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30 Years of Night of a 1000 Gowns
Photos by Bruce-Michael Gelbert
opening number curtain call (insets L-R: "Fun Home" star Lauren Patten, Empress VII & Queen Mother of ICNY Coco LaChine, Ultra Naté, Emperor X Gabriel Della Notte & Queen Mother of the Americas Nicole the Great, Kelly King sings the Star Spangled Banner, Sir Ari Gold & dancers, ICNY Community Hero Award winners Marsha Shapiro & Louise Walpin with Jacob Rudolf Madison Mansfield & OpiN.Yated, ICNY Founding Empress Sybil the First, Robin S., Grand Duchess Caroline Loevner

On March 12, the Imperial Court of New York (ICNY) annual gala evening of celebration and charitable giving marked its third decade. Night of a Thousand Gowns (NOATG) brings together the Imperial Courts from all over the country and around the world to encourage people to give until, among other causes, a cure for HIV/AIDS is found. For this ball, benefiting the LGBTQ Youth Scholarship of ICNY, the glitterati were out in full force.
The event kicked off in classic style with the presentation of the flags of the United States and Canada, as we were treated then to the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada,” sung by Paul Cloeter, who knocked it out of the park. Dame Kelly King then rendered a most beautiful stratospheric “Star-Spangled Banner” that made the crowd go wild! One of the high notes of the evening is the Imperial Performance, the opening production number, featuring court members in one of the most special performances of the evening. Michael A. Blackman directed and choreographed this year’s selection, “The Imperial Icehouse,” which began with a bit of scene setting and where the opening strains of “42nd Street” segued to “Big Spender” from “Sweet Charity,” then appropriately a bit of Twisted Sister with “We’re Not Gonna Take It” underlined the company’s dismay at the arrival of the cops at the eponymous speakeasy. This was followed by the Keystone Kops becoming the Chippendale Cops, with Christina Aguilera’s “Show Me How You Burlesque” with a panoply of court favorites.
Actor Ted Detwiler (“Sordid Lives”) acted as MC for the early section where he introduced Broadway’s Brian Charles Rooney (“Threepenny Opera”), who first rendered us a delightful version of the Sea Witch Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” from “The Little Mermaid,” before giving us, in “The Audition Medley,” a signature rendition of a cavalcade of voices and songs ranging from Carol Channing to Pearl Bailey with Cosette from “Les Mis” to Carol Burnett and everyone in between.
Empress XIII and XXIII Anne Tique then took the mike to introduce Emperor XI Damian Valentino who introduced the President of the Imperial Court of New York, Emperor X Gabriel Della Notte, who welcomed us to the 30th Annual Gala of Night of a Thousand Gowns. He greeted us on behalf of reigning monarchs Emperor XXIV Opi N. Yated and Empress XXIX Madison Mansfield and encouraged us to remember the next generation of leaders. Toward that end, the beneficiary, the LGBTQ Youth Scholarship Fund, the beneficiary of tonight’s fund raising, permits youth to concentrate on their studies without the worry of where their tuition will come from.
Many thanks went out to the entertainers Brian Charles Rooney, Sir Ari Gold, Robin S., Ultra Naté, Paul Cloeter, and Kelly King. Emperor Gabriel went on to acknowledge the contribution that Stonewall veterans have made, as he announced the crowning of Stonewall veteran Tree as the new Emperor. He then talked about the importance of our straight allies, culminating with the crowning of the first hetero New York Empress, Sugar B. Real. Emperor Gabriel then announced that he would be stepping down as President of the Imperial Court of New York after 10 years. A strong leader who has cultivated other leaders, Emperor Gabriel gave his calls to action and his support for whomever steps up to that position next. He acknowledged the Queen Mother Coco LaChine, the sponsors Absolut, Quest, Stoli, Next, and so on, and also thanked those who worked so hard to make the evening possible. Finally, he celebrated people who were attending this event for the first time, hoping that they would find the family that he found with the Imperial Court of New York. Then Emperor Gabriel introduced the reigning monarchs, Emperor XXIV Opi N. Yated and Empress XXIX Madison Mansfield, who welcomed everyone officially to this brilliant 30th evening of fashion, fun, and fundraising.
