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Night of a Thousand Gowns: Imperial Court of NY’s Sexy Silver Jubilee
Photo by Lee Sharmat
new EmperorXX Vanity Society & Empress XXV Pepperica Swirl

The Imperial Court of New York (ICNY) celebrated 25 years of service on March 26, 2011 at its perennial gala location, The Marriott Marquis Hotel. This years Night of A Thousand Gowns kicked off with a presentation of the flags that included an opening of Mamma Mia, by ABBA, and other songs, as rendered by the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps, our communitys band. This energetic opening was followed closely by the singing of the Canadian national anthem, O Canada! by Empress Spice Celestial, from Connecticut. Our own Star Spangled Banner was sung by Epiphany Get Paid.

An invocation by Reverend John Graf, Jr. brought to everyones mind of a Higher Power joining us in celebration of 25 years of purpose and love of community service. Emperor X Gabriel Della Notte, who is the President of the Imperial Court of New York, invited us to enjoy an evening of entertainment, but there was a bit of a cloud. After 18 years of fabulous choreography, Empress X Ran-Dee broke the newsthis is her Swan Song and her New York, New York would be her final opening number. She thanked her partner, Empress XI Gianna, who was with her every dancing step of the way, for her continuing support and love. This opening medley was performed before a beautiful background of the Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building, with white palm trees punctuating a pastel skyline, which was all the better to highlight Empress XXIV Farrah Moans and Emperor XIX Jack, the Monarchs whose reign culminated that night, resplendent in a red gown and red tails respectively. The wisecracking merriment and Broadway-caliber performance drew frequent applause and ohs and ahs from the audience. Full of surprises, as always, the kick-line that went from one end of the stage to the other, in the Broadway Ballroom, was as thrilling as anything youd see in the theatres adjacent to the hotel. And this was just the beginning!

Chad Ryan, from the cast of Beauty and the Beast, was up next. He gave amazing performances of Luck Be A Lady Tonight, I Am What I Am, Losing My Mind, and other favorites. Hearts fluttered all over the room!

Emperor Gabriel welcomed everyone to this Jubilee Year and advised that, in that time, more than 1.5 million dollars was raised and distributed to a myriad of AIDS services and other organizations, and that is just phenomenal. He congratulated the celebrities and hard-working members of the court, who made the evening, and in fact the last 25 years together, entirely possible. On this occasion, beneficiaries were the Ali Forney Center, committed to proving shelter for homeless LGBT youth in New York City, and the Trevor Project, focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts on behalf of LGBT youth.

The Imperial Diamond Award is conferred annually upon a long-time activist for the LGBT Community. This years honor went to the amazing David Mixner, who gave a brief and humble speech thanking the Imperial Court for its service. He recalled a time, in 1978, when people thought Californias anti-gay teacher Briggs Initiative could not be defeated. The Imperial Court came to him and gave him the money to jump start the campaign that led to the defeat of the measure by 54% of the popular vote. He also let everyone know that, when we all keep up the good work, we can bring victory for LGBT people with a historic number of Americans who now understand that Marriage Equality is where the future is, and he called the Imperial Court to action again. His address was accurate, brief, and complete, so its easy to see how Mixner has been so successful in bringing about change.

Next, Miss New York 2010 Claire Buffie, spoke about her work as a straight ally working with the Trevor Project to raise awareness about LGBT teens and suicide. She then helped Emperor Gabriel confer the Community Spirit Diversity Awards to Splash Bar and TD Bank.

Buffie and Joyce Randolph, Trixie from the cast of The Honeymooners, were awarded the title of Dame of the Realm, and Knighthoods were conferred upon Anthony Bosco and Clay Owens. Charles Robbins, Cheryl Kilodavis, and Kevin V. Lawrence were dubbed Knight, Dame and Knight respectively. Thunderous applause followed. Lawrence also received $25,000 toward his work with gay youth.

Erika Jayne gave the first Command Performance of the evening. Singing her hit Im in Fashion, she strutted in a glittery black fedora and a glittering fuchsia trench coat, while her four dancers wore the same fabulous outfit in black. They all had thigh-high, sexy black boots, and then the dancers stripped her down to a gold bustier with black accents. Shortly after, they themselves followed suit and ROOWRRRR! Tossing her blonde mane, Jayne ramped it up further with her song One Hot Pleasure, and thats when the gold glittery and black glittery guns came out. Then the dancers lost the coats, revealing black bustiers with gold accents. Sexy has a new name and its Erika Jayne.

Black and gold were the order of the evening. Sir Ari Gold and his dancers, four female and two male, who were all over him and all over each other, during his song Make My Body Rock. As they bounced with tremendous energy and joie de vivre, it was impossible to keep from wanting to get up and dance with them.

Special guest Ally Sheedy spoke next in support of the beneficiary Ali Forney Center. Her remarks were brief and pointed, and then she, too, ramped up the evening considerably, introducing finalists from RuPauls Drag Race, Alexis, Delta, and Manila Luzon, who closed Act I of this Gay-la Evening.

Act II opened with the entire ICNY, arrayed in on the stage in their royal finery, making for a family photo such as weve never seen before. ICNYs College of Monarchs was introduced as a group, then individually and strolled to pay homage to the reigning Empress Farrah and Emperor Jack.

The 25th Anniversary Parade of Banners was followed by a memorial for the Monarchs who passed during the year. After the College of Monarchs was introduced, and the Emperors and Empresses given special attention, a dramatic announcement came from Emperor XVI Craig Hollywoodand you heard it here first, unless you yourself attended Night of A Thousand Gowns. Emperor Craig introduced Ada Ospina, and Mike Dunlap from Heritage of Pride, who had selected ICNY as one of the Grand Marshalls for the 2011 Pride Parade!

