Snark and Starlett angel sings: Joki’s ‘Drag Queen’ is still king

By Lorraine Wardle

It’s that time of year again. The time for snow, for singing carols, and of course, the time of year for visiting everyone’s favorite drag queen. Yes, it’s time for the most anticipated theater event of the season: the outrageous holiday production “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas.”

The seventh annual production of “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” opened Friday night to a packed house. In the seven years since its inception, “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” has become a local holiday favorite, with more and more attendees every year. Friday’s adoring crowd marked the largest audience the production has ever seen, and Saturday’s reservations promised to surpass that number.

“How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” is the creation of local playwright-actor-director Robert Dennick Joki. Joki has created quite a name for himself in recent years as the producer of original, avant-garde, and outrageous productions at The Rust Belt Theater Company, which he owns and operates.

“The Drag Queen” is filled with Joki’s signature snark and irreverent humor that audiences have come to love. The hilarious script and musical numbers kept the audience laughing and cheering throughout the night.

The plot of “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” has remained the same throughout the years. Starlett O’Hara is a larger-than-life, conceited drag queen who terrorizes her production company of drag queens and kings. When they all leave her on Christmas Eve, she is visited by spirits who warn her to change her ways, a la Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Each year, the production changes a little as Joki updates the cultural references and tweaks the script. Audiences will notice some big changes this year, as Joki and his song-writing partner Josh Taylor have created a new score for the show, including five brilliant new songs.

The production opened with “Good Morning, Youngstown,” a new musical number sung by Lynn Sabeh, as Minnie Cooper. Sabeh’s Cooper was sweet and bright with a beautiful soprano voice.

Nicole Zayas and Murad Shorrab reprised their roles as drag queens Buffy and Miraj. Zayas’ Buffy was entertainingly tough and trashy while Shorrab’s Miraj was a lovable queen with a deep voice and a soft heart. Brooke Shorrab also returned with her irreverent and crowd-pleasing impersonation of Sarah Palin.

Beth Farrow was hilarious as the nasty Starrina, who returns to haunt her sister in death as she did in life. David Cirelli also impressed as Michael, giving a superb solo performance.

Kelsie Moon embodied Marilyn Monroe, the Ghost of Christmas Past, with a sultry voice and sexy manner. As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Marisa Zamary was a perfect Phyllis Diller and had the audience roaring with her racy wit. As always, Murad Shorrab wowed the crowd with his performances as Cher, the Ghost of Christmas Future, and as Starlett’s beleaguered mother, as well as drag queen Miraj.

Joki’s Starlett stole the show, as well she should. Joki is an amazing performer, with perfect dead-pan delivery and a beautiful singing voice. He and his cast worked together to create the best “Drag Queen” yet.

Each performance also includes a reception, silent auction and raffle. The proceeds from the production benefit both The Rust Belt Theater Company and the Hospice of the Valley.

“How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with a special “extra-risque” performance Saturday at midnight in the Calvin Center gymnasium, 755 Mahoning Ave. in Youngstown. For tickets, call 330-507-2358.

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