by Steve Desroches
It all started like a dream. Christopher Kenney was a seasoned veteran of the stage long before he created his drag persona, Edie. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kenney dreamed of becoming a dancer on Broadway. But on the way to that goal he spun over to the world of ballet dancing with companies around the country landing in New York City. There, he pivoted to performing with a tap company and then made his Broadway debut in The Threepenny Opera with Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper. In that steady ascension there was one Halloween when Kenney and friends dressed in drag for the famed parade in Greenwich Village, which parlayed into a gig in drag just a week later. What started as a fun Halloween-night gag grew until Edie became huge, fan-kicking over every aspect of Kenney’s varied career. It was all such a thrill.
In what would become like a drag version of It’s A Wonderful Life, every time a phone rang, Edie got a gig. It was crazy. The world of dance was all about auditioning and staying on top. But while not the norm, for Kenney, opportunities to perform as Edie found him. First came a call from the late Phyllis Schlossberg, longtime owner of the Post Office Café and Cabaret, offering him a summer-long run, which seemingly came out of the blue after she had seen Edie perform in New York, unbeknownst to Kenney, who didn’t even know she was in the audience. Then, after five years as a headliner in Provincetown, the phone rang again. This time it was Cirque du Soleil, the Quebecois circus phenomenon, offering him the role of the Mistress of Sensuality, ringmaster of the adult-themed Zumanity on the Las Vegas Strip. And so began a 13-year odyssey at the helm of one of the Entertainment Capital of the World’s most successful shows.
But then came the pandemic, and the dream came crashing down, as first all the shows shut down in Las Vegas in March 2020. And then, in November, the stunning news came that Cirque du Soleil was declaring bankruptcy and Zumanity was closing for good.
“It was the most amazing job, but after 13 years you do want to do something new and different,” says Kenney. “It could be like Groundhog Day. Every day was the same. Get up and make your call for the show. Every day in Vegas is sunny, the weather never changes. It was time for something new. But I still miss it. I’m super grateful I had the opportunity. It was a shock how it ended. It felt like a family being ripped apart, and we couldn’t get together to grieve or say goodbye. It just ended. Just like that.”
With no prospects for a new job as the pandemic dragged on, and his health insurance ending in two weeks, Kenney took a little time to breathe and plan for the future—an uncertain one, globally. Once again, Edie saved the day. Just prior to the pandemic Kenney had created Faaabulous! a drag revue at the nightclub Notoriety on Fremont Street in old downtown Las Vegas, founded in part to give an opportunity for those queens not cast members of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Come the collapse of Zumanity and the subsequent reopening of Las Vegas, Faaabulous! allowed Edie to come roaring back. Just what is this fabulous and ferocious Edie made of? A drag creation that continues to wow audiences and continually pulls Kenney to new heights with her enormous fan kicks and her go-go personality.
“She’s everything that I love,” says Kenney, fresh off the ferry from Fire Island heading towards Provincetown. “When I was in the ballet I’d be sweaty and gross and have to get ready quickly for an event after a performance. The ballerinas would come out and look so elegant in little black dresses and drop earrings. So elegant. I just loved it. And Barbra Streisand, too. She could be campy, but she still always looked elegant. And I love the 1960s, the looks and fashion. It’s all those things that make up Edie.”
At 20 years old, Edie is as feisty as ever. During the down time of the pandemic, Kenney reflected on this showgirl persona of his and wrote an all-new show Las Vegas Showgirl: Unleashed! a fun and fresh semi-autobiographical tale of the ups and downs of show business with the high-energy dance and sassy storytelling for which Edie is famous. Kenney debuted the show in his hometown of Portland at the historic and legendary gay bar, Darcelle XV Showplace, at the end of July before heading to the East Coast for shows in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Fire Island, and now a special Carnival Week engagement in Provincetown, followed by a couple of nights in Ogunquit, Maine. Returning to Provincetown for the first time in eight years, when Edie was the grand marshal of the “Viva Las Vegas” themed Carnival in 2013, Kenney breathes a contented sigh as the Cape tip is special for him. Dreams may at times be interrupted, but given enough time and space, new ones begin to emerge. So Kenney/Edie is coming back to where it all started to see where this road will lead him next.
“It’s fitting that I’m coming back to the Post Office Cabaret as that’s where Edie got her start 20 years ago,” says Kenney. “It’s a full-circle moment for me. I remember when I got the gig I was so excited to go to Provincetown. I felt like I had made it. I cannot wait to get there.”
Edie presents Las Vegas Showgirl: Unleashed Friday, August 20, 10 p.m., Saturday, August 21, 7 p.m. and Sunday, August 22, 10 p.m. at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at postofficecafe.net. For more information call 508.487.0087.