me into stand up, something I had always wanted to do.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from starring on the hit show “Search Party”?
Whenever we would get through about seventy five percent of filming a season, I would realize that I had been screaming every single line. So I would spend the last 3 weeks of the shoot cramming in more understated takes. So I guess I learned to try and bring some variation from the top. Also, just let the costume do the work.

I read that you’re a fellow big fan of actress and icon Toni Collette. What’s your favorite Toni Collette movie or TV project?
It’s a tie between Clockwatchers and Muriel’s Wedding.
 

What was it like working with Taylor Swift as a director, when you starred in her self-directed “Anti-Hero” music video? 
I had always wanted to be the Kathy Griffin to someone’s Eminem, so it was very dreamy. I had just had back surgery so I was literally very stiff, but I was willing to risk it all to be in a Taylor Swift video I guess! She was such an angel and a breeze. I felt like the belle of the ball. 

How does it feel performing live onstage, versus on a Hollywood soundstage? 
There is nothing like performing live, it’s a lot sweatier, a lot less sterile. Touring is my new religion. I get very weepy and maudlin about it. I can’t believe people come out to see me! 

What is your creative process like with partner Kate Berlant? 
It’s very giggle based. We only chase the things that make us die laughing. 

What can fans expect from John Early LIVE! at The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul on June 3? 
I hope everyone in the St. Paul and Minneapolis area is ready for me to take their asses to church. It’s a very euphoric show. The goal is always tent revival. I sing everything from Britney to Neil Young, and I’m backed on the keys by a very hot straight guy named Michael Hesslein. Also the absolute legend Vicky with a V is doing a guest set. I used to tape her sets on Premium Blend, so it’s a real honor to have her there. 

Any future projects you want to tease? 
Keep an eye out for the filmed version of this show coming very soon. But come see me live first!

Review: Shania Twain Entices Xcel Energy Center Crowd with Strong Concert

May 24, 2023

Twain smartly worked in new material with fan favorites, and classic hits, at her May 17 show in St. Paul, Minnesota

Shania Twain is an icon to many, including members of the queer community. Her camp visuals and country-pop hits light up drag shows and parties alike. This spirit was brought to the Xcel Energy Center stage Wednesday night in St. Paul, MN, when Twain performed her Queen of Me Tour. 

Twain recently spoke of her purposeful inclusion of her queer fans on Amazon Music’s “The Walk In,” hosted by RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty Mo Heart. Twain stated, “I’m just pro-freedom, I mean, it just hurts me to have anyone excluded. So, not in my world.” Twain also worked with gay country artist Orville Peck on the 2020 collaborative single and music video, “Legends Never Die.” 

Twain’s love for her entire audience was palpable in a roughly two-hour concert that had something for every fan. Balancing sincere moments (like “You’re Still the One”) with upbeat mega-hits (like “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”) Twain smartly played to her strengths — like her live vocals, iconic fashion sense, and camp sensibilities. Doing so, she effortlessly outdid her last visit here, 2018’s Now Tour.

The crowd went wild when Twain opened the show atop a cart toward the middle of the arena’s floor section. She was wearing a black trench coat, a strawberry blond lace front wig, and sunglasses while performing her new hit, “Waking Up Dreaming.” 

Belting as the crew wheeled her through the crowd, Twain shook hands and fist bumped with astonished fans. She literally and figuratively had her fans in the palm of her bejeweled hand. 

Once she hit the stage, Twain tore away the trench coat to reveal a black mini dress, and took off her sunglasses to reveal bejeweled eye makeup. Her fabulous wig was so long, it hit the bottom of said dress. She was donning a chunky, multi-layered, jewel necklace up top, and blue denim-covered boots with glittery, black bottoms. Blue scarves were creatively tied around both of her upper arms. She kept this costume on until she emerged for the show’s encore, dressed in the actual original “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” music video outfit. 

The loosely-plotted show featured ginormous visuals lighting up the back wall and floor of the stage. For instance, a rocket blasted off to the tune of her hit “Up!” This rocket landed on a city street labeled “Minnesota,” with real set pieces like streetlights and a motorcycle, which Twain rode. 

