By Denny Patterson
Randy Roberts is a drag queen/female impersonator who is very well known throughout the Key West community. His signature show at LaTeDa is an all live, multimedia tribute to some of the world’s most beloved entertainers. Randy’s uncanny impersonations, especially Cher and Bette Midler, has kept him in the spotlight for over 20 years. Randy closes every show with a mini-lounge act that allows him the chance to get up close and personal with the audience. When you are in the presence of Randy Roberts, you are treated like family. In addition to drag, Randy is an accomplished lyricist, sound technician, writer, and producer. His career has allowed him to travel all over the world, and he has been featured in TV, movies, and off-Broadway. I had the pleasure of chatting more with Randy about his successful career.
Who is Randy Roberts and what is he all about?
Randy Roberts is an actor who found a gimmick doing female impersonation. He/I was in theater as a young teen, and I was in a repertory company my senior year of high school. It was similar to a high school for performing arts, but it was only half a day of theater craft and wasn’t in a school dedicated to the arts. It was in a regular, public high school that had a state of the art (at the time!) theater. I had never thought about doing drag. I wanted to be a musical theater actor and go to Broadway! Let’s just say I went down a different path, wearing very different shoes! I am all about performing. It does not matter if I am in drag or not. I am happiest when I am on a stage or set.
How long have you been doing drag, and what originally got you started?
I first did drag in my senior year of high school, when we went on an out of town field trip. As a treat, we were taken to see the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” We were told to bring costumes. I raided the costume shop at school and went in drag. Let’s just say that the only horror at the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” that night was me in drag! It was not pretty! The first time I did more polished drag, and I use the word polished very liberally here, was on a dare in a drag contest at the College Cue Club in Norfolk, VA. I did not win. I didn’t look as bad as the first time, but I wasn’t far from it. Luckily, a few established queens saw something in me and helped me clean up my drag. I did drag in Norfolk for many years, until I moved out of town. I stopped drag for a couple of years, and in the mid-80s, I was sent to South Florida for a job with a harbor cruise ship company, as a singing waiter. There was a female impersonation show at the Newport Beach Hotel in North Miami Beach. It was called, “The Foam Rubber Follies.” I went to see it with some friends from work, and I immediately thought “I can do that.” I asked the producer if they were hiring. I got an audition, and I was hired! This was a smaller show. Maybe five queens and two dancers, with an emcee that sang live. The gowns were gorgeous. The costumes for the showgirls were over the top. I was bitten by the big drag bug and never looked back.
So, would you say “The Foam Rubber Follies” was the moment when you officially decided that you were going to pursue drag as a career?
I think the gig was the turning point. That is when I changed my name to Randy Roberts. The Randy is real, the Roberts is not. I changed my name because I did not think my family would want people to know they were related to someone who did drag. When I told my mother, the first thing she said was, “How will anyone know you’re my son?!” She has been my biggest supporter throughout my life.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I am addicted to glitz and glamour! If it sparkles, I want to wear it! I love Bob Mackie’s designs. It’s bling with style. As for my style of performing, I am a huge fan of both Jim Bailey and Charles Pierce. If you do not know who they are, look them up on YouTube. Jim “became” his characters. He had studied every detail of them, and it is mesmerizing to watch. Charles studied his ladies, but always let himself come through. I like to take both of their styles and add my touches. It’s all about the illusion.
You have your own performance area at the LaTeDa Hotel in Key West. What drew you to
Key West, and how long have you been performing there?
I first came to Key West with a female impersonation revue. It was the first show I did after “The Foam Rubber Follies.” We were in Key West for six weeks and then continued to Chicago. We closed there on New Year’s Eve, and I came back to Key West. I loved it here. I only stayed eight months that time. The show then went back on the road. After working all over the world, I was asked to come to Key West to be the surprise entertainment for a birthday party. I came, I performed, and I never left! I was supposed to be here for a few days. The owner of one of the clubs asked me to do my show for the weekend. It went well, and he asked me to stay for the next weekend. That went on and on. I found an apartment and stayed. That was March of 1998. That August, he asked me if I would go to LaTeDa and work there. He wanted to build up business. I went, and the rest is history. I have been at LaTeDa, since August 1998. In 2001, they built the Crystal Room for me. I have been very lucky!
What can audiences expect from your shows, and why should people come to see you?
My mother says my show is a cabaret show that happens to have a female impersonator in it. There’s a bit of Bette Midler, a healthy dose of Cher, and a huge helping of my own character – Randy Roberts. The show changes every night, depending on the audience. All live vocals, gorgeous costumes, and spitfire comedy. One thing that brings people back is the interaction with the audience. The comedy springs from the conversations. I am also very careful to never go too far. Don’t get me wrong, I will say whatever pops into my head, but I try to never cross the line into pure shock. I always say that if my mother would be upset by it, I won’t go there. One of my favorite things about my show is that all ages come. Evidently, I have become the family drag show! As long as the parents feel their kids can handle it, I say bring ‘em!
Speaking of Cher and Bette Midler, your impersonations of them are uncanny. How would you say your impressions stand out from other drag performers who impersonate these celebrities?
I am best known for my Bette and Cher. When I started doing impersonations of famous people, I focused on the look and lip synced to the original artists. As I progressed, I started singing live. I have always sung, but I thought I couldn’t sing in drag. I figured I would sound too much like a man. What I have realized is that the voice fits the face it is coming from. I think I have found a happy mix of the artist’s most noticeable traits, both vocal and physical, and my own touches. As long as the audience believes the illusion, my work is successful.
What is your personal favorite part about doing drag and performing?
I love the immediate response. I have done television and movies, and I love the work, but there is nothing like the sound of laughter and applause. I also love singing. It is my form of therapy. I can get out all my stress by belting out a song!
Throughout your entire time as a drag queen, what would you say have been some of your biggest career accomplishments?
Drag has given me the chance to be noticed and get into some doors. I made my Las Vegas debut at the Sahara Hotel in the Congo Theater. That is the same stage where Ann Margret, Sonny and Cher, George Burns, and Judy Garland performed. I was on “One Life to Live” as “Cher” and even got to lip sync to my own voice – that’s another story entirely! I made my off-Broadway debut in a workshop of an original musical, and then got to be in the world premiere production of it in San Francisco. Made my big screen debut in the film “Any Day Now,” with Alan Cumming and Frances Fisher. I have had the thrill of singing with orchestras around the country. Perhaps the most surprising was being asked to go on America’s Got Talent. It has been quite a ride, and it’s not over yet!
What is next for Randy Roberts? Do you have any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I am always on the move, career wise. I am heading to Toronto, Norfolk, London and Sitges, Spain in June. It is my second time in London and my first in Toronto and Sitges. There are some other things brewing, but I am not allowed to talk about them – yet! You can find me most weeks in Key West in the Crystal Room Cabaret at LaTeDa, and I keep my schedule up to date on my website: www.RandyRoberts.net.