I was lucky enough to Catch up with Barbra & Judy during their whirlwind national tour. These Talented fill-time celebrity impersonators were kind enough to share some of their experiences and humor about their journey through the Drag Community and the development of their nationally successful shows.
So Summer tell us a little bit about yourself.
Summer: I'm Summer Orlando I’m from New Haven, Connecticut 28 years old I've been doing drag for over 10 years. I’m known as Connecticut’s premier theater queen, I professionally impersonate Judy Garland all around the country with Barbra Joan Streetsand. We have a fabulous all live singing cabaret show: the Judy & Barbra show as well as other productions. I’m a full time drag entertainer, I sing I dance, I act,
Barbra: she makes spaghetti-
Summer: I do!
Barbra: Well I have been doing Barbra Streisand going on 30 years in March and I've been actually jumping out of my box and I'm venturing into other personalities as well. Just traveling the country with Summer performing has become my full-time job which is something that I never in 1 million years thought would happen and I'm living the dream baby!
Jon: what do you identify as what are your pronouns?
Summer: He/him out of out of drag, She/Her in drag just as a sign of respect.
Barbra: If you’re using both of my names in one article, I prefer They/ Them/Their, but if you're using just Barbra, you could say She/ Her. Just Tony, it’s He/ Him, but when both my names are listed, I'm pretty much 2 personas.
Jon: Summer what did it feel like to step into Judy for the first time?
Summer: Well let's say my Judy started as a Liza..
Summer …because I started with the wrong hair color (black) and then through lots of research and talking with other entertainers I kind of got on the right path. All the pieces just fit into place after that, and I always sang live with Judy
the first time I did Judy was at 168 York St. Café in New Haven CT, when we started our journey down the Judy & Barbra path. The show started as a New Year's Eve one hour very loose unscripted version of what the show is today.
Jon: Barbra, what did it feel like to be Barbra for the first time:
Barbra: Well picture it; Sicily 1928… (Laughs) Well I had gone out in drag to a party that was like a 70s retro theme, and everybody was like you look just like Barbara Streisand. I’m like screw you, you're talking about my nose whatever. You know, I always was self-conscious about my nose. Then people kept nagging at me back in 1990. Some people kept nagging at me to do Barbra Streisand, so I went out for Halloween in 91 as Barbra. I was a little shocked you know. My drag mother at the time did my make-up and everything and I was like oh my God! I went out to the bar I got very drunk they had a patio I started singing “People” and I made 30 bucks in tips, who knew! So, I started impersonating her in March 1992, you know doing shows and very badly. I was even wearing blue eyeshadow back then! but I always looked like her and my heart would like to stop beating for a second when I looked in the mirror. I was like oh my God it's her, even with the bad make up.
Jon: Summer, what is your process for getting into character
Summer: It's a very lengthy process. When I decide that I'm going to do a character/person I do extensive research. If they’ve been in movies, I go through the whole filmography. I listen to all the music and different sources of material. I familiarize myself with their life story and all their quirks, characteristics like for example When I do Judy, Judy’s mannerisms are very specific. It's about her hand gestures and when she uses her (always corded) microphone, she throws her cord over her right shoulder, as she’s left- handed. I'm right-handed so I have to adjust my way of doing things.
Barbra: You know what Summer I have the exact opposite problem I'm left-handed and Summer is right-handed. Laughs
Summer: So, I do lots of research, a couple months' worth of research before I even attempt to do the character, and then it's trial and error with makeup. Then you have the costume and the wig. If I'm singing, then you add the singing. The illusion just builds. it's all about layering for me.
Jon: So Barbra, What's the process for you getting into characters?
Barbra: Well, I do have to do research. Not months' work though maybe I should do as much research as summer does. I'm a fly by the seat of your pants type of gal. I do some research. I look at makeup, I look at basic mannerisms enough to pass. Barbra is my main thing, and that's how I'm always going to be known. Just the name alone Barbra Joan Streetsand. I've basically cursed myself with being a one trick pony, but I know I have Barbra down. The one thing with Barbra is her stage fright, which I love because I have stage fright too. I can be awkward on a stage, and I can feel uncomfortable on the stage because the real Barbra does.
With other characters you know I've been working on my Cher. It's a little messy right now but with every attempt it's getting a little better, right Summer? Riiight Summer? (silence) (Summer nods) With Cher, it’s her voice and flipping that hair back on each side. She does that tongue thing but I'm busy singing live. I can't do the tongue thing, so I flip back the hair, and I whinny like a pony. It works. You know the toughest thing is having to harmonize all that make up with Barbra. That's why I never look exactly like another character because I know that I'm going to be doing Barbra in the same show and that's what I'm known for. I've seen a lot of Barbra impersonators that look spot on, and I want to look spot on you know.