Later visual “locations” included a bar called Twain Town Saloon, and a leopard print train coined the Impress Express. Get it? Like her huge hit single, “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” More smart moves included equipping every band member with headset microphones to sing along with, elevating big choruses (like “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”).

The concert never lost its sense of fun — not even during newer songs — an aspect with which many pop music tours struggle. “Roll Me On the River,” a deep cut from her 2017 album “Now,” and new songs from her 2023 album “Queen of Me” (like “Inhale/Exhale AIR”) went over very well with the crowd. 

Twain smartly led the crowd in call and response singalongs of these new songs, sometimes with lyrics onscreen (like during “Pretty Liar”). Another X-factor that kept things fun were her two hybrid background singer-dancers, whose bouncy, camp energy stole the show. 

Shania Twain proved why she is an icon Wednesday night — and still a strong contemporary force in country-pop and touring. Her joyous spirit feels renewed, and her Queen of Me Tour comes highly recommended by this queer writer. 

Photos By Jake Murawski-Harguth

Review: “Our Stories: Chapter Two” is a Collision of Art and Passion 

May 24, 2023

Collide Theatrical Dance Company’s Friday, May 12 performance balanced tones of comedy and drama exceedingly well 

Directed and choreographed by Jarod Boltjes, and featuring emcee and writer Mistress Ginger, “Our Stories: Chapter Two” was a song and dance celebration of the queer spirit. The show featured stage management and lighting design from Sarah Bauer. 

Held at Collide Cabaret in St. Paul, MN, the performance’s intimate setting and cabaret-style seating put spectators right in the action. Five queer-identifying dancers told personal stories through self-choreographed solo numbers, and group dance numbers choreographed by Boltjes and other choreographers like Kyle Weiler.

Mistress Ginger
The fabulous Mistress Ginger performed rousing, live vocal cabaret numbers between dances — and even during them. A Julliard-trained dancer, Mistress Ginger performs cabaret in the Twin Cities. Her comedic timing and quick-wit were on full display, and her audience was enraptured. 
Mistress Ginger's usage of props like a blow-up unicorn and stuffed kitten was highly entertaining. Her nuanced facial expression work while singing in a Broadway-ready tone? Masterful. Mistress Ginger’s live vocal work reached a creative peak within her cabaret take on Kygo & Whitney Houston’s arrangement of “Higher Love.” It was a campy and vampy delight.

Group Numbers
The outstanding opening dance company number “This Is the Place to Be” by The Scarlet Opera showcased the five dancers in flawless formation, with excellent chemistry. Standout showcase moments within the performance — from each dancer — were magnetic. 
The magic continued with more group numbers like the spicy and sweaty stomper “Party People,” the country showstopper “You Can’t Pray the Gay Away,” and the finale, a defiant and affirming “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Hilarity even ensued midway through the night, when the dancers marched onstage wielding a Nicki Minaj flag.

Solo by Grace Kidder
Grace Kidder’s solo was titled “I Don’t Know What to Feel,” and featured the music “Never Been in Love” by Will Jay, and “What Now” by Rihanna. Kidder brought out the great emotion in both songs, with movements at times delicate and wistful. Kidder’s dramatic facial expressions during the performance kept the audience engaged with the emotional depth she clearly holds within her dance performance.

Solo by Javan Mngrezzo
“Who I Am” by Wyn Starks was the soundtrack to Javan Mngrezzo’s solo number. He really took it there, with big spinning and gliding movements that lent the performance a sense of grandeur. He even did floor choreography for the song’s bridge, a strong choice that brought even more visual range to the number. This was a standout performance of the night.

Solos by Ben Siglin
Ben Siglin’s solo numbers included a soaring, live vocal performance of “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. Their live vocals contained palpable emotion and great range and control. Siglin also performed a dance number to the song “Letter to an Old Poet” by of-the-moment queer supergroup Boygenius — comprised of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Siglin’s visual interpretation of the song featured impressive leaps and splits.

