When I arrive at the Christopher Street rehearsal space where former HX “Drag Queen of the Year” Edie has just begun auditioning back-up dancers for her highly anticipated new show, the hopeful hoofers are already working up a sexy sheen. They’re a fresh-faced, energetic group of high-kicking powertwinks with butts you could eat breakfast off of, but only the luckiest laddies will be chosen to join the cast of Legs!, an all-original musical comedy that marks Edie’s return to Manhattan after a two-year worldwide tour. It’s a very A Chorus Line-meets-Go-Go Idol moment as the buff young talents lunge and leap, their desire to work with the legendary 6'4" goddess palpable. While they attempt to mimic her flawless routines, Edie, a classically trained ballet dancer, repeats one command that just about sums up her own talent and persona: “Bigger than life!”
Directed by seasoned theater veteran Michael Lee Scott and presented by Moving Parts Theater and Alizé, Legs! — which runs through May at the Gene Frankel Theater — features original new music by Hank Bones and snazzy choreography by Christopher Kenney, Edie’s equally leggy creator. Though she says she “had an amazing time working out songs on the road and growing as an artist,” Edie admits there’s just no beating New York audiences. “I’ve missed them because they’re sophisticated and smart,” she says. “Other cities don’t get the subtleties. They just like the flash and the big tall dancing lady! But here they get all the little jokes and the subtle shoulder rolls. That’s what I really love.”
“My favorite moments in the show are when I get the chance to tell everyone about where I’m from,” Edie continues while she gives the sinewy steppers a 10-minute water break. “Legs! is about a girl from Portland, Oregon, who moves to the big city and her adventures along the way. It’s all singing and dancing with a lot of monologues and audience interaction. And it’s wacky!” But the multiple Glammy award-winner and Wigstock regular promises that this is far from your typical downtown drag act. “There’s definitely some deep stuff. Like the roadblocks you hit when you’re a child and hear, ‘You’ll never.’ Some people go, ‘Yeah, okay,’ but some people go, ‘Oh yeah? I’ll show you!’ What is that sparkle inside somebody in a rural area who sees beyond the neighborhood, beyond the fence, who’s got to get out? I’m so enamored by that sparkle. That’s how the show is driven.”
Edie, who just picked up the L.A. Weekly Theater award for Best Direction of a Comedy for Mommie Queerest, is especially excited that Legs! will offer the first chance for many New York fans to hear her sing and see her display her acting chops. As for other surprises, Edie prefers to remain mum: “Let’s just say I’m going to whip something out and play it!” Her signature ’60s- inspired dancing, of course, will come as a shock to few. “We don’t see dancers like her anymore — a Juliet Prowse or a Cyd Charisse,” says director Michael Lee Scott. “That style, caliber and commitment in such a beautiful package is truly wonderful to watch.” Scott also credits Edie’s unique disposition with setting her apart from her more vicious, less classy peers: “She’s never mean, never downtrodden, and she never tears people down. And in this day and age, there’s no need for that. Edie will be on stage and someone will yell out something mean and she’ll politely say, ‘Edie doesn’t go there!’ I just love that she’s so sweet.”
As the restless, wide-eyed hotties finally make their way back to the stage, I ask Edie what qualities she looks for in a potential new dancer. (I’ve already picked my favorites, but I somehow doubt she and I share the same scoring criteria.) Though she admits she’s a smidge concerned about the diminutive heights of this current crop of wannabes — “I don’t want to feel like an Amazon lady!” — physicalities do not seem to be deciding factors. “I’m looking for people who have great technique and are excited to do the project, people who smile behind their eyes and in their hearts.” But whether the auditioner is Robert Joffrey or Matt Bell, Edie points to a crummy attitude as a sure-fire way to get the axe: “If his priority isn’t the love of dance, if he’s like, ‘How much are we making? What time do we finish? What else do I get out of this?’ Get out!” Scott agrees that a winning personality is key, adding, “I don’t care if you can kick your face. If you’re boring on stage, forget it. There’s a difference between someone who can perform a brilliant dance number and someone who can just step out, look at the audience and totally engage them.”
Okay, fair enough, but don’t these back-up boys have to be cute? “Now what do you think, pumpkin?” retorts Edie, giggling. Scott also concedes that only the most beautiful young men would suitably frame a traffic-stopping talent with gorgeous gams. But will any no-offstage-nookie rules be enforced on the chorus studs to minimize distraction and ensure professionalism? “Absolutely not,” says Scott. “Honey, tick-tock, the world’s at war! You gotta show the love and share the love. We’re all about that.”
HX, May 2005.