For 66 Years, Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School Dads Have Put On L.A.'s Weirdest Annual Drag Show
The year was 1947. Headlines announced the establishment of the Cominform and the formation of the CIA that marked the non-declaration of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
In suburban Glendale, meanwhile, a different kind of stage was being set by ex-G.I.s, former wartime defense workers and the odd Hollywood contract player, who were settling into their postwar, gray-flannel existence of civilian conformity by starting families, buying homes and ... putting on women's dresses.
As legend has it, the historic act of sexually transgressive irony was intended to spice up the annual Father's Night held by the Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School PTA. The wives and kids all liked what they saw, and the following year the show returned fully flowered into a musical-burlesque revue of comic song, dance and bling-bling girly dads.
The Fathers' Follies was born. Sixty-six years later, the Follies have become the longest-running if unlikeliest continuous drag act in Los Angeles and probably in America. To get to the bottom of Glendale's best-kept-secret subculture, LA Weekly attended this past weekend's incarnation of the only-in-L.A., yearly PTA fundraiser.
What was immediately apparent is that the Verdugo Woodlands Fathers' Follies is not your typical fathers' amateur drag show. It is a surprisingly vast and polished stage spectacle, lavishly mounted on a Cameron Mackintosh scale and boasting the kind of production values that would put the Nederlanders to shame.
Bill Raden The Verdugo Woodlands dads add ketchup to their ham.
The program lists an astonishing 83-strong cast of actors, singers, dancers and "chorines," and includes credits for directors, designers, technicians, support crew and the entire Glendale High Jazz Band (under director Amy Rangel), raising the entire company count to twice that number.
This year's show (directed by Nina and Raul Lopez), featured an all-new book titled Boys vs Girls by dad-turned-librettist -- and former Silver Lake scene-pioneer-turned-dad -- Michael Long, ex-frontman of '90s post-grunge alt rockers Drill Team. The lighthearted fantasy follows the misadventures of Verdugo Woodlands preteens Jagger (Michael Naishtut), Lennon (co-director Raul Lopez), Hazel (Dan Smith) and Collette (Eric Axene) as their playground feud magically transports them to the fairy-populated Pixieland, though in cross-dressed garb.
Much as Dorothy must journey to the Emerald City in order to get back to Kansas, the two warring factions must similarly make a trek through surreal landscapes populated by characters drawn from contemporary children's television (including anime-series faves Pokemon and Naruto and the Cartoon Network's Adventure Time) to get back to Verdugo Woodlands, but only by first setting aside their superficial gender differences and cooperating as a team.
Bill Raden The finale: Pleading for "Peace, Love and Understanding"
And while the narrative hews to the kid-engaging, tooth-aching register of a saccharine Nickelodeon cartoon, Long lards his script with enough adult-sophisticated double entendre to hold the parents' attention as well.
But make no mistake -- the audience hasn't come down from the Verdugo Woodlands to the Glendale High School Auditorium merely for uplifting and soul-stirring moral lessons; they have paid to see dads dressed as moms. Period. And to that end, the Follies did not disappoint.
The heart of any follies-style show is the musical part of it. We're talking 16 blistering production numbers featuring brawny and bearded men in wigs, makeup and balloon-stuffed flouncy dresses and pantyhose, kick-stepping, lip-synching and, yes, even actually singing their way through a selection of recent and more vintage pop and rock hits selected by Long to satisfy both sides of the bubblegum divide.
Tot-friendly tunes like Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Getting Back Together" and "Trouble" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Good Time" had the auditorium's four-feet-and-under set literally bouncing out of their seats. More nostalgic selections such as a vintage Beastie Boys medley (arranged by musical theater veteran David O and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's Glen Marhevka) or Elvis Costello's "Peace, Love and Understanding," which played over the thrilling finale number, might well have had the parents misty-eyed over their own vanished youth.