Solo by Michael Mossucco
Dancer Michael Mossucco performed his solo number to the song “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Björk. In the program, Michael was quoted saying, “Hookup culture is not for the weak of heart.” His interpretation of the Björk song was emotional and energetic, and really spoke to this quote. The performance included a dramatic drop to the floor, as well as impressive floor choreography and high kicks.

Solo by Connor Simone
“Song for Amadeus” by Bobby McFerrin & Chick Corea soundtracked Connor Simone’s solo dance. It felt ballerina-esque, with his many dramatic spins. His performance featured many intricate movements. Facially, he conveyed strong emotion that added an edge to the performance. The beautiful song choice was the cherry on top of a delightfully good number.  

The Film “The Chaotic Melody of Tina” is Visual Poetry 

April 26, 2023

Two Twin Cities creatives, David Anderson and Aaron Joshua, adapted Joshua’s poem into an emotional, raw short film on meth addiction. It is titled The Chaotic Melody of Tina. The short film has recently been featured at film festivals worldwide, winning Best Experimental Film at the LGBTQ+ Toronto Film Festival, and the Audience Award at Pebbles Underground. Upon hearing of the film’s growing popularity in Minneapolis, I jumped at the chance to interview the creatives about their work. 

Where did your creative process start on the film?
AJ: The moment I decided to get sober is when my creative juices came back to life. 
DA: It started when I read this powerful poem written by Aaron Joshua. I was so moved by it, that I knew immediately that it had to be adapted into a film. I asked him about it, and he responded with a rapid, “Yes.” Additionally, I knew he ought to take on the role of producer and director alongside me.

Where did you shoot the film?
AJ: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Any memorable stories from set?
AJ: We almost got our stuff stolen during filming.
DA: When we filmed the alley shot, neither of us could see the phone. I was frightened that a pedestrian was going to snatch it. Luckily, no one did.

What have audience reactions to the film been like?
AJ: Very receptive, and that the film is powerful.
DA: We thought there was going to be more controversy because of the strong images. Audiences have actually been supportive. For instance, when I premiered my previous film Twin Cities Pride 2020 at The Saloon last September, the audience ended up liking this film more than Pride 2020.

Speaking of, film festivals. What has it felt like being an official selection, and two time winner, at four different film festivals? 
AJ: I don’t have the words to express, it’s so surreal. I’m still in shock. 
DA: I agree 100%. I’m also still in shock.

What has been the most gratifying experience that has come from making the film?
AJ: That I can do anything I set my mind to.
DA: The support from the community.

What are your future plans for the film? 
AJ: To continue to spread the message of addiction to people seeking and needing help with their own addiction.
DA: I hope that it reaches people who are struggling with addiction and seeking help.

Any new creative projects on the horizon? 
AJ: Yes, the film is called Blue Lucas. Also, there will be a co-production film with David about how my addiction evolved as I come into my adolescence.
DA: Blue Lucas will be released this April.

PrettiBoiRoq Rocks His Identity The self-proclaimed glam rapper knows who he is, and will give you that at all times. 

April 12, 2023
Photos by Nicholas Eastman

I recently had the chance to speak with PrettiBoiRoq, an unapologetically queer rapper with a quickly growing following. He isn’t afraid of who he is, and delivers surprising and unique comments at every turn. We spoke about his stage name, his collaborator Chanel Jole, and their new joint track “BBA.”

How did you come up with your stage name, PrettiBoiRoq? 
[Laughs] My stage name actually wasn’t originally my idea. So it came from my Instagram handle that one of my hometown friends created. The spelling was done all weird because we were trying to make it unique. But it stemmed from Keri Hilton’s “Pretty Girl Rock” song. I used it when I started rapping because I thought it was unique, and it is!

You have been described as a glam rapper. What does that title mean to you?
Look, I am very much aware of how I look. I’m not the first thing people think about when they think hip-hop, and that’s okay. I’m a sparkly unapologetic queer wearing full makeup rapping about taking d— in the hood, and anyone who knows me knows that’s authentically me. I am glam, I am rap, and I love that people are picking up on both.

