Legends 2001 at The A-House

They’ve become familiar faces to Provincetown visitors, those lovely ladies standing at the end of Masonic Place each evening. Celine and Dolly have been spotted there in years past; this year it may be Tina, Ann-Margret, or Whitney. For 16 years,”Legends” has been packing them into the A-House for an evening of celebrity impersonations, headlined by local performer-producer-director Michael Lussier. If the crowd at the A-House Sunday night was any indication, the show would seem to have another 16 years of life left in it.

“Legends 2001” stars Michael Lussier, alumni Gary Zachery, and newcomer Bryan Taylor. The show’s format is simple: the performers appear one by one, costumed and made up to create the illusion that the audience is watching one of several different celebrities. All the musical numbers are well lipsynched to familiar tunes. The audience responds to a performer’s effectiveness by tipping generously. It’s an old-school entertainment format, but that certainly didn’t dampen the enjoyment of the audience I sat with on Memorial Day weekend. Indeed, the house was packed to the walls with gregarious visitors from all walks of life.

What may be most remarkable about “Legends 2001” is that this venerable drag show has become a slice of mainstream family entertainment. The A-House audience represented a spectrum of ages, genders, and sexual orientations. Several people had seen the show before and were excited to be bringing friends to see it for the first time. At least two young children were in the audience and — with their parents’ encouragement — offered dollar tips to their favorite celebrities. Though the show has brief “adult language” it really is a family-friendly event.

The audience had plenty of love (and money) for all the performers, but it was Gary Zachery’s impersonations of grand musical divas that really had them cheering. Appearing as a convincing Whitney Houston, he got the crowd fired up with a dance mix of “The Greatest Love of All.” Zachery’s Tina Turner was another crowd favorite, shimmying through “Private Dancer” and showing off those famous Turner legs. New cast member Bryan Taylor brought a fiery, go-go dancing Ann-Margret to life, as well as a cool, sophisticated, diamond-chasing Marilyn Monroe.

Producer-director Lussier opens the show as Bette Midler belting “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and delivering some of Midler’s “Sophie” routines from the days of “Divine Madness.” Midler’s ribald humor had the audience laughing but it was Lussier’s impersonation of another Bette that really stopped them in their tracks. As Bette Davis, Lussier enters costumed as Margo Channing from “All About Eve,” and proceeds to mock, insult, and offend the audience — and they love it. Bette strolls haughtily about the room like some tarted up barmaid, lunging into her stale jokes like a ravenous bird of prey. No matter, since the audience eats it up whole, begging for more jokes about beavers and breasts, and tipping madly the entire time.

No, it isn’t Shakespeare. But Lussier ably engages the audience and give them what they seem to want. Lussier manages to sneak in some shorter impressions that are quite remarkable: George Burns and Gracie Allen, Katherine Hepburn, Wolfman Jack, to name a few. It’s easy to wish that Lussier would leave the lowbrow behind and showcase his gift for mimicking the starts of days gone by. But who would come? The standing room only crown at the A-House clearly didn’t know who Wolfman Jack was. Many of them didn’t know who Bette Davis was either, but they thoroughly enjoyed their time with the bigger-than-life acid-tongued bitch. It may not be entertainment for everyone, but Lussier and company are showing a lot of people a great time. For those well-entertained audiences, “Legends 2001” deserves its continued success.

Originally published in Provincetown Magazine on June 7, 2001.

“Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.” — Tony Kushner