By Denny Patterson
The Golden Gays NYC have quickly emerged as the premier Golden Girls drag show in the country. GGNYC for short, this hilarious drag trio burst onto the scene in summer 2017 after making an appearance at RuPaul’s DragCon NYC, then at the fame Rue La Rue Café, where their trivia show video went viral. Since then, they have performed sold-out engagements across the U.S. East Coast and beyond.
Performing successful tours with their hit shows “Hot Flashbacks,” “The Golden Games,” and “Thank YULE for Being a Friend,” audiences cannot get enough, and this is the perfect drag show for the entire family. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in their future plans, but they are making sure to stay in touch with fans and provide some much-needed comic relief.
OutClique had the opportunity to chat more with Blanche (Andy Crosten), Rose (Gerry Mastrolla), and Dorothy (Jason Schmidt), along with the show’s musical director, Mason Griffin. When they say “thank you for being a friend,” this group of gentlemen truly mean it.
Denny Patterson: Hello! Thank you all for taking some time to chat with me about The Golden Gays NYC. Can you begin by telling us how this troupe came to be?
Gerry Mastrolla: Picture it! New York City, 2017. I had just come off of another production playing Rose, and unfortunately, that production fizzled early on. So, I was still itching to play the role. Being a fan of The Golden Girls since being a little tyke, I had fallen in love with the character. So, I was Facebook friends with Jason, who I never met in real life before, and I admired what he did as the premier Bea Arthur impersonator, so I reached out to him and said, “Listen, the new Golden Girls café, the Rue La Rue, just opened up in upper Manhattan. Let’s go and sing a few numbers, surprise the patrons, and just see what happens.” Then he reached out to his gal pal Andy.
Andy Crosten: He texted me and said something like, “Can you do Blanche in drag?” I thought about it for about five seconds and said, “Sure!” I haven’t really done drag before, just some club kid type stuff, and played Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch a few months before that. I was nervous to do it, but we had a blast.
GM: It started off as a little idea that grew into something major. We had no idea that it would grow into this. We started off with a Sophia puppet at that first gig because the Sophia we had scheduled had a last-minute cancellation. We found out after that first gig that the audience wanted to be a part of it even more, so that’s how we came up with the token Sophia bit. When we were at RuPaul’s DragCon walking up and down the Javits Center, people wanted the glasses, the wig, the handbag, so we just found that new shtick to make it that much more interactive, to make the folks feel that much more included. Now, three years later, we were just seen on CNN with our own feature for headlining the Golden Fans at Sea Cruises. Again, we had no idea that it would grow into something as big as this.
DP: I am glad you talked about Sophia because I was wondering about that the most. There’s only three of you, so where’s Sophia?
Jason Schmidt: It’s you, Denny. You’re the token Sophia. Yes, we built it into the show. It’s either like a part of the game show where you win the role, or we just pluck you out of the audience and just for that moment, you’re the Sophia. Then after the show, you get a token Sophia picture with us dressed up. So, you get the glasses, hair, handbag, and you get to be the fourth golden girl. We have built this into everything that we do to make it that much more interactive.
DP: What can audiences expect from a The Golden Gays NYC show?
AC: We have three shows that are kind of our main go to. We have the “Thank YULE for Being a Friend,” which is our Christmas show. It’s a full Christmas fantasy musical. It’s my favorite, I really love that one. Then we have “Hot Flashbacks” which is kind of based on the Rusty Anchor episode, “Journey to the Center of Attention.” That one is also a full musical that we perform anytime, anywhere. Then we have “The Golden Games” which is a Golden Girls trivia show. That one is a lot of fun, too. We sort of do that one during Pride season. So, people can expect a full production. We will give you a full production in an Italian restaurant if you’d like! It’s everything you didn’t know you needed.
DP: How bad has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted The Golden Gays NYC?
GM: Well, all of our shows have been canceled, and some venues even closed!
JS: We would have done a huge tour this summer. You know, we would have traipsed our gay pride loving selves all over this country doing our “Golden Games.” All of that was cancelled, and we usually do several “Hot Flashbacks” in the spring, so we canceled those as well. We were very fortunate to do the Golden Fans at Sea Cruises, and soon after we disembarked, the world said you should stay home for a long, long time. Almost immediately, we jumped on the bandwagon and we were doing our live Facebook shows and doing what we could to not just keep ourselves alive, but also give people something to look forward to. Give them some laughs and just act a fool because the world out there is still a crazy place. So, we’ll just make it a little bit crazier.
DP: Do you remember when you were first exposed to The Golden Girls?
AC: I used to watch The Golden Girls when I was a kid with grandma. We were very close and she was my biggest fan. I loved her a lot, but I didn’t really become a super fan until I was with my husband, Mason, who is probably the biggest Golden Girls super fan out of all of us. When we got together six years ago, we would watch it all the time.
Mason Griffin: Yes. Back in the day when DVD sets were the thing to get, I sat waiting. Every year, there would be a wave of shows, like I Love Lucy and Gilligan’s Island. Like, okay, it’s coming, one day they are going to do The Golden Girls. That Christmas was the greatest Christmas.
