Tonight's opening of The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes at the Victoria Theatre marks the 11th consecutive year of big-name San Francisco drag queens reenacting episodes of the 1980s retiree sitcom. So after more than a decade of reprising the roles of Bea Arthur, Betty White, and company, how do these queens keep the act from getting old? SFist spoke with the show's stars Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger on how the Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes keeps from showing its age.
"Well, since there were only ever two actual Christmas episodes in the entire seven seasons of The Golden Girls, we've had to take actual episodes and Christmasify them," Heklina tells SFist. "How we keep the act fresh is to update the material with our own slapstick and in-jokes. Also, of course, we need to come up with freshly campy outfits every year. Making outfits for Dorothy is a challenge in itself, Bea Arthur had her outfits custom made for Golden Girls."
This year's show is indeed all new, and soups up the cast with rotating celebrity cameos including KRON 4's Jan Wahl (tonight, December 1), 99.7 Now's Fernando & Greg (Friday, December 2) and KPIX's Liam Mayclem (Saturday, December 3). The show runs until December 23, and there may be more celebrity cameos to come.
The "drag queens reenacting old movies and TV shows" genre, which originated with San Francisco's Golden Girls and Sex & the City send-ups, has caught on thanks to the effort of these queens, and has spread to other cities. But the cast takes it as a compliment.
"I don’t feel ripped off. How can we?," said D'Arcy Drollinger, who plays the Betty White role of Rose. "We are sending up television shows and characters that were created by someone else. Theaters in two different cities can’t be upset if they are both putting on My Fair Lady or The King and I."
"I think for some people there is a misconception that this kind of theater is just fluff," Ms. Drollinger continued. "And while it is a bunch of drag queens reenacting classic TV shows, we spend a lot of time and work to create strong stage adaptations. There is integrity in our productions and in the representation of the characters."
Integrity? Check out these highlights from last year's Golden Girls: The Christman Episodes and you be the judge.
Is is not without heavy hearts that the cast remembers the dearly departed Cookie Dough, who has traditionally played the Estelle Getty role of Sophia. "This is the second season of the show that I've done without Cookie and it's still bittersweet and difficult," Heklina said. "Cookie was such a hoarder that whenever we unpack the Golden Girls stuff that we keep in storage all year I find notes by her, or some prop that we used once and never used again and she refused to throw out."
But the show does go on, and this particular show has carved out a Christmas tradition in San Francisco. "This is the only family-friendly show I do all year long so bring your grandmother," Heklina said. "We love seeing real Golden Girls in the audience."
'The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes - 2016' runs December 1 - December 23 at the Victoria Theatre. Tickets here