Jacob Rudolph and Grand Duchess Caroline announced the Community Hero awards going to New Jersey Marriage Equality champions Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin, as well as Mickey Rolfe, Tony® Award winning theatrical design agent and humanitarian. The President’s Awards were then conferred upon Steven Covello, of God’s Love We Deliver, and to Emperor Damian Valentino for years of support of his spouse, Emperor Gabriel’s service.
George Brescia, celebrity stylist, introduced Princess Doris Dear who did an eloquent job of encouraging attendees to give early and often to the ICNY Scholarship fund on behalf of the youth who need it so much. The attendees responded.
The College of Monarchs was assembled and introduced and Nicole the Great, Queen Mother of the Americas, who announced Empress VII and Queen Mother of ICNY Coco LaChine as her successor, though she said she’s not yet ready to relinquish the role. Queen Mother Nicole then announced special awards, including a lifetime achievement award for Emperor X Gabriel Della Notte and the establishment of the Dennis and Judy Shepard Family Values Award. The presentation of the individuals comprising the College of Monarchs enabled us to see all of these beautiful activists in their full regalia, the beauty and the pageantry heralding what was yet to come.
Adam Barta, recording artist and touring performer, introduced Dame Ariel Sinclair and Logan Hardcore in the Imperial Command Performance that began with a scene from “A Chorus Line,” then segueing into a sexy paean to pane – bread!—with Ariel combining “Let Me Dance for You” with Logan’s speaking her piece with “I Just Wanna Dance. Logan’s trademark athletic dance brilliance included a split and somersault. There was a brief phrase from C&C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance” and then the finale from “Dirty Dancing” gave us the button to the number.
Gerald G then introduced the command performance by Ultra Naté. She was resplendent in an outfit of beautifully distressed found materials and, when she walked the runway, she held everyone in the palm of her impressively manicured hand. The medley of her hits held the audience rapt.
The final walk of the Dowager Imperial Couple, Emperor XIV, XVIII and XXIII Tony Monteleone and Empress XXVIII Twinkle Montgomery, and led into the Decade Celebration of Emperor XV Fantasia and Empress XX Gefil Tefish in a brilliant performance of “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I.” The Empress’ dress glowed like a Tahitian Pearl, while her Emperor sparkled in imperial blue and gold. Pure delight! Then the music changed to Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations” and they shed their Thai togs for gold sparkly outfits and kicking dance moves–and really, would you expect less from such a dynamic duo? What to do next? Dance to the grooves of DJ Sir Johnny Dynell!
Singer Sir Ari Gold kicked off Act II in high style in a net frock coat that could have come from Emperor XX Vanity Society’s tailor … it left very little of Sir Ari to the imagination. Where should we look, the jumbo-tron screens? Ari and his singer/dancers? The answer is yes, and yes, and YES! “Turn Out the Night” has a conceptual video that spurs fantasy and coupled with the live performance–brilliant!
A moving tribute followed documenting the many great works Joan Rivers performed. The video montage featured her work with God’s Love We Deliver and her work with the Imperial Court of New York. Joan Rivers was a larger than life personality and the only thing bigger than that dazzling personality was her heart. The audience applauded her and it felt like her spirit was right there in the room with us. Princess Doris Dear described the award created in Joan Rivers’ name. The Joan Rivers/ ICNY Vanguard Award was given to Chris Taylor of Li-Lac Chocolates. He spoke about the history of Li-Lac and Martha Bond and how she said to Taylor that, if he buys the company, he must continue her commitment to quality and the community. And he has kept that pledge.
The presentation of the College of Monarchs for ICNY followed with a heartfelt tribute from Queen Mother Coco LaChine. Empress Coco saluted Emperor Gabriel Della Notte for his 10 years of highly meritorious service to ICNY, then turning the proceedings back to the presentation. The attendees were treated to a dazzling display of the ICNY’s finest and we got great up close and personal S&M attention–Stand and Model!
Next was a performance by Lauren Patten, the star of the hit Broadway musical “Fun Home”. The number, “Changing My Major (to Joan)” made it completely clear why this show is a Tony®--times five!—award winning show! Her bell-clear voice and delicate phrasing brought back all the angst, wonder and amazement of the first time you know, you *really* know, what your life will be and what your love will be.
