When the wickedly hilarious beauty pageant mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous was first released in 1999, it should’ve been a slam-dunk. Hitting theaters at the height of the late-‘90s teen movie boom, it gathered generational icons Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, and Brittany Murphy with seasoned pros Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, and Allison Janney for a no-holds-barred skewering of small-town Midwestern culture. All the DNA for a hit was there: it had the accents of Fargo, the format of Waiting for Guffman, a director of seminal sketch show The State, and a teen-friendly PG-13 rating.
However, not only was Drop Dead Gorgeous a flop—it grossed just $10.5 million and was almost universally panned by critics—it ostensibly tanked many of the careers of those involved. At press time, neither director Michael Patrick Jann nor screenwriter Lona Williams ever made another feature film again; of its stellar ensemble cast, only Janney and then-unknown Amy Adams (in her film debut) continue to flourish today. And yet, Drop Dead Gorgeous has emerged as arguably one of the most beloved, enduring, endlessly quoted cult smashes of its decade. And it’s that cult status that drew the attentions of midnight movie maven Peaches Christ.
On May 9 at the Castro Theatre, Peaches Christ will assemble one of her largest casts in history—including RuPaul’s Drag Race champ Jinkx Monsoon and fan favorites BenDeLaCreme and Pandora Boxx—to give this modern classic the extravagant drag tribute it so richly deserves. With performances at both 3 and 8 p.m., this is truly a show not to be missed (for ticket information, check out PeachesChrist.com). Below, we chat with Peaches Christ and Pandora Boxx about the legacy of Drop Dead Gorgeous, what fans can expect from the show, and the parallels between pageant and drag culture.
Drop Dead Gorgeous is one of the youngest films to ever get the Peaches Christ treatment. Peaches, why did you decide to build a show around it? Peaches Christ: When I first began Midnight Mass back in 1998 I was interested in programming mostly cult classics, but I always programmed at least one “nostalgia film” each season for my peers who grew up watching movies in the 80’s on cable TV and VHS. These are the films we watched over and over again and knew every line of dialogue from—films like The Goonies, Poltergeist, or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. In the last few years its become pretty evident that I get older as the audience gets younger, so lately I’ve been looking to the 90’s for these nostalgia films with titles like Clueless, The Craft, and of course Drop Dead Gorgeous. And giving Drop Dead Gorgeous the drag-queen treatment is long overdue!
This is a film that was released theatrically after you’d already begun Midnight Mass and became a frequent fan request over the years. What were your thoughts when you first sat down to watch it? PC: Watching it recently I just kept thinking about how absolutely outrageous it is! I mean, this film is not for the easily offended. I’m kind of blown away by its comedic fearlessness. The movie pokes fun at race, class, anorexia, mental retardation, religion and more. Nothing is off limits! Of course it appeals to the same audiences that enjoy a good old-fashioned nasty drag show.
Pandora, what are your recollections of watching it for the first time? Pandora Boxx: I just remember laughing through the whole damn thing! It’s so my sense of humor and I had to watch it again immediately.
Do you have a favorite performance in the film? PC: I think it’s a tie between Kirstie Alley as the twisted conservative and Allison Janney as the hilariously trashy supportive best friend. Both actresses are completely hilarious. But really, the whole cast is super funny. It just gives and gives and gives laugh after laugh. PB: I think one of the best things about the film is that everyone gives a great performance. It’s a stellar cast. Even the smaller roles are hysterical. It really is a great quotable movie too. So many great lines!
Like many cult films, Drop Dead Gorgeous was a critical and commercial failure upon its box office release. Why do you think it failed, and why has it gone on to enjoy such cult success? PC: It’s the classic cult film in that it was way too dark and transgressive for a mainstream audience to embrace, so it really had to find its audience one fan at a time over a period of many years until the cult was built and rabid. It will be great to see it on the big screen for over 1,000 obsessed fans who know all the lines and can cheer along with the characters on-screen. PB: I’m not sure why it failed in theaters—perhaps it was marketed wrong. I also think this movie benefits from watching it with a group of people and some cocktails. It’s totally one of those movies that you watch going, ‘Did she just say that?’
