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The Magic’s Back!

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Halloween magic returns for one final curtain call.

HalloweenCrew
The Halloween crew.

By Marene Gustin

See also: Our Favorite Characters Tell All
Venezuela (Gilbert Joseph Perez)
Pleasure Nouveau (Brad Smith)
Wanda June Smathers (Dr. Scott Sawyer)

Wicked, wild, irrelevant, and just plain hilarious, one of the community’s most popular fundraisers returns for a final bow November 1.

That’s right, folks, Halloween Magic is back.

“It needed to come back,” says Gilbert Joseph Perez, the past and current president and alter ego of popular Cuban spitfire Venezuela Maria Concepcion de Los Angeles Valdez Vallejo Gonzalez. And yes, Venezuela will be back for this performance, too. But more than just a night of entertainment, Halloween Magic has been an important part of the community.

“We got our first donation from them in 1999,” Sara Haynes of the Center for AIDS remembers. “And we received money every year until 2006. More than $30,000 in all. The gifts and community support were critical to us in the early years.”

1998Magic
1998 Magic: Murder on the Montrose Express.

Halloween Magic began in 1988 as a series of dinner parties to raise funds for HIV/AIDS organizations and became a sensation in 1991 when it evolved into a cocktail party and show with table seating at the Edwin Hornberger Conference Center. That first show was Roxy Whorra Beaute Shoppe, a romp through pop culture, current events, and musical comedy satire.

“Venezuela was a spoof on Columbia, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Perez says. “She was a transvestite, but then the next year she returned in Hair Wars: The Return of Roxie and became a woman somehow. I don’t know, maybe she had an operation! Anyway, that’s when she got all her names, and she’s been in the show ever since.” Perez’s birth name is actually Gilbert Jose Archangel Perez Rodriguez, so naming Venezuela wasn’t much of a stretch.

For 13 years, Halloween Magic was an eagerly awaited evening of entertainment. But it was more than just a hilarious “politically incorrect, equal-opportunity offender.” By 2004 the event had raised $1 million for local HIV/AIDS charities.

In 2005, after Perez had stepped down as president, the board split over moving the event to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The next two years were less than stellar.

“I think the magic of the event was in the table seating,” Perez says. “It just wasn’t a stage show.” There was no performance last year, and the board was in the process of dissolving the 501(c)3 that hosted the event when Perez stepped back in. “I knew we could get everybody back for one more event. Our goal is to make this the best event ever.”

Brad Smith, who’s lived in Los Angeles for the past four years, is flying in at his own expense to revive his role as Pleasure Nouvea, the brazen blonde bimbo. “I’m really excited to come back,” Smith said from L.A. “I’ll only have a few days to learn the script, but it won’t be a problem. I did her for 10 years.”

This year’s show, South Pacific Street, will skew the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, pop culture, and both local and national politicians. And, of course, it will be set in Montrose with lots of big hair and bawdy humor. The November 1 production is back at the Hornberger Center, which closes its doors for good November 8. The evening honors Frank Staggs and will include a silent auction and back-stage dinner.

“We’ve been working on it since January,” Perez says. “It’s a lot of work—a cast of 15 to 18, 20 crew members, and probably 40 volunteers. I can’t even count the man-hours involved.”

So is this truly the end of a legendary event?

“People couldn’t commit for a long time,” says Perez. “But deep inside, I think they might be open to a reunion sometime.”

We can only hope the magic will someday make a comeback.

The Original Halloween Magic 20th Reunion Celebration & Farewell Performance, benefiting Assisters, Legacy Community Health Centers, and Pet Patrol, will happen November 1 at the Edwin Hornberger Conference Center. For information, e-mail [email protected] or call 713/226-2342.