Jon: So how so either of you had it how did you begin to work together?
Barbara: Oh Summer, you're so good at telling that story;
Summer: OK, it was 2017 we had just worked on my production of the Wizard of Oz where Barbra played Glinda and I was Dorothy. It was a licensed production. I am the first male actor to ever play the role Dorothy in a licensed production of the show in the world, which is cool. We just kind of bonded through rehearsal time. I was doing a production of Hairspray and Barbra came to pick me up from rehearsal one night. We were driving home and she explained to me that she was going to go to York Street to talk to the owner about starting her own show. She wasn't happy where her career was and she wasn't getting as many shows. She wanted to develop something of her own. We got to talking, and with her creativity and my business savvy knowledge we decided hey let's team up together and create something fantastic.
And so, we started a monthly show which started on a Sunday which is a very weird day to do a show when it’s not a drag brunch. We came up with a crazy concept to do a drag brunch, but at nighttime because it was more focused for drag queens. We joked it was a liquid brunch. We had a $12 mimosa pitcher special, lots of live singing, and it was a 2-hour show. It started to takeoff after that, and then we switched to Fridays. Over time, it started to dwindle down and we were like OK we need to reinvent ourselves again. We were asked to be the entertainment for New Year's Eve, and we developed The Judy and Barbra boozy New Year's Eve, which like I said earlier was unscripted. It was very rough. (Barbra: Very boozy) Yes, we drank during the show with the audience. The crowd had a great time. We entertained the audience by singing some songs that Judy & Barbra sang. This was before replica outfits got involved. We were just using what we had.
Barbra: We did get some good lines from that ad lib show though.
Summer: We decided to sit down one day and really flesh out, what could be an amazing show. Our goal was to perform it in Connecticut, and then our main goal was to hit New York. We wanted to reach New York, Which we did and we sold out and that was wonderful.
We wrote this show with little bit of help from Jaque Lamar who is a comedy writer and playwright. He writes jokes for the likes of Varla Jean Merman, and a bunch of other very well know drag entertainers. We just kind of bounced ideas off him and he kind of gave us little tidbits to add. Over time, it's become more and more our show and a lot of the jokes that started in the show have either been taken out or adjusted to give it more of our personal touch. It's pretty much our stuff now which is great, but we will forever be grateful to Jaque for helping us get started.
We've extended it, we've gotten to tour all over the US which is incredible. We upgraded our costumes and our looks, and everything became spot on. Instead of just like a drag queen wearing a wig and doing a poor imitation of someone as iconic as Judy I wanted to LOOK like Judy Garland. Barbra always looked like Barbra Streisand, so that wasn’t going to change (Barbara: Yeah, I put more drag into Barbara lately Laughs) That’s how it took off and honestly, we've done so many, besides the Judy and Barbra shows. We perform at wineries and breweries and restaurants and Pride events and everything in between. I would say we do about 90% of stuff together these days. (Barbara: Id say even %95 ) We do our own things every now and then. Like I do Bingo gigs frequently. When the pandemic hit I started doing virtual bingos and then I was able to keep it going and it's very lucrative. Most of the time though we're working together.
Jon: Barbra, when people go to your shows what should I expect?
Barbra: To bow down and adore us. No, I’m only joking! They should expect live singing and lots of comedy. I pride us on the fact that we do a family friendly show. I'm sure there are a few double entendres, but we never really have a vulgar show. When we are doing an adult show and I hear the F-bomb come out of Summer’s mouth, which is perfectly fine I’m just not use to it. I’m like <gasp> did she swear?!
And believe me I’m no Pollyanna, especially if you’re in the car with me! My mother always taught me that if you have to swear and be vulgar to be funny then you're not funny and if you want to insult others to be funny, you're not funny. Summer and I have taken that, and just developed that. We kind of make fun of ourselves a little. Don't you think Summer?
Summer: Yeah, because if you can't laugh at yourself…
Barbra: Right. Like when I'm Barbra, I expand on the fact that I think the world adores me and I go with that whole self-absorbed it's all about me type a feeling. I just put a little mannerism in it. You can expect impersonation, comedy, live vocal singing, that sounds good, so don’t worry its good! What do you have to add to that Summer?