Recording artist Sylvia Tosun took a turn outside of her regular mtier and started her set with a bit of cabaret, before she segued into some hot-hot-hot dance music. Slinking down the runway in a sleek silver dressone-shoulder elegance itselfTosun worked the crowd, singing of love lost, which became an anthem, The World Keeps Turning. Then Empress XX Gefil Tefish introduced Bebe Neuwirth and Roger Rees, stars of The Addams Family on Broadway.

Next came the introduction of visiting members of International Court System. During this procedure, Jos, The Widow Norton, was crowned the Silver Jubilee Empress of the Court of New York, as without the early work done by Founding Absolute Empress I of San Francisco, the International Court System would not be what it is today. Jos was one of the first out gay people to run for public office in the country, so there is no surprise that doing good continues to beget doing good.

Princess Witty Repartee next presented the Noblesse de Robe awards, conferred upon members of the general public, who have made a donation to the work of ICNY. Upon contributing, this honorary title is given, and the donor presented to the Monarchs and the audience.

Angel Sheridan was then welcomed to the podium to introduce one of the most fabulous female impersonators, Electra St. Jill. Miss Continental Elite St. Jill became Bette Midler for us and only us. Practitioner of a dying art, according to Sheridan, St. Jill transcends what you would consider to be a drag performer. This impersonation was so complete, that her big splashy performance kicked the energy up several notches!

Empress XV Fiona St. James Decade Walk included a mash-up of a Glee number. Several attendees got up to take pictures and dance, getting their blood moving again. The red and white cheerleader outfits were refreshing as well. Of course, youd need to see them to believe them. And even then, the fabric of belief may not stretch that far you be the judge! Earlier, the Decade Walk of Emperor XI Damian Valentino included his speech about the importance of volunteerism.

Emperor XIV and XVIII Tony Monteleone had a great honor in store. He brought on the cast of My Big Gay Italian Wedding for a song. They had just finished their evening show an hour before and, three bridesmaids in pink dresses and three groomsmen in tuxedo shirts and pants WOW!they sang and danced a beautiful anthem of love for us.

ICNY kept matters moving with Zelma Davis of C&C Music Factory, offering her hit, Touch of Love. What an evening! Animal prints are in, and Zelma was hot in tiger stripes. For her second number, she called upon her three hot close-harmony singers as well. Davis then sent those grrls packing, and four new dancers enteredone boy and three girls in black, with colorful boas for a song set up gospel style. Now this was happening! People started to walk up to the stage for call and responseand the response was huge! People in the hallway started to come back in when she got to Everybody Dance Now!

The evening culminated with Act III, as operas, dramas, and so many wonderful evenings do. There were several itemsimportant oneson the agenda. First came perhaps the most bittersweet portion of the evening. Emperor Jacks final walk as Emperor, then Empress Farrahs as Empress. Emperor Jack chose an Alice in Wonderland theme, with a most amazing Mad Hatter costumethe hat appeared to have its own zip code! Oh, waitthats the hat price in the band! It was a somber theme, though, as people dressed in black came out holding signs with the names and ages of a handful of LGBT children whose lives have been taken. Then Empress Farrah chose Pinks Get This Party Started, sporting a pale pink bobbed hairdo and a black velvet cape, which she opened to reveal a pink sequined mini with matching boots, and as she linked the basic black cape with a lining of the same dazzling pink sequins, the music continued with Raise Your Glass. What a performance!

Pepper Mashay further ramped up the energy. Her number was a cover of Aretha Franklins Freeway of Love, and she encouraged the audience to come along with her on the journey. Next keeping us in Coronation Suspense Mode, Mashay kicked it out by thanking each and everyone in the room for the work on AIDS and Civil Rights, with a special shout-out to Lt. Dan Choi, working for the repeal of Dont Ask, Dont Tell, who was also in the house. The song Mashay dedicated to the activists in the room? Gonna Hold My Head High! Finally, she rocked the house one more time with her hit from Queer as Folk and the song was Lets Get Soaking Wet, her love dedication to each and everyone in the room. The crowd started to movetoes tapping, bodies swaying, fists pumpingand away we went! What a night! But wait, theres MORE!

There was one final procession, of the fully-assembled College of Monarchs. The theme tonight was something special, and the first sound we heard was 12th century chant, with an acolyte who held the curtain back for black-robed clerics swinging censers. Following closely were figures familiarly and strangely garbed, as the music segued into something chant-like, but with a backbeatEnigma-esque. The Monarchs processed past Empresses in red dresses. One Empress had a high white wig with butterflies artfully arrangedwhat kind, you might inquire? Why MONARCHS, of course! The College of Monarchs proceeded in state to take their places on the stage. The court of the new Empress and Emperor has arrived!

The court of Empress XXV Pepperica Swirl and Emperor XX Vanity Society is a pastiche of styles and each member bore gifts for the newly crowned! Neo-Romantic music played as the entourage preceded the new Monarchs to the stage. We had an Uncle Fester character in white brocade with red marabouand light bulb, of courseFester is a high-voltage human. Heavy violin strains continued as the courtly courtiers processed, some dressed in British Colonial Style, in the colors red and black. Classical Italian vocal music then superseded the instrumental, and the crown bearers passed. Red and black-clad courtiers continued to move forward and the black haired Monarchs approached for their coronation, open-eyed and open-hearted.

The work that goes into this event, the dedication and the devotion, has few parallels. Make a donation to the Imperial Court of New York to assure that its work goes on, benefiting different organizations every year. And if you love a GREAT party, if you love to dress up, and if you are passionate about doing good things for others, join us at next years Night of a Thousand Gowns. It is pageantry without parallel and protocol supreme. Ill see you there!

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