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Our Favorite Characters Tell All:

GilbertPerez
Gilbert Perez

Gilbert Joseph Perez

What have you been up to since the last show?
I really focused on my career. I have two companies: interior design and Bungalow Revival that remodels and renovates historic homes. I’ve stayed active in the AIDS community. I’ve been involved in volunteering since I was a kid, so that will never go away. My partner, Nick Eronko, and I have four cats and three dogs, so that keeps us busy. Plus I love Broadway, so I go to New York at least once a year. My work is my hobby, but I do like movies and watching trash TV from 11 p.m. to one a.m. That’s my “me” time.

What’s your favorite memory of Halloween Magic?
I have so many great memories, but one is so clear. In 2003 I stepped down as president, and during the curtain call after the show, the cast and crew surprised me by honoring me onstage. I can’t believe they were able to do that without me finding out. I was involved with every aspect of the show, but they kept it a secret! I can still remember the faces in the audience that night; it was incredible. I get choked up now, just remembering it.

So what will Venezuela do now?
Oh, I don’t think she’ll ever retire! She’s done a couple of events for DiverseWorks and she’s been known to leave birthday greetings on friends’ answering machines. She’s really become a part of me. I’m not anything like her, but I love her.
_______________________________

BradSmith
Brad Smith

Brad Smith

Where has Pleasure Nouveau been the last four years?

She’s been traveling in Europe, thinking she’s really somebody, but she’s not. She’s just a bimbo. Oh, I’ve missed her, but she’s not me; I think of her as a different entity. I’ve been in L.A., managing the Roberto Cavalli Rodeo Drive store; I go to New York and Italy. I know it sounds glamorous, but it’s really not. I love it here [in L.A.]. I’m proud to be a Texan, but I’m staying here.

That sounds like you won’t come back if there is another reunion?
In my mind, this is it. She doesn’t need to age, she needs to stay young and beautiful in everyone’s minds. And the show wouldn’t be the same with the Hornberger gone.

Any favorite memories of Halloween Magic?
There was a section once with a fat suction machine that I did—well, that’s probably too dirty to print. I remember one time I had the flu and kept coming out onstage in the wrong costume and cracking everyone up. I just love making faces and trying to get them to break character and laugh onstage!

Where has Pleasure Nouveau been the last four years?
She’s been traveling in Europe, thinking she’s really somebody, but she’s not. She’s just a bimbo. Oh, I’ve missed her, but she’s not me; I think of her as a different entity. I’ve been in L.A., managing the Roberto Cavalli Rodeo Drive store; I go to New York and Italy. I know it sounds glamorous, but it’s really not. I love it here [in L.A.]. I’m proud to be a Texan, but I’m staying here.

That sounds like you won’t come back if there is another reunion?
In my mind, this is it. She doesn’t need to age, she needs to stay young and beautiful in everyone’s minds. And the show wouldn’t be the same with the Hornberger gone.

Any favorite memories of Halloween Magic?
There was a section once with a fat suction machine that I did—well, that’s probably too dirty to print. I remember one time I had the flu and kept coming out onstage in the wrong costume and cracking everyone up. I just love making faces and trying to get them to break character and laugh onstage!
___________________________

ScottSawyer
Scott Sawyer

Dr. Scott Sawyer

Do you identify with Wanda June Smathers?
She is me! Barely scratch the surface of my skin and you’ll find Wanda June. One time my husband, Barry Mandel, who is one of the writers, stopped me in rehearsal because I changed his lines, and I said, “No one knows Wanda June like I do, and she would NOT say this the way you wrote it!”

What’s she known for?
Wanda June does a lot of physical comedy. She gets hit in the head with a book at least once in every show. She’s a cross between Rose Nyland from The Golden Girls, Suzanne Sugarbaker from Designing Women, and Vera Carp from Tuna —and a whole lot of women I grew up with in Little Rock, Arkansas.

So what was she up to last year?
There was no show, so I took her on the road to Little Rock for a drag show. It was a blast. As for me, I work as an ophthalmologist at Legacy Community Health Services. Barry and I have a home in West Galveston where we take our children Beau and Sasha—they’re Boston terriers—every weekend. They don’t like the water, but they always find something dead to roll in on the beach.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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