GM: Mason is our go to Golden Girls encyclopedia aficionado. Whenever we’re on stage and we need to give someone a really, really hard trivia question because most of the fanatics know every single bit of trivia, we just turn to Mason and he always has one ready for us. As to when I was first exposed to The Golden Girls, my mother’s mother didn’t speak much English. From the old country, not Sicily, she was from Calabria, which is basically in the mountains somewhere towards the bottom of the boot. So, all she knew about The Golden Girls was that there were old women like herself on TV. She knew that the sassy Sicilian one would throw out some Italian curse words. So, I have always loved it. I have always had a connection to the grand dames of old classic Hollywood. I just admired what they did to the world, and I am just happy that we are able to do that and be that for people because it’s deeper. What we do, it’s way deeper than just giving them a show. We are giving them an experience. It’s very rewarding as an actor, but also as a human being. It’s such a gift.
JS: I specifically remember watching Empty Nest, and I would love when Sophia would show up. I would also remember that they were doing a new Golden Girls at a hotel, I guess it’s just whatever age that I was that I can actually remember that, but I didn’t really pay attention until many years later. I had listened to Bea Arthur’s one woman show on Broadway, and someone had given it to me when I was on tour doing a musical theatre show. I was listening to all of my compact discs while we were going from town to town. I listened to Bea’s show over and over. Years later, there was an audition posting for a drag version of The Golden Girls looking for someone who is tall with a deep voice who could do Bea Arthur. I thought, I could do that. When I got cast in the show at the time, that was when I really went in and watched the show and started to pay attention to her mannerism and the way she talked, delivered her lines, everything.
DP: Why do you think The Golden Girls is such a staple within the LGBTQ+ community?
GM: Chosen family.
MG: People within the LGBTQ+ community are still very much underrepresented. When I saw the show, I very much realized that this was a unique show in and of itself. It was four older women having active sex lives, still laughing about life, and being involved in life. They were being represented, and they often brought up a lot of gay rights issues. You know, Blanche’s brother is gay, and I felt that it represented us in a way. It allowed us to be able to come to terms with a lot of things. For me, a young kid growing up in the south toiling with a lot of questions and didn’t have much family support to necessarily guide me, when you have these brilliant actresses that are playing characters, but you also get to know them in a way. So, it is just such a special show because it lets us identify on screen.
AC: Gay men are always attracted to strong women. We love these strong divas and ladies. I don’t know what it is. We channel a little bit of that ourselves, like our feminine side.
DP: How do you take these infamous characters and make them your own?
JS: I feel like with my version, she’s a little more visibly insane and my delivery can definitely be faster. So, at times, she’s a little more manic. Although she had many manic, hilarious moments on The Golden Girls. Like, when she would get really excited and scream, I personally would clutch my pearls. So, generally speaking, Jason’s insanity and faster pace sort of gets peppered into the Bea Arthurisms.
GM: I just studied Betty’s voice a lot, especially her as Rose. The way that she said her vowels and things like that, and that’s when I really started making it my own. I don’t look anything like Betty White, but I think once all the pieces are put together, it’s our renditions of the character that people know and love. It’s just kind of paying attention to all those little things. Even the timing has to be there. As an actor who does comedy, if the timing is not there, it doesn’t work. These women were masters at that, and it takes some time. I also like salt and pepper by bringing a little bit of my Gerryisms into playing Rose. When she gets really competitive and gets manic and crazy, I sometimes will break the fourth wall and drop into a deep voice and say something like that. At that point, the audience is just with you. They are there for it.
AC: I particularly enjoy the way Rue McClanahan moves around the stage. She has such confidence in her shoulders and her strut. Going back to talking about watching it with my grandma, that is one of the things that always stuck with me. I was like, who is this fascinating woman who is strutting around that stage with such confidence? It wasn’t until years later that I realized that’s Rue McClanahan. So, I love her moves and I love interpreting that. Also, I guess we make it our own because we are all singers. Bea Arthur was obviously a fantastic singer, but you know, Rue and Betty weren’t particularly known for their singing abilities. They were fantastic actresses, but the three of us are great singers. So, we insert musical numbers into our shows.
DP: Mason, what do you enjoy the most about being the music director?
MG: I love that every show is constantly slightly being tweaked. We can update based off of where we are. So, if we are doing a show in Philadelphia, all the references we pull from are local, like restaurants, bakeries, etc. It’s crazy, but they keep me on my toes. There is one trick that I use that works for every single show, and that’s the vamp. That vamp can go for 32 bars or 86 bars, and until they’re ready, it doesn’t hurt me because I just sit there and keep going. There are all sorts of things that can be happening backstage, but I’m just there enjoying it. I’m having fun.
DP: Do you have a favorite episode?
MG: Oh, that’s a tough question! I think I will have to go with the earlier episode, “Blind Ambitions.”
AC: The episode where Sophia meets Alvin, “Old Friends.” It’s such a touching episode. Sophia is so sassy, so I love when she gets a moment to be sweet and sincere.
JS: I am going to choose the one where Dorothy gets with the P.E. teacher. I like it because Bea got to act passionate, and that was something they didn’t write about too often. She was just so into him. They would dash away to the hotel; it was just a little bit taboo. The P.E. teacher, Glen O’Brien, was seen twice, but played by different actors. Alex Rocco in “That Was No Lady,” and Jerry Orbach in “Cheaters.”
GM: This is hard! I’m going to need the rest of the day! I find joy in each and every single episode, there really isn’t a bad one. Except the Empty Nest episode! Rita Moreno and Paul Dooley did everything they could, but it was not enough. Besides that one, I find joy and love in all of these episodes, and they are constantly teaching audiences and new generations new things that we as a society are going through. So, my answer is going to be all of the above.
To stay up to date and to find out more information on The Golden Gays NYC virtual experiences, personalized greeting cards, and their new Zoom musical, follow the gals on social media, and visit www.TheGoldenGaysNYC.com.