Like it or not, drag is everywhere these days. This has a lot do with the success of RuPaul's Drag Race, a LOGO series about to start its seventh season on March 2nd.
In recent years, the drag scene of Philadelphia also has seen a major revitalization. So much so, that queens are flocking from the Big Apple to become a part of our city's scene. Cue Marti Gould Cummings, a gender bending singing comedy queen who offends audiences weekly at New World Stages, The Ritz, Barracuda, Industry, and on Fire Island.
Cummings is about to embark on a new monthly stint at Tabu Sports Bar and Lounge that will featuring Bob The Drag Queen, another staple of the NYC nightlife scene.
Marti Gould Cummings grew up on a farm in Maryland but he would visit Philadelphia often for educational school trips, but he had another city in mind for his dreams. "I started performing when I was five-years-old and then moved to New York City when I was 17 to be a Broadway performer," he told me on the phone during the recent snow storm. "It didn't really end up working out. I was in an off-Broadway musical. I played Charlie in Twist, an S&M version of Oliver Twist. That is what got me started in drag. I just started from there. That led to one gig and that led to another gig. It sort of just evolved from there. Five years later, I am a professional drag queen."
During that process, Cummings has learned a lot, especially from his peers and fellow performers. "What I looked like five years ago is certainly not what I look like now. My makeup was terrible when I started. My makeup was terrible a year ago!" he laughs. "It is about learning and growing. And talking to other queens and asking what they do and using what works for you."
Cummings is extremely androgynous, channeling a skinnier version of Liza Minelli. So much so that famed gossip columnist Michael Musto labeled him as "the love child of Liza Minnelli and Johnny Weir."
His style is unique. When most queens tend to be hyper feminine and "fishy," a term used to describe drag queens who can easily pass as a woman, Cummings lives in the gray between man and woman. "I never intended to be the 'androgynous drag queen'," he explains. "It just happened. I just roll with it. But the great thing is one day I can be an androgynous lady boy. The next day I can throw on a wig on and be a woman. I am able to change it up more and that is what makes it so much fun."
This is a new normal. "My goal was not to be a female impersonator," he confidently reminds me. "My goal was to make people laugh and have a good time and feel something. Drag for me is about being an entertainer and that is why I do it. When doing drag, my palette is very broad for my self-expression. There is no box to stay inside of. You can color outside of the lines and that is totally fine."
Self-expression is something Cummings has struggled with. He is now four years sober, a rare accomplishment in the drag community. He spoke about this in depth with Robert Drake last week on WXPN. "By the grace of the God, I was given the opportunity to get sober and then a lot more opportunities came," he candidly explained. "Now that I have been sober for fours year, everything I do on stage I can own. I can own it. If a joke is offensive, I'll own. Because I know I made it. I was of the clear sober mind. When I was drunk, I would say who cares?"
With humor that does play on the offensive, Cummings delivers razor-sharp comedy and lightning-fast wit that cut deep, especially when he tackles racial issues and stereotypes. But he is an equal opportunist with this satirically discriminatory banter and he owns it.
He is still on a journey, and Philadelphia is his next stop. "Every year it changes drastically for me. As any artist you grow and you evolve. I do six a shows a week in NYC and it's exciting to add a monthly show, Escape from NYC, in Philly. I'm really excited about this show in Philly because I'm hosting with Bob The Drag Queen. Bob is the funniest queen on the scene right now. But our comedy is very different. We are bringing two styles of drag with a different guest each month. This month we are bringing down Monet Xchange."
Matt Beierschmitt, also known as DJ Sharyn Stone, is DJing the evening. "Marti is pure energy," Beierschmitt said. "Watching him sing, dance and crack jokes at lightening pace is something that everyone should witness. I get exhausted just watching him perform. I am not sure how she does it night after night but I am glad he is doing it in Philly once a month now."
When asked about what his favorite thing about Philly is, Cummings quickly responds, "The audiences! They are so kind and generous. I just love the people in Philadelphia."
I have a feeling we are going to have no problem loving him back.
"Escape from NYC" begins Friday, January 30th at Tabu Sports Bar and Lounge (200 S. 12th St.).
Doors are at 9:00pm and show is 10:30pm.