Casino events: ‘Frank Marino’s Divas’ dresses up Harrah’s Reno

Published: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 - 12:00 am

Drag entertainment was once considered scandalous at worst, naughty at best.

A visit to Finocchio’s was the whispered-about part of a San Francisco tour, for instance.

But just as they stood up to the police at Stonewall, drag queens have been bold and persistent about their art, which has gradually become a part of the mainstream.

In the casinos, it was Jamie James whose “Frisco Follies” first appeared at Harrah’s. James used to open his show transforming himself into a woman while singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

In “Frank Marino’s Divas,” running at Harrah’s Reno through March 16, Ryan Zink reverses the process, changing from female to male for the closing “What Makes a Man a Man?”

With the female impersonators, perfect makeup, beautiful wig, and stunning costumes are expected. But “Divas” is about more than men simply dressing in fabulous drag.

These performers may be lip-syncing to music, but they are also executing incredibly challenging choreography, and becoming every bit the famous women they portray.

Marino, who along with James, Kenny Kerr, Jim Bailey and Charles Pierce helped give drag respectability and acceptance, is now the longest-running performer on the Las Vegas Strip (his “Divas” in now at the Quad, formerly the Imperial Palace).

He is best known for his impersonation of Joan Rivers (and for being sued by her for $5 million in the 1980s).

For this show, he trots out all the usual suspects – Madonna, Britney Spears, Celine Dion and Tina Turner – and a few unexpected, including Reba McEntire, Dionne Warwick and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

While Marino opened the show’s Reno run, Bobby Bruno has recently taken over the role of emcee, in the persona of Rivers, and he excels with the raucous insults (“I’m sweating like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee”) and ruminating on subjects once considered taboo on any stage (menopause, birth control).

Betty White and Kim Kardashian get zinged, along with other celebs, and Bruno (who also plays other characters) goes through a complete costume change between each act.

All of the performers smoothly embody their characters. Carlos Rodriguez gives us Madonna and JLo; Arthur Wilson, Cher and Celine; Wandal Jackson, Warwick and Turner; and Kenneth Rex, Spears and an outstanding Pink.

The four dancing men (Jean Luc D’Anjou, Nathanael Nussa, Warren Vanover and Aaron Lucey) do far more than the usual accenting moves. They become integral parts of each act with exciting choreography that often takes them out into the audience. (8 p.m.; Thurdays-Sundays through March 16; $35, $45;

Read more articles by Mel Shields

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