April 6, 2013 marked the Imperial Court of New York’s (ICNY) 27th annual Night of a Thousand Gowns (NOATG). According to ICNY President Emperor Gabriel Della Notte, the Hilton is once again hosting the event after a 15-year hiatus, at the Marriott Marquis. The fourth floor Grand Ballroom was a gracious, spacious oasis in Midtown, with a gorgeous stage punctuated by a runway. Tables clustered on either side full of the glitterati, who turned out in their finest spangles and bows to raise money for Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). There were fabulous Silent Auction items including Broadway tickets to hot-hot-hot shows like “Ann,” with Holland Taylor, and, of course, Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s “Kinky Boots.” Celebrities from every aspect of entertainment and activism were on hand from Taylor Dayne, Long Island Diva, to Aviva Drescher and Alex McCord of the “Real Housewives of New York,” to Jon and Michael Galluccio and Babs Siperstein, Garden State activists for equality, to Broadway stars like Karen Mason to stars of screens large and small like Gerald McCullouch. And that was just the Red Carpet!
The national anthems of Canada and the United States opened the entertainment portion of the evening and, after an invocation, we were all well and truly in the room. The dazzling opening featured songs from “Follies,” with many of the Emperors and Empresses strutting their stuff like the denizens of Broadway we know them to be inside. Sylphlike 1920s showgirls moved among Empress Witti Repartee and Emperor Ritz Kraka, soon to take their final walks, as well as Empresses Demi Tasse , Anne Tique, Robin Kradles , Ran-Dee, Gianna, Farrah Moans, and Lita Austin and Emperors Ron, Fantasia, and Tony Monteleone.
Karen Mason was next up and she started with a Barry Levitt arrangement of “Get Happy” accompanied by Barry on piano. Then she performed the Red Queen’s number written especially for her, “Off with Their Heads,” from “Wonderland” by Frank Wildhorn. Doris Dear, NOATG Executive Producer, performed, make it a dance-duet, at Karen’s invitation, for one of the most delightful parts of the evening. Then Mason kicked it out with a special version of “All that Jazz” from “Chicago.”
Gabriel Della Notte thanked the co-chairs, Christian Borle and Audra McDonald, and the host of sponsors and associate chairs who make an event like NOATG possible. Reigning Imperial couple Empress Witti Repartee and Emperor Ritz Kraka made a brief address, proclaiming that the 27th annual NOATG was officially under way. They then took their thrones to preside over the festivities, fund raising, and food.
Johnny Pool, familiar Cherry Grove denizen and know to radio listeners as Uncle Johnny, presented the first humanitarian award of the evening to his nephew Elvis Duran. Duran’s work for human rights via GLAAD and GMHC were furthered by Z100’s donation of $10,000 to each organization.
The ICNY Spirit Award for their continuing fight for equality was awarded to Jon and Michael Galluccio. They were the first couple to make gay couple adoption possible, even though they were not married. Their struggle for equality continues. “From diapers to glitter, you can’t ask for better than that,” was their short, sweet acceptance speech.
Babs Siperstein, first elected trans delegate to the Democratic national party, introduced the first New Jersey’s openly gay elected official, Assemblyman Tim Eustace. Tim then introduced Barbara Buono, New Jersey State Senator and presumptive gubernatorial candidate, who received the Community Hero award for spearheading the work that makes equalities possible. Senator Buono’s ensemble of beautiful black dress and black opera length gloves rendered her fabulous.
Community Heroes abound in New Jersey, the next award went to Parsippany native Jacob Rudolph whose video testimony against Reparative Therapy went viral. Ultimately his testimony set wheels in motion to ban Reparative Therapy for Lesbian and Gay youth. Young people will no longer be subject to abuse in the guise of therapy.
US Senator from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, sent a proclamation congratulating ICNY for its work in the tri-state area, including New Jersey, to improve the quality of life and the equality of those who live it.
The reigning couple then presented Knight and Dame titles for their service to former porn actor and current fundraiser Will Clark, rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, actor and GLAAD activist Wilson Cruz, Iris House Executive Director Ingrid N. Floyd, GMHC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Marjorie J. Hill, and TD Bank Vice-President and Manhattan West/Bronx Region Retail Market Manager Christine Modafferi. The President’s award then was presented to Mrs. Cathy Marino-Thomas, spouse of Sheila Marino-Thomas, from Marriage Equality USA, whose work on behalf of all couples who want recognition of their relationships. Short, sweet, and the point she said “We were just in Washington [DC] last week and I think we will have a lot to celebrate in June!”
Empress Ann Tique then introduced Empress Demi Tasse and Emperor Ron. who celebrated the 10th Anniversary of their reign with an arrangement of—who else?!—Barbra Streisand, singing “Just in Time” and Emperor Ron’s “Let’s Face the Music” à la Michael Bublé.
Amanda Lepore took the podium to present Dowager Monarchs Emperor Vanity Society and Empress Pepperica Swirl in a series of gothic vignettes in a dazzling video display, with Vanity Society varying from louche Edith Head in boy-drag to airbrush elegance and Pepperica in her many glamorous moods, from dark to light, then spotlighting them in person in their outrageous elegance. Vanity almost Russian in effect and Pepperica reminiscent of Elizabeth I in her delicious headdress and black lace delight.
