What do Oscar-calibre actors and celebrated civil rights activists have in common with Rock and Roll? Simple! The Imperial Court of New York’s (ICNY) Night of a Thousand Gowns! Rocking the Red Carpet at the Marriott Marquis on March 29, the luminaries included Martha Reeves, Marsha Mason, Karen Mason, Edie Windsor, and Sandra Bernhard, complemented by the design world in the person of Randy Fenoli of “Say Yes to the Dress,” “RuPaul Drag Race” contestant Magnolia Crawford and “Sordid Lives’” Jacob, actor Ted Detwiler. Luminaries from the Imperial Court strode as well, including reigning Emperor XXII Wen-D Bouvier Pinkhouse and Empress XXVII Gracie Steeles, as well as Monarchs-to-Be Emperor XXIII Tony Monteleone and Empress XXVIII Twinkle Montgomery. There were many surprises. The first ICNY Empress, the ever gorgeous, ever gracious Sybil the First, aka Sybil Bruncheon, interviewed the glitterati bravely standing between attendees and their cocktails! Then after a brief mixing and meeting, attendees headed in to the Broadway Ballroom for the festivities.
The opening number, directed by Empress XIII and XXIII Anne Tique, was an awesome Elvis-inspired grouping of songs including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and more, featuring Emperor Wen-D, with handsome dancing Jailbirds flocking around her, while Empress Gracie Steeles had her own posse of tough grrls and guards, who all morphed into a gospel choir of “Burning Love.”
Jesse Lutrell of the Bawdy Show came next with two of the “girls” from his uptown burlesque show. We were first treated to a breezy fun version of “Going to the Chapel,” like you’ve never heard it before, as they sang of their journey through all the states that gay people can’t get married. The nerve! Then Jesse soloed and inspired us with his song about the “Once in a Lifetime” chance that comes along to truly make something happen.
Emperor X Gabriel Della Notte, President of ICNY, welcomed all of us to the event and thanked the sponsors for their dedication and support. The recipients of the fundraising this year include God’s Love We Deliver and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Foundation. This year, the organizers opted for an electronic journal so each attendee received a lipstick USB drive. How easy to plug that in and click on ads that interest you–saves time and more money goes to the recipients–brilliant and green!
Next, the reigning Monarchs were officially introduced and had their opportunity to welcome everyone to their soirée. Proceeding to their thrones, Emperor Wen-D and Empress Gracie Steeles were ready to receive. Marsha Mason had the honors of giving the ICNY Imperial Diamond Award to one of the most dedicated and far-reaching activists in our lifetime so far–Edie Windsor. Who better than an award winning and highly decorated actor to confer an award on a dedicated activist–both have changed our lives, for the better and best. Ms. Windsor kept her remarks short and sweet, honoring both her love for and the memory of her Thea Spyer and also thanking ICNY for the work it has continued to do over the many years of its existence–the Imperial Court System will soon celebrate 50 years of bringing positive change to the world.
Community Hero awards went to two organizations this year. The first award went to the Tyler Clementi Foundation for its work on behalf of LGBT youth. RUSA, the Russian LGBT organization, was also honored, as it works to bring LGBT people in Russia the same rights everyone enjoys.
Community Spirit awards went to two important sponsors of this event and the recipient organizations. Quest Diagnostics enjoyed recognition for its work and support and among those accepting the award was Executive Vice President Everett Cunningham, who earlier and walked the red carpet with his lovely daughter. Next was Stoli, which has long been a supporter of LGBT issues, and the company received the Community Spirit award for continuing dedication to ICNY.
The visiting dignitaries and members of the Imperial Court System from the United States, Canada, and Mexico then paid tribute to Emperor Wen-D and Empress Gracie Steeles and were acknowledged each in his and her own right. There was an impressive turnout to honor the reigning Monarchs for their final walk.
A musical performance by Sean Michael Murphy and Kelly King including their new video gave a sentimental feel to the evening. The blending of their voices was sublime.
Victoria Lace then got to strut her stuff with her two dazzling dancers and the crowd was ready to dance.
After a brief break, music legend Martha Reeves told stories and sang songs. We all danced and helped her celebrate 50 years of her landmark songs “Heatwave” and “Dancing in the Streets.” We sang, we danced, we celebrated and felt young and like one again.
