It may have been a prankster’s holiday, but the only fools this April 1 were those people not at the Marriott Marquis in Midtown for the Imperial Court of New York’s 20th Annual Night of a Thousand Gowns. And judging by the capacity turnout of 1,200 for this annual drag and leather fundraiser, gay New York has gotten wise to the best party of the spring season. This year’s event raised more than $100,000 for God’s Love We Deliver, a charity that provides food and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“The event was a huge success for us, by far the largest we have ever staged in our 20 year history,” said outgoing Empress XIX Robin Kradles. “Twelve hundred people attended to see Emperor XV Fantasia and Empress XX Gefil Tefish step up as monarchs for the year. Emperor XIV Tony Monteleone and I enjoyed the night of our lives as we stepped down.”
The post cocktail-hour crowd streamed in to the sixth-floor ballroom to see the opening number, a “Spamalot” spoof choreographed by Empress X Ran-Dee. This elaborately constructed opener featured more than a half dozen songs with dance moves performed by a full cast of Imperial Court members, dressed in brilliant, sequined gear á la King Arthur’s Court.
“After 14 years of doing the choreography, each year I try to come up with something bigger and better,” said Ran-Dee. “But a person couldn’t do it without the magnificent designs of Fred, Empress Lita Austin. This year, nothing was enough, and I think it turned out absolutely fabulous!”
As this evening marked 20 years of the Imperial Court, the hosts took time to honor Empress I José, who founded the Imperial Court in San Francisco in 1965. Attendees from San Diego, Denver, and Houston were also on hand.
The Imperial Court knighted Keith Berg, events chairman for God’s Love We Deliver.
Hostess Empress I Sybil Bruncheon said, “Do not be complacent. Our fight with HIV/AIDS is not over. Members of the Republican Party would be delighted to know we gave up but do not let our friends have died in vain.”
Monteleone added, “I applaud [God’s Love We Deliver] for being here to support us, because you truly do deliver healing with sustenance that is its vision.”
Honorary co-chairs Whoopi Goldberg and Joan Rivers were no-shows, but the talented Charles Busch did manage to make it. Busch performed at the very first Night of a Thousand Gowns in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria. He told Gay City News how pleased he was to be part of “this whole wonderful tradition about drag organizations all over the country that have contributed so much to the AIDS crisis and children’s charities.” The playwright and actor is featured in the new documentary “The Lady in Question is Charles Busch,” and said he will unveil a new film at this year’s Tribeca Film Fest.
As singer Brian Kent belted out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” restaurateur Florent Morellet grabbed a beautiful diva and joined those audience members heading to the floor to cut a rug.
Entertainer Varla Jean Merman performed at the event for the first time, singing a medley of tunes, merging from “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” to “Habanera” from “Carmen.”
“It’s an amazing network, and that it’s for charity is unbelievable,” Merman told Gay City News. “And what’s amazing about this is no one takes themselves too seriously. I find around the country some drag performers take it too seriously, and you know what—it’s a man in a dress, when you get down to it. It’s about entertaining.”
This self-deprecating comic sense was apparent in every part of the show, from host TraiLa Trash’s comic comments to the tongue-in-cheek drag names, from Craven de Butz to Jiff E. Lube.
TraiLa Trash made a stellar showing singing “I Know Where I’ve Been,” from the musical “Hairspray”, and American Idol’s Kimberley Locke sang a selection from her upcoming CD release, as well as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Zhana Saunders titillated the crowd, decked out in leather and latex, with her S/M-themed dance number.
Kradles channeled Marilyn Monroe in her “Diamonds” medley, and the whole crew brought the show to its coronation moment with an “Age of Aquarius” number featuring flamboyantly dressed hippies holding aloft signs that spelled out “United We Stand.”
Empress Felicia Jewel Halston and Emperor David Courtney Corn were on hand from Reno in outfits they said Celine Dion’s designer made, to lend support.
But it was not just drag queens and leather daddies that came to support the event. At table 40, a crew from G3 Architecture attended for the fourth consecutive year to cheer for their co-worker, and to make the most of their tax-deductible contribution.
“Our co-worker is former Emperor VI Steven, and when we got to know more about the organization’s philanthropic activities and we started coming, we realized that besides the good work the organization does, it’s a complete trip,” said G3’s Greg Shunick. “From a corporate level we get to enjoy the benefits of a charitable contribution and what better way than to have a fantastic night like this!”
As the evening came to a close, revelers tipsy from the five-hour open bar waded through the confetti, sequins, and boa feathers that had accumulated on the floor and enjoyed the Viennese dessert buffet while perusing the results of the silent auction, that included featured posters from Barbra Streisand movies, a Le Ballet Grandiva package, gift certificates to Capellini Salon, handbags by Michael Kors and Coach, and much more.
“All of the money raised at this auction will directly help deliver nutritious meals to those suffering from HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illness in their own homes,” said Mark Costanzo, co-chair of the silent auction.
“By putting the fun in fundraising the Imperial Court has been able to assist many worthy charitable organizations over the years,” Emperor Fantasia added. “Empress Gefil Tefish and I look forward to the hard work we plan to put into this organization and invite all to next year’s event—it is a night one can never forget!”