How did you meet “BBA” collaborator Chanel Jole?
I actually “met” Chanel through social media during Covid. I told her how much I loved her work, and she quickly wrote back! We didn’t meet in person until we recorded “BBA” in October 2022. Since then, we are constantly in touch.

How was the song recording process for “BBA”?
I sent a rough demo for Chanel to listen to, at the time it had my first verse and the chorus I believe. She immediately wrote the hook and her verse and we laid everything down together in the studio, we even tweaked a couple of my lines and things to make it more cohesive. We wrote the third collab verse in the studio together on the spot., the energy was so spot on. Then we gave it a couple listens and had it mastered.

Any funny stories from the set of your “BBA” music video?
Let’s just say we got to see a lot of each other on set! I probably showed more than I should and god knows we saw ALL OF THE DANCERS. Also there was a no food on set policy at the location. So we kept all of your snacks in the changing tent so we couldn’t get caught.

You live your life authentically, but you had to cope with bullying growing up in small town North Carolina. How did that experience inform your music?
I think growing up in a conservative environment does hinder someone from finding their authentic selves, especially when that authentic self isn’t the cookie cutter mold people think it should be. I think when k first started writing I was still being hindered by the fact I was scared of what people back home would think. I was very careful to write my sexual lyrics in a very tongue and cheek fashion. I’m glad I finally said f**k it, because now the music is 100% me!

If you had a message for your younger self in North Carolina, what would it be?
GET OUT! [Laughs]  I’m just kidding. Ummm maybe skip college and travel the world, don’t move in with that boy you think you love [Laughs]. I think most important, embrace your gay! People might not like it but that’s because the people who don’t like who you truly are don’t like you, period.

The comments section on your music video is on fire, and people are loving “BBA.” How does that feel?
I live for the comments!!! Good and bad. A lot of times there are views but no interaction. Tell me you love it! Tell me you hate it [Laughs], I want to know. I’m just glad people are enjoying what took us so much work to create! I will forever be humbled and grateful to my fans.  

What’s next for PrettiBoiRoq?
I have a couple more singles in my pocket both solo and collaborative! Also Chanel and I are pitching to prides trying to get some live performances as well! Stay tuned 2023 is going to be a fun ride! Other than that I’m just going to keep doing what PrettiBoiRoq does best, rap about my ass in a pink bodysuit!

prettiboiroq.com
Follow PrettiBoiRoq on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ prettiboiroq

Event Recap: Miley Cyrus “Endless Summer Vacation” Release Party

March 29, 2023

The Black Hart of St. Paul recently hosted The Aliveness Project bingo, with free prizes promoting the new Miley Cyrus album, Endless Summer Vacation. Swag included t-shirts featuring lyrics from her #1 hit “Flowers,” and the album’s second single, “River.” There were also album cover posters. 

I was on hand to ask the crowd their favorite Miley Cyrus song while they grabbed their prizes. While most said “Wrecking Ball” or “The Climb” was their favorite, there were some surprising picks, too. Like the Hannah Montana TV show theme song. 

One person picked “East Northumberland High,” a deep cut from Miley’s very first solo album, 2007’s Meet Miley Cyrus. Another said “Hero,” mistaking Miley for Mariah Carey. Hey, they both have great voices. 

Event Recap: Paramount Pictures’ “Scream VI” Movie Release Party 

March 29, 2023

On Friday, March 17, I had the pleasure of handing out Scream VI prizes from Paramount Pictures at The Black Hart of St. Paul. It was in celebration of the film debuting at #1 at the box office the weekend prior. Scream VI had the biggest box office debut of the Scream franchise to date.

Scream VI takes place in New York City, after the survivors of Scream (2022) leave the iconic and fictitious suburb of Woodsboro, California behind. Ghostface comes calling again, and they must defeat the most brutal killer of the franchise yet. 

The prize distribution happened minutes before a game of bingo benefitting The Aliveness Project. The swag was feverishly grabbed by patrons who were clear fans of the iconic Scream movie franchise. The series is so beloved because of its meta take on horror movies; it is a self-aware — almost parody — of the slasher genre. The franchise began in 1996 with Scream (1996). 