Robin S. sang a selection of her hits that brought people’s hearts and minds up. You could physically feel the energy in the room change when she took the stage. Working the runway on “Shout It Out,” she displayed the power and richness of a voice that makes us get up and dance again, and again, and again. And when she sustained one particular note in all the glory of her voice, she got the full attention of those who had only been half listening. She did a call and response with the audience that moved people. Then launched into “Show Me Love” and that drew perhaps the most salient modern comment–the sea of cellphones recording the music, though nothing can touch the charisma that poured from the dynamo!
How do you follow such a brilliant performance? Why, the Double Decade Celebration of Emperor VI Steven and Empress X Ran-Dee! Ran-Dee’s vision was celebrated as well as her love of Broadway, and her ability to transform anyone into a star. Ran-Dee is retiring and this was her final performance. “Once Before I Go” sung in Ran-Dee’s voice and wearing a gorgeous black and white gown with a collar of plumes that looked delicate but, like Ran-Dee, the delicacy belies the strength that is at the heart of everything Ran-Dee does.
Queen Mother Coco LaChine, introduced Sybil Bruncheon, who was doing her Triple Decade Celebration. Empress I, Sybil the First, took us on a tour of what New York was like when she began her work. No one had ever heard of today’s politicians. HIV/AIDS had no name. Most of us had not yet lost a friend from the epidemic. And 30 years makes a tremendous difference in changing hearts and minds. Actors were blacklisted for the rumor they might be gay. “Phones still had cords and were attached to walls … the only other place to meet other gay people was in a bar.” The world has come a tremendous distance. Sybil reminded us we’ve evolved, and we’re survivors. Yet there are candidates who are making a career out of stripping us of the rights we’ve fought so hard to earn. Sybil reminded us how important it is to register to vote, that your voice and your vote count. Sybil reminded us that to make change requires action. We make change happen. Thank you, Sybil! Thank you!
Then it was that time: the final walks of the 2015 reigning Imperial Couple. Starting with a tribute to his Empress, Emperor XXIV Opi N. Yated and a tribute to his brother Emperors, there were pictures of his Empress during their reign and he serenaded her on their last night together. While his brothers shared the stage, he said his adieus in a moving farewell, then divested himself of crown and sword to leave the stage for good—for now.
Now it was Empress XXIX, Madison Mansfield’s turn, attired as a dominatrix, in a deliciously sparkly gown, with fabulously fantastically-attired who dancers hung on her every word. Madonna’s “Vogue” gave a distinctly sexy flavor to the Empress’ final walk. She truly whetted our appetite and did the best thing a performer can do–left us wanting more.
What was left on such an evening but the coronation of the new monarchs? First, the new Emperor Elect is a Stonewall veteran who still graces the Stonewall Inn bar, serving history with cocktails, the venerable Tree. Preceded by his court in their finery, then preceded by his scepter and his crown, the man himself approached his domain clad in a golden cape with his sigil of office and a fur shoulder cape, to strains of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” celebrating his investiture in high style. His royal blue suit matched the blue of the design on his cape and he truly has the mien of those born to command.
Empress XXIV Farrah Moans introduced the new Empress of the Imperial Court of New York, Sugar B. Real! Her arrival was heralded by musicians in West African and Egyptian garb, with drum beats and percussion instruments giving way to dance beats, and a coterie of white and gold clad attendants to announce her imminent arrival, several bearing the letters that spell out her name. Bearers of each letter queued up and a dancer with a fan-cape of diaphanous glowing fluted material danced in celebration as more attendants strewed white rose petals. Her entourage fanned silver and gold fans that made a haunting melody of their own and a white streamer, a river of ivory cloth, undulated before the white and gold clad Empress. An arc of ivory feathers decorated with other avian glory of brown tipped with aged ivory framed her regal head as she prepared to accept the responsibility of 365 turns of the earth.
Together, Tree and Sugar knelt before their monarchs and, while Emperor Gabriel Della Notte made the invocation, investing in them the powers of their office–a hush reigned over the formerly noisy crowd. Arising then were new Emperor XXV Tree and Empress XXX Sugar B. Real and the ICNY year of 2016 was well and truly begun.
Merriment commenced and celebration happened throughout the land—except by the handful of hearty souls who were already in the throes of planning 2017. Would you like to help? Contact the Imperial Court of New York to volunteer or contribute at www.icny.org.

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