Dressed in a hot-pink sleeveless dress, glittery with sequins, pink flats, matching gloves and topped with a ridiculously large sequined pink bow, Rachel straddled the involuntary member of the audience and began bouncing up and down. As members of the audience laughed and winced, as Rachel giggled while dry-humping the poor stranger, it was hard to imagine the man underneath the flashy costume.
Ben Schatz is one of the founding members of the Kinsey Sicks, a drag a capella quartet that dazzled and charmed the audience on Sunday afternoon at the Van Dyke Performance Space in Greensboro. Schatz is the only original member left in the group, which formed in San Francisco, and has been playing his character, “Rachel,” for 25 years — since the group’s inception in 1993, when the original members formed the Kinsey Sicks after attending a Bette Midler concert in drag.
A Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer and former director of the National Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Schatz was also appointed to President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 1992. According to the Kinsey Sicks website, Schatz discovered that “activism and theater are not mutually exclusive.”
During Sunday’s performance, Schatz leaned heavily into the latter. There was even an extremely awkward, drawn-out segment in which Rachel lewdly sucked on a bite of banana — repeatedly.
Originally a group of five, these days the Kinsey Sicks — a play on the Kinsey scale, which describes a person’s sexuality, with 6 being “exclusively homosexual” — bill themselves as “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.” Dressed in gowns and get-ups, the four sang in perfect harmony while playing their distinctive characters: Rachel, the boisterous, obscene one; Winnie, in blue slacks and glasses, resembling Endora from “Bewitched” and the most-responsible one of the group; Trampolina, the sweet, ditzy one in a shiny purple A-line dress; and Trixie, the spotlight-hogging glamorous one in the emerald-green evening gown with matching sheer cape.
Because of the group’s 25-year tenure, the members of the Kinsey Sicks have changed throughout the years; this particular cast has been performing together since 2014, with Winnie, played by Nathan Marke, being the newest addition.
They sing both original songs as well as parodies of famous musical and movie tunes like “Mama Mia” (which they changed to “Gonorrhea”) and Connie Francis’s “Where the Boys Are,” or rather, “Where the Goys Are,” with Rachel (played by Schatz who is Jewish) lusting after someone who’s not of Jewish descent.
In one hilarious sequence, the four sang their own version of “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” which they restyled to “Putin in the Ritz,” a scathing number that heavily criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, replacing original lyrics for lines like, “Watch him strip the right to the vote/ watch him slip off his manly coat to tout his tits… Putin in the Ritz.”
Maintaining popularity for the last quarter-century, the group continues to produce new songs relevant to the times and released their ninth album, Eight is Enough, in 2016. Their latest show was called “Things You Shouldn’t Say” and showcased a number of their most popular songs as well as plenty of biting commentary about the current political administration including jabs at President Trump, Steve Bannon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and even the recently appointed Justice Kavanaugh.
“We’re living in a historical event,” said one of the members, as another continued, “Just ask the people of Flint, Michigan, or Puerto Rico.”
The outrageous musical acts and jokes about sex and STDs were often balanced with raw, cutting commentary and monologues that grounded and captured the audience.
In one particularly moving speech towards the end of the show, Schatz recounted his time as an activist during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the eighties and nineties.
“I love gay marriage,” Schatz said. “But it was won on the backs of hundreds of thousands of dead gay men. Let’s not forget them.”
Schatz went on to reveal that two of the original founding members of the group died from AIDS or substance abuse.
“We carry so many dead on our backs, it’s a wonder we can walk at all,” said Schatz, his voice solemn but steady. “But we are not the ones who should be ashamed!”
As the audience stood for a standing ovation after his speech, the other members of the group lined up beside him and the four stood proudly together, their outfits glittering under the stage lights.
“We’re putting the rage in outrage,” they said. “The world needs us and we’re not going anywhere.”