Grooming A Queen
After years of working in television and on Broadway, Kevin C. Loomis wanted to move back to his native Oregon — and continue to work, of course.
He arrived in his home state June 18, and had a job June 19.
And, it's not just any job. He'll play legendary female impersonator Darcelle, aka Walter Cole, in Triangle Productions' "That's No Lady." Rehearsals are going well, and there'll be 10 shows staged Sept. 19-Oct. 5 at Lincoln Performance Hall.
"It's a huge challenge, from a lot of respects," said Loomis, who was raised in Corvallis and now lives in a condominium in the Southwest Portland hills. "I'm portraying a living icon that is so well loved in the city, and we're recreating some classic lip sync numbers done at the club over the years. There's live and performed original music by Portland musicians.
"And, you gotta do a lot of it in heels. My feet are paying the price. I had worn heels once as Dr. Scott in 'Rocky Horror,' but I was sitting in a wheelchair. ... There's a lot of things to wrap your head around with any show, especially this one. Walter will be there opening night, and you have to do him right."
Loomis recently met up with the 88-year-old Cole, who showed the youngster — Cole's in his 60s — how to apply makeup.
Cole and Loomis have talked about the character. Loomis has read the book by Triangle Productions' Donald Horn, which will be released in association with "That's No Lady." And, Loomis has watched videos and documentaries about Darcelle and the man who has portrayed her for more than 50 years at Darcelle XV Showplace in Northwest Portland.
Loomis attended a show at Darcelle XV Showplace, and visited Cole's Northeast Portland home to absorb even more of his life.
"I try to approach it kind of from Walter's standpoint, his life. There's so much of his life in the show, the arc of his life," Loomis said.
The show starts with Cole in the hospital and reflecting on his life and Darcelle, who started her show at Demas Tavern in 1967. There are some twists and turns, Horn said, and Cole gave him freedom to tell the whole Cole/Darcelle story. It covers the past 50-plus years of Cole's life.
"I'm trying to do him right, whatever age I'm playing," Loomis said.
Loomis, who graduated from Crescent Valley High in Corvallis in 1975, attended the University of Washington and lived in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. His TV credits include "The Practice," "Frasier" and, most recently, "Deception," and he has played roles on Broadway, including in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," and worked alongside Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer on Broadway. He's also worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
"I missed my family," he said, about his move home. "After 12 years in New York doing Broadway shows, touring and regional theater, I felt my time was waning there. And, I have friends here and in Seattle and Corvallis."
Horn hired Loomis sight unseen, taking a recommendation from Cynthia Fuhrman, managing director at Portland Center Stage. Loomis hasn't played a drag performer, but he had New York friends who did drag.
Loomis remembers seeing Darcelle's show when he attended the University of Washington in the 1970s. He last heard about Darcelle, before the job, when she became the world's oldest working female impersonator. Loomis reposted the news on his Facebook page; now, he said, "little did I know ..."
Loomis marvels at Cole and his portrayal of Darcelle.
"He's good and he does all those shows in the club and does charitable events," he said. "Reading Don's bio, I can't believe all the charity work he's done, it seems like he hasn't said no to pretty much anything. So giving of his time and talents, it's one reason he's so well loved."
The show will include Loomis wearing actual Darcelle costumes from the club. At one point in the play, he has only five minutes to get into complete makeup, gown, heels and all the bling.
"With every project, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, am I able to pull this off,'" he said. "I find it challenging. I do my due diligence every day before rehearsal. And, luckily, we have a good team and a good director (Brandon Woolley) at the helm."
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