Gilda Wabbit’s Big Gay Opera Show Coming to PLAY
Gilda Wabbit is probably a name familiar to readers who have been to PLAY Louisville recently, and soon Nashville audiences will have the opportunity to see the amazingly talented singing queen on stage in Nashville. The Louisville Playmate is bringing her Big Gay Opera Show to PLAY Nashville, where she’ll be joined by guest singer Diana DeGarmo!
Gilda Wabbit has dazzled audiences in shows as diverse as Sasha Velour’s ‘Nightgowns,’ Bronx Opera’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and her previous one woman show Open Season. Now that she’s ready to share her Big Gay Opera Show with wider audiences, we thought our readers might like to get to know Gilda Wabbit a little better before seeing her at PLAY!
Grady: So, lets start at the beginning! How did you get into opera?
Gilda Wabbit: I was in high school, I was auditioning for the musical and was called back for the lead in Cole Porter's Anything Goes. I was feeling big in my britches, thinking "I'm a sophomore, and I'm going to get this lead." But it went to this freshman, and I got angry about it and said, “Fine. I'm going to go into voice lessons and acting lessons and get my stuff together so that next year I can get the lead role.”
So I started taking voice lessons from this lovely man named Eric Brown, who was in the area, he was getting his masters at the University of Kentucky. He said, “I know that are really into musical theater, but I think that you have the voice for opera.”
I was very resistant; I thought I hated opera. I mean, I was a teenager. But I was bringing in all the musicals I loved, and he point to people like Kristin Chenoweth, Allie MacDonald, and Barbara Cook—all these people who have the background and voices that are capable of operatic music... And I was like, 'Oh! This is the kind of music I'm attracted to.” I just didn't realize it.
Finally, I was like, 'You know what, I'm going to do this!' And I ended up going to the University of Kentucky, following in his footsteps, and studied classical music...
Grady: How did how did that become a talent you would bring into a drag show?
Gilda Wabbit: I moved to New York about five years ago, and I was pursuing opera professionally. I was working full time as a restaurant manager. And I was also singing full time.
In New York, when you're an opera singer and you're not at the Metropolitan Opera, you're not really getting paid a livable wage...
So I was working full time, investing in things like voice lessons and coaching, investing in my headshots, going to auditions, and not making any money. And I thought this is terrible.
I went to a bar called Barracuda and saw a drag queen named Sutton Lee Seymour: she was doing an all-live singing Broadway show. And I went up to her afterwards and asked, “Is this your job? You get to sing, you get to the lead, and you get to pick whatever music you want?'
And she said, “Absolutely. I do this full time.” So I stopped auditioning for operas, wholesale... I had a few roles I had to complete, but I started getting in drag… The very first thing I ever sang in drag was from Sondheim's Company. It was such a thrill, and I was like, "Oh, this is it. This is where I need to go."
And opera has this whole history of gender bending, and women playing men and men playing women and characters crossdressing to trick their enemies and things like that. So drag really lends itself to opera, and it just made sense to me to bring my background in classical music into this cool, interesting, transgressive art form.
Grady: I often hear from drag queens that they got interested in drag, and then brought these other talents into their shows, but you actually started to pursue drag in order to be able to do what you wanted to do professionally.
Gilda Wabbit: Absolutely, absolutely. I wasn't making any money even though I was singing in all of these … so I decided I was going to make my own sort of career up as it goes. Going to bars and being like, 'Hi, hello, folks. I'm going to lipsync Brittany Spears, but afterwards, I'm going to sing you some Puccini. And you're already going to be in your seat with some drinks and you can't escape!'
GRADY: So how did you develop your relationship with PLAY Louisville?
Gilda Wabbit: So my husband moved back to Kentucky for a job when I was still in New York his contract got extended … so I came back to Kentucky. I didn't know how I was going to make this work as a career. I walked in on a Wednesday … [for] open stage ... and someone comes up to me and says, 'Hey, are you here to audition? … Tonight is an audition!”
I had no idea, but I had six numbers prepared, I had six different outfits. I bring all kinds of my best things. So I got on stage, I performed my little heart out.
One of the owners was like, “Listen, you're fabulous... We'd love you to let you perform on Wednesdays regularly as part of the amateur cast. But also, if you're interested, we'd like to have you audition for the weekend cast, as well.
Grady: When did you start developing Big Gay Opera Show?
Gilda Wabbit: Right before I left New York, I started working on it. I had already done a couple of more standard cabaret shows … and I was thinking about what I could do to separate myself from other performers.
I thought, 'Okay, let me take opera, and bring it down to the level where a layman and totally get it and totally have a good time. But also, is there a way that I can do that while still making it entertaining for someone who knows a lot about the classical music world?” So I started developing that with a little team, and we put it on at The Duplex, which is a historic venue in New York City.
I was very nervous. When we got there two hours before the show, only 22 tickets had sold, which is barely enough not cancel the show... [But then] I come down and the audience is full. We had sold out the evening. In New York, people don't want to plan ahead, and didn't by their tickets in advance. But they all came to door. We turned a lot of people away because there were no seats left and it was very exciting…
When I moved to Kentucky, I was like let me try to bring it down here, and PLAY was super receptive... So now I get to have that happen!
Grady: Have you performed at PLAY Nashville before?
Gilda Wabbit: No, I haven't! So bringing my show down on May 10, 2019, will be the first time. In Nashville we get to have Diana DeGarmo, which is going to be a fabulous time!
I'll also be performing at PLAY during the regular shows that weekend. The Big Gay Opera Show is Friday, and then I'm doing the evening shows Friday and Saturday, as well as the brunch show Saturday morning.
Grady: So what would you tell potential audiences that would inspire somebody to come out and see your show?
Gilda Wabbit: If you are the kind of person who looks at opera and thinks “I absolutely hate this, it is not going to be the key for me,” definitely come out, because I'm putting it on its head... I like to say that I'm like an angry cat who knocks it off its pedestal... I'm trying to bring this art form that we think of as really elitist and bring it back to earth...
Tackling everything from Mozart and Puccini to Elvis and Old Spice commercials, Gilda Wabbit takes audiences on a journey through important operas and the pop culture they inspired, drawing parallels that give modern audiences a glimpse into why classical music remains so important today. Be sure to head out to see her, along with Diana DeGarmo, live at PLAY Nashville on May 10, 2019.