NYC’s Paige Turner comes to Milford Center for the Arts May 12
Daniel Kelley recalls that his first lip-sync was to Mary Martin’s “Peter Pan” at 8 years old
“I think that was a sign,” said the creator and man-behind-the-makeup of drag confection Paige Turner.
Kelley, originally hailing from “a mean, nasty, Republican town in Indiana,” has been an in-demand fixture of Manhattan nightlife for years. His alter ego, Ms. Turner (“who still believes she’s 18”), has hosted one of the longest-running theme nights, Slurp Sundays, at Therapy Lounge on West 52nd Street, in addition to Hardware Bar’s WTF Wednesdays in Hell’s Kitchen.
Peripatetic Paige also recently wrapped up eight years of producing the live reality contest “So You Think You Can Drag?” featured on Season Eight of Fusion Television’s “Shade: Queens of NYC.”
Kelley is bringing “Showbiz Spitfire” Paige and her irreverent one-woman live-singing spectacular “Drag Me To The Top!” to the Milford Center for the Arts on Saturday, after sold-out runs in Boston, New York and Mexico. An evening of outrageous comedy and videos, the show includes parodies of “Frozen”, “One Direction” and “Hamilton”, to name a few.
Milford is a tad off the beaten-face path. (that’s a drag phrase for make-up)
“The Milford Arts Council reached out, seeking a strong cabaret performer for their Nite Spot Nights series,” said Kelley . “Our schedules clicked, and I was happy to say ‘yes.’ I did worry I’d have to tone down the material a bit, but that turned out not to be the case. You never know…a theater in the Catskills told me I could be as tawdry and over-the-top as I wanted to be. People bring their mothers to my shows. If you overthink and try to please everyone, you head into a danger zone.”
Paige Miglio, executive director of the Milford Arts Council, said the Nite Spot Nights series was launched out of the Council’s affiliation with Pantochino Productions.
“Pantochino produces local children’s theater and rents our facilities. We were finding that more and more adults were attending Pantochino shows, so I approached Burt Bernardi, its co-producer, about joining forces to bring more Manhattan/nightclub-like acts to Milford.”
After attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy on full scholarship, Kelley owns an extensive resume chock-full of Broadway name-drops; work with Hal Prince, Matt Morrison and Brian d’Arcy James. His last role sans drag was as the emcee in “Cabaret.”
His initial love of theater started early.
“I was performing for the neighbors in my basement,” Kelley said. “I love clowns, I collect Bozo memorabilia. As a child I attended a local fair…my mom was selling her homemade pies there. I spied a clown and followed him to his tent. Peeking through the flap, I watched him take off his make-up and pack up his bag of props. I was so amazed, witnessing this secret.”
So the genesis of Paige Turner? Said Kelley, “During my performance years before Paige, I’d play boy roles, and the goal was always to entertain, to make people laugh. Paige Turner was born out of that same desire…I was looking for a vehicle that would give me legitimacy, and ironically, I discovered I could pour 100 percent of my authentic self into Paige. She’s a rock star.”
“And she’s a lot of other things. I’m not doing her to shock…she’s kind of an oversexed Barbie (laughs). Like Marilyn Monroe or Jane Mansfield, Paige is dumb in a smart way. Naughty, not dirty. She’s silly…I use puppets, for goodness’ sake. Her persona is old-school with a modern sensibility.”
Kelley has a unique take on today’s permeation of drag into popular culture.
“I don’t advertise I’m a drag queen,” he said. “For me, drag is just the foundation, and everything else lies on top of it. My audience is in on the joke and along for the ride…we all know I’m a guy in a dress. I’m always about talent and branding. You can’t hold a gig in the city with the same three songs every week — you have to have the ‘there’ there and a certain level of professionalism to have staying power. To really make it, you need business savvy, a creative drive, while constantly pushing yourself to work on new material and come up with new things.”
Will we ever see Paige Turner on RuPaul’s Drag Race? “It’s amazing to me that people see getting on RPDR as the only road to success. I truly believe in creating your own opportunity. I’m grateful that I have worked hard on something that brings me a lot of joy, and with it has come success. I definitely can say that competing doing something I love and have done for years is probably not in the cards. I give last season’s Ben de la Creme a lot of credit for leaving on her own terms.”
“I’ve checked off a lot of boxes already,” said Kelley, when asked about next career steps. “My dream? I’d like to produce more. I feel there still might be a place on television for Paige…something life-coachy, Oprah-esque, filled with positive affirmations. A Netflix series. The next Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, or a twist on Mr. Rogers. With puppets, of course.”
“Drag Me To The Top!” with Paige Turner, is scheduled for 8 p.m.May 12 at The Milford Arts Center, 40 Railroad Ave., Milford. Tickets $30, 203-878-6647 or http://milfordarts.org/about-us/tickets/.