Florencia Lozano, as famous for her daytime work in “One Life to Live” as for her nighttime work in the flavors of “CSI,” introduced Empress Victoria V. Weston singing beautifully to us, in her own voice, “At any moment you have touched…wrapped in your souls I see that touch of gold.”
Act One closed with dancing and the final bids on the Silent Auction. At the start of Act Two,
Sybil Bruncheon, ICNY founder and first Empress of New York, hosted a live auction of special items for GMHC and GLAAD including Mike Ruiz’s photo “Frozen,” four Grandstand seats for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and then a reverse auction. What is a reverse auction? There is no item, but Sybil Bruncheon asked for donations to give money to the benefit organizations just for the sake of giving money and the applause of the audience, $1000 at a time.
Marty Thomas and Diva kicked off the second act’s entertainment with an arrangement of “When Love Takes Over” and quoted into more dance tunes including “Born This Way,” “Dream Lover,” and more. Tight harmony and a rainbow of color vocally and visually made for a dazzling performance.
Next came the presentation of the Imperial Court of New York membership in all its regal glory. There were so many sequins on Emperors and Empresses alike that several towns in Asia must have been working overtime doing such beautiful hand finishing. As photographers were snapping souvenir photos, Swarovski stock was actually rising on the world exchanges. Each was introduced with his or her lineage and had an opportunity to shine, scintillate and sparkle. After the College of Monarchs came the Members of the Court in all of their splendor as well. Finally, the Crown Princess Royale Gracie Steeles and Crown Prince Royal Wend-D Bouvier Pinkhouse greeted the reigning Monarchs, acknowledging the impending passing of the torch of Leadership in Community Service.
Next Aviva Drescher of “Real Housewives of New York” introduced the headliner, dance diva Taylor Dayne who opened with a cover of “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby”, with everybody’s lips moving to the Barry White cover, even while their feet carried them toward the stage. Her hit “Prove Your Love” rocked it out, followed by “I’ll Be Your Shelter” and “Tell It to My Heart,” ending with “Love Will Lead You Back.”
Empress Gefil Tefish introduced those who purchased the honor of a title for a year, with contributions made for titles going to GMHC and GLAAD. The reigning Monarchs in their graciousness conferred the titles upon the grateful.
A dapper Michael Musto, from the Village Voice, introduced Empress Coco LaChine as she honored us with a special walk on the 20th Anniversary of her reign. Moving pictures selected from her reign highlighted the breadth of her contributions. She’s received many honors and her work continues today. She is ageless, timeless, and restless and as much a leader in the transgendered community as she is in the Court. Her walk, to a Imperial salute from Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” (“Diecimila anni”), featured a beautiful backless dress with flowing black lower skirt. She is grace personified.
Singer Adam Barta introduced the lovely Chad Michaels, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner in Cher’s “Strong Enough” in a barely there, totally Cher outfit of sequin-accented black suggestion of clothes, and a coal-black shoal of curls complementing the spot on-tribute. Then “If I Could Turn Back Time” then literally turned back time, with a reprise of “Strong Enough” for a grand finish! And thus ended Act Two.
Act Three was all about tribute and moving forward. Witti Repartee’s final walk kicked everything off, quite literally, with Sondheim’s “Story of Lucy and Jessie,” from “Follies,” with a bevy of beefy boy dancers. ROOOWWWWRRR!
Kitty Hiccups, 2010 winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” introduced recording star Daniel Patrick Harris. His troupe of white-clad dancers included something for every taste, men and women alike. “Say You Want Me” was his first selection, followed by “Dance Tonight,” and the crowd was ready for the finale.
The coronation is a solemn occasion–well all right, it’s a heckuva lot of fun too! Crown Prince Royal Wen-D Bouvier PinkHouse made her procession in to a medley of toe-tapping sing-along favorites from every genre–soul to metal to southern rock and more, with a breadth of rockstar attendants making a moveable feast of musical mayhem. Bobby soxers, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Bill Haley, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, Brittany Spears, Debbie Harry, Nancy Sinatra, then the Pink Elvis, and there’s our Emperor! The walk was completed with Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” and never were truer words sung. The lights went down and we saw the Emperor-to-Be wearing a pink suit of lights. Then the Empress-to-Be made her entrance.
Gracie Steeles will steal your heart–lush romantic music accompanied her resplendent attendants, men in white dinner jackets, women in white and black dresses, all heralding her arrival. Then the moment we’ve awaited all evening, as the music gave way to a torchy anthem of beautiful independence, as black and white gave way to a bevy of beauties in royal blue, and then a corps of handsome leathermen, two dignified couples bearing crowns, and then Gracie. She wore a black strapless dress with a red bowed bustle, that became a train to the tune of “When You Wish Upon A Star.”
The nascent Monarchs knelt before Queen Mother of the Americas Nicole the Great while Empress Witti and Emperor Ritz held the crowns over their successors’ heads. They all conferred their blessings upon the new Monarchs and the reign of 2013 began. Under the leadership of Stiletto Heeled Jersey Girl Empress XXVII Gracie and Rock ’n’Roll Emperor XXII of Peace, Love, Unity and Respect Wen-D, the Imperial Court of New York is assured of prosperity and positivity. Long live the Monarchs of the ICNY!