By Andrew Edmonson
Photo by Dalton DeHart
Halloween Magic roars back to the stage with its 25th-anniversary theatrical production, RandPaul’s Drag Race: Destination 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This hilarious election-year satire, mixing risqué Montrose humor with Broadway show tunes, will have its world premiere October 22–23 at 8 p.m. at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.
By combining take-no-prisoners spoofs of popular and political culture with over-the-top drag performances, Halloween Magic won a devoted following in the 1990s and early 2000s while raising $1 million for Houston AIDS service organizations during some of the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.
“We set out to do the most outrageous send-up of a political race, set against the backdrop of the antics of a real beauty pageant,” comments veteran Halloween Magic writer and performer Gary Rodd about their 2016 installment. “We watched Smile, a 1976 beauty pageant movie, and Miss Congeniality for source material. YouTube is an immense help, as was the RuPaul show.
“We knew we would have five finalists: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. And we’re going to have a Charlie’s Angels trio of Melania Trump, Sarah Palin, and Bill Clinton.” Rodd, who won legions of fans in past Halloween Magic productions with his impersonations of Linda Richmond (of Saturday Night Live “Coffee Talk” fame) and Republican senator Liddy Dole, will cast aside his wigs and pumps to portray Bill Clinton this year.
Annise Parker and Kathy Hubbard Serve as Honorary Co-Chairs
The event’s three co-chairs—Jameson Gray, Thomas Gribble, and Gilbert Joseph Perez—have pulled out all the stops to make this a silver anniversary to remember. They’ve coaxed Annise Parker and Kathy Hubbard to serve as honorary co-chairs for the event. They’ve convinced three Houston theater luminaries to appear as guest stars in this year’s production: beloved actress Mary Hooper plays Melania Trump, Houston favorite Deborah Hope appears as Sarah Palin, and rising star Mark Ivy impersonates Rand Paul. And they’ve cajoled popular Houston radio personality Maria Todd to serve as mistress of ceremonies.
The celebration is off to a smashing start, with the October 22 performance already sold out and an encore matinee performance added on Sunday, October 23, at 4 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit Lazarus House, Legacy, Pet Patrol, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, and Omega House.
RandPaul’s Drag Race will be directed by Dennis Draper of the Alley Theatre. He and his assistant Renee Teel will lead a cast featuring actors who’ve performed together in Halloween Magic productions for two decades. “It’s like a reunion show of The Golden Girls,” quips actor Jimmy Philips, who stars as Theodora Cruz (Texas senator Ted Cruz’s drag persona) in this year’s production.
From Dinner Parties to Full-Scale Theatrical Productions
Halloween Magic began in 1988 as a series of dinner parties hosted in private homes to raise money for the AIDS Interfaith Network. The event was conceived and executed by longtime lesbian community leader Tori Williams. In 1991, a group of dedicated volunteers in Houston’s HIV community, spearheaded by Roger Aucoin, decided that they wanted to put on a show. The first Halloween Magic theatrical production was staged as the culmination to a round of dinner parties. The Roxie Horror Beauty Shop—a breathless amalgamation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Steel Magnolias, and Little Shop of Horrors—had its world premiere at the newly renovated Metro Majestic Theater in downtown Houston.
In 1992, Hair Wars, a sequel to Roxie Horror inspired by the movie Star Wars, was performed at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center. The Sound of Montrose—a madcap send-up of the famous Rogers & Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music—debuted in 1993. The Phantom of the Montrose (a freewheeling spoof of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s megahit The Phantom of the Opera) premiered in 1994. Both productions were staged at the Edwin Hornberger Conference Center in the Texas Medical Center, which became Halloween Magic’s home for the next decade. By this time, the private dinner parties had fallen by the wayside and the focus of the event became the theatrical production, with proceeds benefitting a wide array of AIDS service organizations.
The Recipe for Success: Hot Camp Humor and Spoofs of Pop Culture
Halloween Magic’s recipe for success was quickly established: take some popular theater or film productions, re-write the lyrics of famous show tunes and disco favorites, sprinkle in satirical references to pop culture and political figures, and bring to a boil over a flame of hot camp humor.
A small army of dedicated volunteers returned each year to work countless hours on script writing, rehearsals, constructing sets, event logistics, and soliciting donations and underwriting. All of that hard work had a profound impact on beneficiary organizations like The Pet Patrol and AssistHers.
A Crucial Source of Funding for AIDS Service Organizations
“For most grassroots HIV organizations, fundraising was a huge challenge in the early years of the AIDS epidemic,” recalls Tori Williams, founder of Pet Patrol. “Because we were ineligible for long-term, stable funding from federal, state, or [other traditional] sources, groups like Halloween Magic were the only thing that kept us going. Funding from Halloween Magic was like pure gold. Without our friends at Halloween Magic, we would not have been able to help people with AIDS keep their four-legged companions.
“When we started AssistHers,” adds Williams, “we were surprised that our male friends enthusiastically stepped forward to provide financial support for our fledgling organization. Over and over, our male friends said, ‘Of course we want to help AssistHers. Our women friends were really there for us when the AIDS epidemic hit. Now it is our turn to help you.’ [Halloween Magic co-chair] Gilbert Perez was one of those gentlemen.”
In November 2008, faced with the demolition of its longtime home, the Hornberger Conference Center, Halloween Magic ostensibly took its final bow with a performance of South Pacific Street: The Last Enchanted Evening, an irreverent reinterpretation of the classic 1949 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.
After seven years of lying dormant, co-chair Gilbert Perez—who had won a cult following for his irresistible, politically incorrect impersonation of the Latina spitfire Venezuela (a Halloween Magic staple for over a decade) couldn’t resist bringing back the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. Missing the sense of camaraderie and community that Halloween Magic had engendered for so many years, he has rallied former writers, volunteers, and cast members to don their wigs and heels this month for another irreverent, enchanted evening celebrating Halloween Magic’s silver anniversary.
What: Halloween Magic’s World Premiere of RandPaul’s Drag Race: Destination 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
When: October 22–23
Where: Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 West 11th St.
Details: The October 22 performance is sold out; tickets for Sunday, October 23, at 4 p.m. are $50, available at halloweenmagic.org.
Andrew Edmonson won the Award of Special Merit from the Texas Chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.