A table of bingo players revealed their picks after I asked them the iconic Ghostface question, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”

One answered Halloween (1978), the original classic starring Academy Award-winning actress Jamie Lee Curtis. A solid pick which singlehandedly invented the slasher film genre. 

The other patron answered, Nightmare On Elm Street, the original classic that was directed by the late Scream 1-4 director, Wes Craven.

Scream VI is now playing exclusively in movie theaters. 

Review: Bravo to Trans-LATE!

February 15, 2023

The new, hybrid in-person stage and online streaming event “Trans-LATE!” kicked off to rousing success on Friday, February 3, 2023 at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The five hour, sold out show included a late-night Valentine's Day dance party with DJ Drew Untethered and was produced by Atlas O Phoenix. The cabaret was produced by Eun Bee Yes with ze's troupe members and the Newbie Draggons: Handsy and King Kiki Joy.  Atlas O Phoenix co-hosted with Scene’s own Eun Bee Yes of Transcendence Cabaret. Both were a hoot on the mic, and were cracking jokes left and right throughout the night. 

The ensemble cast had a variety of talents on display all night. Each cast member (and co-host Eun Bee Yes) performed twice overall, and everyone’s star shone in their unique way. 

Highlights of the night included:

— A wistful and captivating opening lip-sync from Eun Bee Yes to “Hurts Like Hell” by Fleurie. 

— King Kiki Joy delivering heartfelt live vocals to “Anytime” by Brian McKnight. 

— Handsy having an original, mirror-centric lip-sync take on Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love.” The self-love vibes were real. 

— Megan the Maneater bringing the house down with high-octane choreography to the great Audien remix of “Kill the Lights (with Nile Rodgers)” by Alex Newell, Jess Glynne, and DJ Cassidy. 

— Oliver Yew had a sensual lip-sync performance of "The Death of Peace of Mind" by Bad Omens. This included stripping off layers before gyrating against the stage itself. At the end, pasties were exposed, as well as chains and a harness. 

— Chad Tayo came out of semi-retirement for this show. He performed a killer lip-sync to a cover of ZAYN and Taylor Swift’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” It was worth coming out of retirement for, and a joy to watch. 

— Seamus Shenanigan dazzled in a red suit-coat, and matching red hair under a black cap. All while nailing every syllable of “The Church of Hot Addiction” by Cobra Starship.

Each installment of “Trans-LATE!” will have a theme. This first installment’s theme was “What is Love?” Performances moved from a dark vibe, to “a mid-point” at intermission, to a light vibe at the end. This light culminated in a screening of the moving short film Ordinary, created by and starring Atlas O Phoenix. Ordinary explored Atlas O Phoenix’s beautiful journey and identity from many angles, and was shot in poignant black and white.

Overall, “Trans-LATE!” is a promising, brand-new show that aims to get on a regular, bimonthly schedule. It will surely succeed by giving existing talent the showcase it deserves — while fostering new talent, like a couple of the new acts that performed Friday. This particular installment of “Trans-LATE!” raised funds for TIGERRS, a Trans, Intersex, Gender-Expansive Radical Resources & Services cooperative organization. TIGERRS has a mission of filling critical gaps in support for youth in Minnesota.

Show produced by Atlas O Phoenix. The cabaret is produced by Eun Bee Yes with ze's troupe members and the Newbie Draggons: Handsy and King Kiki Joy.

Sponsors:  The Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, RARE Productions, Transcendence Cabaret and Twin Cities Gay Scene. 

You can follow Transcendence Cabaret on their website at transcendencecabaret.com, on Instagram and Facebook. Their upcoming show at their new home at Phoenix Theater will be this Saturday at 1030 pm. You can buy tickets at: phoenixtheatermpls.org/project/transcendence-cabaret

 

FOLLOW TRANS-LATE!:

www.beautifulboi.com

instagram.com/trans_late_mpls

instagram.com/beautiful_boi_atlas_phoenix

 

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