This is an ambitious adaptation. Peaches, could you give us an idea of your process in translating this feature film to a stage show? What do you think will be the biggest challenge? PC: This one is a doozy because the format is not linear narrative storytelling and it jumps between hundreds of locations quickly; theatre just doesn’t lend itself to this kind of storytelling. I’m really having to rip it apart and put pieces together that makes sense for staging. I have to take some creative liberties and hopefully fans will understand why and appreciate the intent. I think the biggest theatrical challenge right now is figuring out an exploding parade float.
Pandora, how did this project come to you? PB: I’ve always wanted to work with Peaches since I was a little baby queen, and then I got to do 9 to 5 with her, which was one of my favorite shows to ever do. I love doing these! I think quite a few people had suggested Drop Dead Gorgeous and Peaches finally decided to do it. When I saw her post the announcement of the show, I quickly emailed to say it’s one of my all time favorite movies and I know all the lines. I get to play Loretta! She is Amber’s mom’s best friend. You know, just your average boozy, floozy trailer park queen. I know a lot of queens wanted to do this part because she’s got some pretty epic lines. She is going to be a complete blast to play.
Peaches, how did you settle on your cast and whom will be playing which characters? PC: Honestly, this casting was decided by a group of people. Jinkx and DeLa knew I wanted to do Drop Dead Gorgeous and suggested that DeLa play Becky, which I really like because it will be fun to see her do something so bitchy. And Jinkx suggested she play Annette, which really makes sense when you consider she modeled the Jinkx character on a drunk mother. Pandora is HILARIOUS and in love with the Loretta character, and I really, really love Kirstie Alley in this movie so I wanted that part. Suppositori Spelling is OBSESSED with Drop Dead Gorgeous and has been asking me to do it for years, so it only seemed right to make her the lead. The cast is so huge that there are more exciting cast members involved that we’ll announce soon.
What parallels do you see between the Drop Dead Gorgeous plot and the drag world as you’ve experienced it? PC: I think one of the big parallels is the divide in both communities between people who have a sense of humor about it all versus the people who take it too seriously. I sometimes meet a competitive humorless drag queen and believe that someday she may murder someone to get ahead… so in that way I think there’s some big overlap. PB: All pageants are the same, be it in drag or not. There is a lot of infighting and crazy things happening behind the scenes that are often all controlled by one person. I’ve heard pageant stories of razor blades hid in wigs in case another queen tried to yank it off and other crazy things. One pageant, a queen got her gown flushed in the toilet—but she took it out, put the wet gown back on, went out and got crowned.
This movie is all about sabotaging one’s competitors. Have you ever been tempted to sabotage another queen, or experienced it yourself? PC: Yes, unfortunately I have. Putanesca is constantly trying to give me doughnuts, pizza, or anything caloric so that I’ll get to be as big as her. She makes it seem all sweet… but it’s actually sabotage. PB: Well, I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race so you do think of sabotage. HA! But usually on that show they sabotage themselves. I do have a pretty crazy, active imagination so I think about it—but if I’m going to win, I want to win because I deserve it, not because I pooped in someone’s heel. What else can fans expect from this show? PC: They can expect to laugh a lot, and experience an epic drag spectacle starring a giant cast. Oh, and probably witness a few unexpected mistakes here and there, as is clearly the signature quality of any Peaches Christ production.
Just in time for Mother’s Day… On May 9 at the Castro Theatre, Peaches Christ will assemble one of her largest casts in history—including RuPaul’s Drag Race champ Jinkx Monsoon and fan favorites BenDeLaCreme and Pandora Boxx for a live stage performance of the cult classic Drop Dead Gorgeous. Tickets available at peacheschrist.com.