The evening was dedicated to Empress VIII Billie Ann Miller, who passed away this year. She was a major contributor in many ways to community organizations, but the Imperial Court of New York was always in her heart and for many years she produced the Royal Revue at her beloved Fire Island.
Act Two opened with a heartfelt tribute to Empress I José Sarria, late founder of the Imperial Court System, which was brilliantly conducted by close friend Empress VII Coco LaChine. Empress Coco eloquently spoke of Empress José’s contributions to the LGBT community in San Francisco, including being the first openly gay person to run for public office. The work that every chapter of the Imperial Court System does began with the efforts of José Sarria, when the world was not a forgiving place for differences of many kinds, but least of all for those who ended every Black Cat Café performance with a rousing rendition of “God Bless Us Nelly Queens.” Empress José’s portrait remained on stage right, in a place of honor, throughout the evening’s proceedings. Rest in Peace, Empress José, Widow Norton.
This tribute was followed by a moment of silence in Empress José’s memory, with the entire membership in attendance of the Imperial Court resplendent on stage. The presentation of the full Imperial Court of New York followed and Queen Mother Empress Coco LaChine gave a special award, named after Empress José, to former San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Duffy, who had overseen the naming of José Sarria Place in the Castro.
Next Randy Fenoli and Ted Detwiler made a special presentation of the crown honoring Monarchs fallen in the past year. Then Emperor Wen-D and Empress Gracie Steeles received their ICNY subjects for the final time with great pomp and circumstance to the tune of Pharrell’s “Happy”–brilliant!
This was the time when the tension really begins to build. There are several aperitifs to whet our appetite at this point as we prepare for the coronation to come.
Headliner Sandra Bernhard then took the stage and took the audience to task from the get-go, declaring, “You all have a picture of me, I’m your new best friend–treat me like you respect me.” I was thrilled to hear her address it right away–you can’t drive and can’t take the train or bus without seeing people engage with their electronics. It’s about time an entertainer put that into perspective! Then Sandra riffed on marriage equality, her long term relationship of 15 years, attending Yom Kippur services at the Marriott Marquis, and social media, and she triumphed over a tough room.
Knighthoods were then conferred as the evening progressed including a special award to Troy Stevenson, immediate past Executive Director of Garden State Equality, who now heads up Equality Oklahoma and New York City Councilmember Rosie Mendez among many special awardees.
Rounding out the final part of Act II was a rousing performance by Exposé! Performing their classic hits “Come Go With Me,” “Let Me Be the One,” “Seasons Change” and, of course, “Point of No Return.” The audience stood up and we were all singing along with women who still know how to bring an entire ballroom to its feet.
Act Three kicked off with Emperor Wen-D’s final walk, another brilliant amalgam of “Love Gone Bad;” “Bad to the Bone;” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” in Madonna’s version, of course; “Thank You for Hearing Me;” and “Happy” by Pharrell. Then it was Empress Gracie Steeles’ final walk, to a Country/Western number.
Then the Broadway revival’s Pippin himself, Kyle Dean Massy, regaled us with “Corner of the Sky,” always a favorite. Ciara Renée ,who takes over for Tony Award Winner Patina Miller as the Leading Player starting April 1, when Massy succeeds Matthew James Thomas, then took the stage for the classic and classy “Simple Joys.”
The Coronation Walk for Emperor Tony Monteleone and Empress Twinkle Montgomery began with a heartfelt rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Then there was a heraldic anthem, while the rest of the attendants took the stage and the reigning Monarchs awaited the Imperial Crown Princess and Prince. Twinkle Montgomery made her walk toward destiny to “Suddenly” from Cinderella. This segued to Trumpet Voluntary, for the maidens’ entry, and then the music changed to a heroic style that energized the audience for the ascension. Finally, her crown preceding her, and Twinkle Montgomery appeared in a crystal gown to the tolling of bells and the sounding of trumpets in Fanfare, with banners bearing her glittering signature.
Next Tony and Twinkle knelt and we witnessed the newest Monarchs as they received their crowns and the reins of the Imperial Court of New York. Emperor Tony Monteleone and Empress Twinkle Montgomery are responsible for carrying forward the good works of the organization and representing ICNY at many events in the cities that they will visit during their reign. The crowns were placed on the heads of the new Monarchs by the outgoing Monarchs and thus the reign began.
Thank you, Emperor Wen-D and Empress Gracie Steeles, for your work this past year. Best of luck to all in the Imperial Court of New York and all those they serve!