Summer: Our shows are interactive, so there is usually a layer of audience participation. Whether it’s a game or we have audience members join us on stage, or we go to them or however it works. What I love about our shows is Barbra and I really know our audiences and we're able to flip a switch. We mainly do family friendly shows because it's easier to market to a vast business group instead of like a niche market. We also do bachelorette parties and different adult events as well, so we can flip a switch and go into adult mode if it's required and necessary.
So, we always ask everyone that we interview this question so summer what's your favorite fruit?
Summer: (Barbra cackles) I hate fruit. I don’t eat any fruit. But you know what my favorite fruit is. Fruity Bi Nature.
Barbara: Oh, girl you stole my freaking line, I was going to say my favorite fruit, Jonathan.
Summer: I’m as fruity as it gets. Laughs
Barbra: My favorite fruits are blueberries and oranges; those are my favorite. I also love Melon too. I love fruit. I’m Fruity Bi Nature.
Summer: I like the fruit in a cocktail, but I won't eat the fruit
Jon: So, what does what does drag mean to you Barbara?
Barbara: Drag, I just see it as another art form, and I love how it's developed over the years. When I started off doing drag, the whole idea was to look like a real woman. No one covered eyebrows. You needed to give real face and I love how it's developed. I love how it's become mainstream. I love how a lot of the stigma has been taken out of it in the LGBTQ community. There are still people who are drag and transphobic obviously, but I remember back in the day where you had the shame attached doing drag if you wanted to find a boyfriend. Men were not attracted to drag queens unless they were other drag queens and who wanted a bump pocketbooks?! Now even my own thinking has changed where I’m like “I would date a drag queen”, back then “I’m like no I'm not a lesbian!” There was a stigma attached and I love how it's evolved and grown and even my own thinking about it has grown as well, and something that I've become very proud of doing.
Jon: So, Summer same question what does drag mean to you?
Summer: To piggyback off Barbra's answer I think it is a performance art. It's a form of expression. Drag has evolved and continues to evolve and I like that. Drag no longer has a construct or a limit, anyone can do it. Kids can do it, men and women can do it, trans women/men, can do it, non-binary people can do it. It’s for everybody and drag is whatever you make it to be. Whether you find yourself being a glamour queen or being a stunt queen and doing lots of tricks or a comedy queen or live singing celebrity impersonator like ourselves.
Barbra: Or a Drag King!
Summer: Yes, the gambit is wide. I think it's incredible. It's a lot more mainstream now with RuPaul's Drag Race, movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Too Wong Fu and things like that. Every single day drag becomes more and more pronounced, and comes to the forefront, which I think is great. Back many years ago it was scary to a lot of people and obviously you know with people who don't know what it's about. They just see gay men wearing wigs and dresses and they usually go towards like the darker side of what people thing drag is. When I first started, my mom thought that I was a stripper, and she didn't know anything about the world or the community. She thought I was hitting a pole every night in seedy little clubs, and I was going to get diseases and things like that, and it was just a filthy show.
When she went for her first time and she when she saw what I did, everything kind of clicked and she was able to connect it to theater. I started in the theater, so she just saw it as playing another part and it was just another form of theater. I still stand true that it is a form of theater. I find that drag queens make the best actors because drag queens are creative and their career is built on creating characters, illusion, and fantasy. You really must have that mindset to be a great actor or performer.
Barbra: So, I obviously have been in drag a lot longer and stuff. When Summer was talking about her mom, I started thinking about my relationship with my mom and how my mother is 82. It took her probably until about two years ago to fully accept the fact that I do this. We were just having breakfast at Friendly's one morning and I said you know mom it's basically like this, I could be putting on an Elvis costume and doing the same thing. I'm a celebrity impersonator. She goes “you know now that you explain it like I totally get it, can I see pictures?” And then she's like oh my God send me this picture I want to show my friends, your makeup is incredible! This very right-wing Catholic woman took a 180 turn after me saying one sentence and then she became proud of what I did and I’m like all it took was that?!
Barbra: is there anything you might tell the readers?
Barbara: No because I forgot what my blood type is. I need to find that out. I don't know what it is!
Summer: Yes. First, thank you for taking the time to read about us. If you'd like to see more, you can visit thejudyandbarbrashow.com where you can read all about the show and what we do. We also have our individual websites summerorlandoproductions.com and barbrajoanstreetsand.com. If they want to catch a live show and see us in action, they can join us on December 17 at the Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport Connecticut where we will be presenting the Judy and Barbra show Holiday Special. it is the first time its playing in Connecticut since its very successful 2 week sold out theater residency in Fort Lauderdale. We are extremely excited to bring it to the Bijou and we hope that you'll come out and see it.