Seven Feet From Stardom: Backstage at the Post Office Cabaret

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by Steve Desroches

There’s a flurry of foot traffic for an otherwise chill night on Commercial Street in mid-July. Anita Cocktail and her castmates Raquel Blake and Abby Cummings are trying to sell just a few more tickets before showtime at the Post Office Cabaret. The Anita Cocktail Variety Hour starts at 8:30, and at 8:22 there’s still time to get a few more butts in seats. At the moment 26 tickets have been sold. Not bad for a weekday night post Bear Week, says Anita. Another quick look at the time. Its 8:25 and the queens scamper upstairs, swoosh into the cabaret, and dip behind the inky black curtain. Almost showtime.

Nearing 50 years old the Post Office Cabaret, above the café of the same name, has hosted a variety of acts over the decades, including Christine Jorgensen, Jimmy James, Quentin Crisp, Arthur Blake, and the gay disco comedy revue Mama’s Boys, featuring a then-unknown Cassandra Peterson, who would go on to fame as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. There’s a lot of history in that cozy cabaret space and on its vaudevillesque stage. And the performance space is still living up to that legacy with drag, comedy, and music from spring through fall. For years now there’s been a lingering question about the Post Office Cabaret; just how do they pull off such great shows, sometimes with a cast of five, six, or seven people, with what must be a tiny backstage? Well, with only two minutes to curtain, Anita, Raquel, and Abby are about to show how it’s done, in a dressing room that, from the back wall to the stage, is only seven feet wide and sixteen feet long.

Anita Cocktail
Photo: Steve Desroches


Anita’s phone dings. “Holy shit!”, she says. “What?! What?!” ask Raquel and Abby in staggered inquiries. “We have 49 tickets sold! I need more eye shadow.” That last-minute push is evidence that barking works, as there was a sudden rush of sales from people they had given lobby cards to hours earlier. With double the expected audience, which is now entering the cabaret with dance music now accompanied by the laughter and the chatter of the crowd eagerly awaiting the show, the trio of queens put last minute preparations into high gear. It’s as if a drag tornado has just struck.

The rectangular room is home to all the wigs, costumes, and drag accoutrements of every queen with a residency at the Post Office, which this summer totals six. And one of those performers, the high-kicking dance diva Edie has entered backstage having finished hobnobbing with her audience post-show. Like a quick change magician she is out of drag in minutes and gives the ladies a wish for broken legs as she whisks away. Anita sits down to put a fresh application of lipstick on as she reaches for a can of wig glue that is next to a can of Barbasol shaving cream. She reaches up to grab the microphone, pulls down the flexible arm and says, “How are you all doing tonight?!” The crowd hoots and hollers. “Oh, I know you can do better than that! How are you doing?” The audience doubles its decibels. “Well grab a drink and get ready for a fabulous show as we’ll be out in just a few minutes!” Anita snaps the microphone arm back up, stands up on her chair, and reaches for her opening number wig, wearing only pantyhose over boxer briefs, hops down, and then grabs a heavily beaded silver gown.

“Hey Raq, can you zip me up?” she asks her co-star who is getting into Reba McIntire drag. “It should be easier to zip up because I lost weight.”

“Or it’s just stretching out,” quips Raquel.

“Thanks, bitch,” says Anita. “By the way, your makeup looks terrible.”

Raquel Blake and Abby Cummings
photo: Steve Desroches

Drag queen culture is in full effect as shade flies left and right in an expression of true affection and support. A quick tug and a tuck here and there, and the intro music blares as Anita travels those seven feet to the spotlight performing “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. Backstage vibrates from the applause and foot-stomping of the enthusiastic crowd, giving a definitive bounce to the counter containing makeup and hairspray and a shimmy to the wall of mirrors. And just like that, Anita returns backstage already tugging off her wig as Raquel slips out to perform the Southern camp classic, “Fancy,” only to soon swap spots with Abby in a sparkly blue leotard for her number, a high-energy performance of Jennifer Hudson’s “Night of Your Life.” As the show steams along, backstage seems chaotic and frenzied, but there is a definitive choreography that is almost inspired by ESP. The three queens are so seasoned and gel so well, they pass hairbrushes and falsies without even looking, or sometimes even without being asked. They glide by each other in a careful waltz peppered with campy insults and pats on the ass. Above all else, it’s clear, they’re having so much fun, despite the beads of sweat on their foreheads.

Anita runs out for another number saying under her breath there’s no time for earrings and giving up on fruitlessly rummaging through her tackle box of drag. As she spins back in she asks Raquel to unzip her gown. With the calm of an ER surgeon Raquel delivers the bad news. The zipper is stuck. Really stuck. In a Rocky Balboa “Cut me, Mick” moment Anita hands Raquel a pair of scissors with instructions to cut along the seam. She’ll sew it back tonight if she has the energy, but probably tomorrow. Abby checks her makeup and then bounds out onstage to deliver a delightfully filthy parody of the disco hit  “I Love the Nightlife.” The audience howls with shocked approval as Raquel and Anita both do Pez-head laughs, saying that the song always gets that reaction. But then they quickly refocus. Time for another round of costume changes.

“The margin for error is slim,” says Anita. “A misstep back here can stop the show. It’s a sprint.”

photo: Steve Desroches

Tonight, they nail it. The hour speeds along smoothly, at least onstage, as the air backstage is heavy with hair spray, powder, and the distinct smell of sweaty men in pantyhose covered with Ariana Grande’s body mist “Cloud.” Anita closes the show with some Supreme Court jokes and a plea to support gay and women’s rights. The show closes, the queens do a meet and greet, and then collapse backstage with a sigh. It was a good audience, except for a chatty Cathy in the front row, but Anita took care of that quickly.

“Hey, somebody tipped us a hundred dollars,” says Anita.

“On purpose?” laughs Abby.

“Hey, if he thought it was a dollar bill that’s his problem,” laughs Anita. “Now, let’s get out of drag!”

The Anita Cocktail Variety Hour runs at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Thursday through Saturday now through September 3 (no performance Carnival Parade day August 18), at 8:30 p.m. and then Friday and Saturday through October 29. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at postofficecafe.net. For more information call 508.487.0087.