Kinsey Sicks bring “dragapella” to Beaux Ball

Sep 25, 2007 at 4:53 pm

Kinsey Sicks: The “dragapella beautyshop quartet” Kinsey Sicks performs Saturday at the Beaux Arts Ball.
Kinsey Sicks: The “dragapella beautyshop quartet” Kinsey Sicks performs Saturday at the Beaux Arts Ball.
Beaux Arts Ball featuring Kinsey Sicks
Saturday, Sept. 29
Louisville Marriott Downtown
280 W. Jefferson
$140; 7 p.m.

Two fine institutions that started in the ’90s are coming back together on Saturday. That’s the date of the Beaux Arts Ball, the black-tie banquet-and-benefit set up around the local gay and lesbian community. The 11th annual gala, at the Louisville Marriott Downtown, includes a four-course meal and silent auction, with proceeds going to Volunteers of America and VOICES of Kentuckiana. The evening’s highlight is bound to be featured entertainment — namely, the return of the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” known as the Kinsey Sicks.

The quartet sprang up from serendipitous happenstance among the audience of a Bette Midler concert in San Francisco and has now been an ongoing act for almost 15 years. They’ve put on full-length stage shows off-Broadway and around the country, as well as releasing CDs and a DVD. The essence of the Kinsey Sicks is four accomplished professional men who crossdress and sing wickedly witty parodies of popular songs. They employ arrangements that are the envy of many a barbershop quartet but, as co-founder Ben Schatz told LEO, the staging of their full shows leaves room for surprises — for the audience but also for each other. But a lot of the performance is tightly scripted, with humor aimed at gender, cultural and sexual issues as well as politics.

The intersection of these subjects would seem tailor-made (or custom-designed) for Schatz. Before his first transformation into the irrepressible “Rachel,” this lawyer wrote position papers on HIV policy and gay and lesbian issues for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. But performing as Rachel has now been Schatz’s full-time gig for seven years (“So tell everyone to come to the show. Keep the lawyers off the street!”).

Schatz is the most prolific deconstructor of songs that get turned into Sicks’ parodies. “Actually,” he said, “only half are parodies. Half are originals — let’s just set the record ‘not gay.’” Though he said that the initial idea for taking on a song will just pop into his mind, this quickly turns into a careful process. “It’s easy to make a bad parody, and hard to make a good parody.” More than just keeping close to the original rhyme scheme, Schatz wants to “subvert the original content.” With his discipline for quality in the musical performances, lyrical revisions for topical material don’t generally make it into the quartet’s repertoire of 140 or 150 songs. “The scripts get updated constantly — but tweaking the songs, hardly ever. There’s complicated harmony to work out with any change.”

It seems a shame that a wit as sharp as Schatz couldn’t still be writing policy. After all, members of the politics-and-parody act Capitol Steps often return to day jobs where they help draft legislation on the very next day after they’ve skewered zealously-held viewpoints onstage. But Schatz has reached a comfort level with pushing the envelope in ways that would make some of the general public very uncomfortable. Unlike Capitol Steps, he said, the Kinsey Sicks “never have to settle for just being silly … though we often are silly. But here I can take a stark political view.” And so he’ll continue to entertain, and to watch and nurture the evolution of Rachel (“She is the pure id — she’s become more pathetic and, paradoxically, more lovable.”).

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