Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 22, 2002

In the dressing room of the Venus Nightclub, Edie (Christopher Kenney) gets ready for his performance with the help of his manager, Jamie Morris.

Edie couldn’t stop at
being queen for a day

A Halloween dress-up stunt led
Christopher Kenney to live the life
of his elegant, award-winning alter ego

By Nancy Arcayna

Christopher Kenney stands 6-foot-2. Add the 4-inch heels and bouffant hairstyle, and he's a towering 7 feet tall.

Kenney's alter ego Edie is an elegant lady, but he makes it clear they're not always together. "It's a costume, a character," he said. "It was an accident that exploded.

"On Halloween, my friends and I decided to dress up and have some fun. We were brand new to New York at the time. I was offered a job that same night. At first, I said no way, I'm not interested. But then I figured, what's the big deal? Just do it," he said.

"If you had asked me three days before Halloween if I would ever be a drag queen, I would have said, 'Are you out of your mind? I've spent all this time investing in my career to do drag?' It's interesting when life opens up a new path for you, a path that originally wasn't a part of the factor, one that was not supposed to be an option."

Kenney was a professional ballet dancer for 11 years. He started dancing jazz, tap and ballroom at age 8. He found work with Ballet Oregon and then joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. "We would come to the Blaisdell every November to perform. I fell in love with Honolulu," he said.

After that came a stint with a small ballet company in New York. "I did not do drag then; I was the prince," he said.

Then he decided to pursue Broadway and theater roles.

"Switching gears was difficult and often times, in between auditions, there was no work," he said. "So, I started out hosting at a popular New York restaurant. I had a great time and that is how Edie was born."

Although drag queens have been introduced to the mainstream via films such as "The Birdcage," "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," he understands a mixture of fear, hatred and resentment still comes with the territory. Feminists often view the fetishization of bitchiness, corsets and high heels as oppressive and embodying the worst traits of women. Many consider drag performances as little more than minstrel shows, he said.

Edie/Christopher Kenney waits in Venus nightclub's VIP room before a performance. Edie says she's "6-foot-2 naked" plus another 4 inches in heels.

"When people see that it is just another from of entertainment, it's no longer threatening. It's all about having fun.

"And women have fought for so many years to not have to go out with their hair done, with makeup, high heels and jewels. You just don't have to do it all the time anymore. But, then they see a drag queen and think it's all fabulous," he said.

KENNEY WANTED to make sure Edie had timeless elegance. She's a mixture of Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Streisand, Grace Kelly and Liza Minelli.

"Edie is not campy or over the top," he said. "I love watching those types, though. You can't help but stare; they are eye candy with the pink feathers, the glitter and hair.

"I always incorporate dance into my shows. Edie kicks her legs, loves to go-go and especially likes the '60s.

"Ballet would be a little boring, but grace is always used. She is always a lady, doesn't curse and never talks bad about anyone. That's kinda strange because we normally associate drag queens as being campy and bitchy," Kenney said. "People seem to find it refreshing. I really didn't know if it would work if I created a nice drag queen."

During his performances as Edie, Kenney tell stories and jokes, reads monologues, sings and dances. "Occasionally, I lip sync if I am performing in a park or venue that doesn't accommodate good sound. The audience loves to hear about what I did this week. They want to learn what you are all about -- what comes from your heart and soul. I think some people believe Edie goes home and sits in a Jacuzzi, rubbing oil on her elbows."

Kenney learned how to do makeup while dancing. "You have to play so many different parts," he said. "One day you play a drunk ... the next day you are a prince. So you have to learn how to do all different types of makeup. When I started out, it wasn't pretty. When I look back at pictures, I gasp. It takes me about an hour and a half to get ready."

He said: "Edie has also afforded me a lot of fun and freedom. When you are in ballet or musical, you dance with a company. For years, I loved being a part of an ensemble. Now, it's fun to be an individual performer. I'm in charge of this character, which I created. It's fun, exciting and exhilarating."

KENNEY WAS honored to be voted best drag queen in New York in the year 2000 by readers of HX, the largest gay magazine distributed in New York.

"It was completely overwhelming," he said. "The competition was truly the absolute best in New York City. They are amazing, phenomenal singers, dancers, comedians and actors. So when I won the award, it was very exciting."

He's grateful to have "cool" parents. "My mom came to see me. She said I was beautiful and very good."

He's also appeared at the MTV awards, on the "Rosie O'Donnell Show" and will appear in the film "Potluck," which he describes as an upbeat caper that centers around a mobster who discovers the magic of marijuana. Kenney plays the mobster's gay drag queen son.

Success may enable Kenney/Edie to find a bigger place to live. It's about time. With her large wardrobe, "she's actually pushing me out of my apartment," Kenney said.

He buys most of Edie's clothes at vintage stores. "I have to have some made because when I dance, the material needs to stretch. I kick high," he said. At some shows, front-row seats have been removed because audience members were dodging kicks.

"Hula's has a small set of stairs in front of the stage, so it should be safe," he said with a chuckle.

Kenney performs a regular cabaret show at Manhattan's Barracuda Lounge. "Lots of straight people go to the show. The audience is mostly comprised of Broadway and theater people. A few weeks ago, Helen Mirren, of 'Gosford Park,' was in the audience with her husband Taylor Hackford, who directed the movie 'Dolores Clairbourne.' Nathan Lane also comes to the show. It's intimidating, yet exciting that they want to be entertained by Edie. The love in the room is intense."

Kenney, who travels throughout the United States and Canada, came to Hawaii because of Edie's starring role on board Atlantis Cruises' all-gay cruise. "This will be my sixth cruise. It's exhausting, but I'm one lucky lady."


Where: Hula's Bar & Lei Stand, 134 Kapahulu Ave. 2nd floor
When: 11 p.m. Sunday
Admission: Free
Call: 923-0669

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