Paige Turner has accelerated through the pitfalls and pleasures of a life in entertainment with equal parts glitter and grace, with no intention of applying the brakes.
Things have changed somewhat since we last caught up with the self-proclaimed Showbiz Spitfire. Audiences are no longer required to wear masks, social distancing is less of a concern, and more venues than ever are open for business and ready to welcome her back, including several that have done so consistently since she first made her mark.
Her performances — filled with tawdry jokes and sexual double-entendres that go over the heads of children while adults rock back and forth with purple-faced laughter — are equal parts boisterous, brash, and whimsical, with a heart core that wraps her themes neatly in a bow. She is an entertainer in the classic sense and makes one thing quite clear — there will be no lip-syncing at her stage shows. She has the vocal chops to go toe to toe with the most celebrated of musical theater performers and has the resume to prove it.
A fixture at Manhattan gay bar The Spot where she presents heavily-themed bingo nights every Tuesday, Turner (real name Daniel Frank Kelly) is giving her cheekily-titled show Tucking Myself In a victory lap of sorts. She has tour dates sprinkled throughout the winter and early spring before unveiling her follow-up show at Provincetown’s Post Office Café and Cabaret in May.
She brings Tucking Myself In to Manhattan’s Green Room 42 this coming Friday, February 17 at 9:30 p.m., as well as Saturday, March 11 at 7 p.m. at the Diva Lounge at the New Hope Inn and Suites, presented by David A. Martin.
Turner took time to chat with me about her memories of New Hope, the fine art of repartee with audiences, and to dispense a tasty dollop or two of what ticket holders can expect.
Since we last caught up with you, has life returned to some semblance of normalcy for the Showbiz Spitfire?
Paige Turner: Oh, of course. People coming out to the shows as they once did, and not having to wear masks during the show and stuff — it’s nice. You want to hear and see the people laughing. They feel less constricted now, which means they’re therefore more free to laugh! It’s been good. Very good.
I would describe the experience of your act as peering into Barbie’s dollhouse and thinking of something quaint, like a comforting childhood throwback. But then you look closer and find something tawdry and delightfully wicked. Would you amend that?
PT: Ooh, a naughty Barbie doll? Definitely. I always like to say mine is a kids’ show for adults. That’s my angle always and how I hope my shows come across.
The title of the show certainly has a knowing wink. What can audiences expect when they come to Tucking Myself In?
It’s a bedtime-themed show and, of course, a double entendre with drag — tucking yourself in at the end of the night. I almost think of like the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Like, oh my God, look at all these things that keep happening, until finally I’m like, “Screw it, I’m staying inside! I’m not facing the world today. Let’s have a slumber party, because that’s what will make me happy.”
Can we expect a gentle kiss goodnight? Or is this going to be something where people squirm in their seats if they bring their family?
PT: Oh, you’d be surprised — I don’t get complaints! I even had an ex-nun at my show! Even at my [Christmas shows] which are my cleanest, where I still sing about power tops and everything — I think it’s because everything’s backed with joy and I’m not really trying to rattle and shake people. It’s more like I just am full throttle in-character, this is dumb, but it’s fun, and I’m in on the joke and you should be, too. And if you just play, take it that way.
I’ve seen [performers] who just sort of go for shock value and I have to tell you, I never, ever do that, and maybe that’s why I can get away with some things and it’s all in fun. I would not do something intentionally just to shock people or make them uncomfortable. Never.
I want people to have an experience, and my experience just happens to be one of an oversexed Barbie doll. It just happens to be what I’ve always been, I’m committed to it, and it’s what makes me chuckle. People love to talk about sex, or don’t love to talk about sex, and love to talk about the ridiculous scenarios that may or may not happen with it. You know, everything’s about love to some degree — here’s love, or I didn’t get the one, or this or that. Even an old Irving Berlin song, if you listen closely, you’ll be like “Oh my God, that’s about deflowering someone!” But it all gives you great material to build on the audience can enjoy.
Speaking of that, the title song from your show is so catchy. I can’t get it out of my head since finding it on Spotify.
PT: Thank you! That was written by Billy Recce, and it’s funny — I’ve kind of become his muse. He’s a fairly young composer who’s done really, really well. He’s written my Christmas material, too. We met working on another Christmas project of his a few years back. I joke that I’m like his like Kander and Ebb with Liza. So I didn’t write the song, he did. And you know what? After he took my ideas and came back with the song, I didn’t change anything — not one thing. There’s one reference to watching Conan [O’Brien] at night that’s a little dated, but he was like “It rhymes so well” and it’s true, it does, so we kept it in, because it doesn’t matter if the song has an old school vibe. That fits [my theme], plus he really writes perfectly for my voice. I sing the song about halfway through the show — I figure by then the audience will be on board with the tomfoolery!
Your reputation precedes you in New Hope! You’ve worked there many times, and you were the last performer at The Raven, if I’m correct. Do you have any special memories?
PT: I was the final Raven performer from out of town. I believe they had some local talent to close out the calendar, but I was the final paid cabaret performer. It was like my tenth time there — there’s something really sweet and completely unique about New Hope. It feels like a hate crime that The Raven is gone now. I learned so much there, and the audiences were wonderful. How does that Joni song go? “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
But there is so much good that remains, of course. I just did a Christmas concert for some producers for Broadway Cares at their house in New Hope, and there were so many old friends [there] in the audience I hadn’t seen in years. We reconnected and it was very nice. I turned around and realized I suddenly knew people in New Hope, that I’ve forged a connection there. That counts for a lot, especially when you’re so busy touring and don’t say “yes” to every invitation you’d like to — to be remembered like that is so nice. And they seem to be happy I’m coming back.
To make new memories.
PT: That’s right. And there are so many good ones — of working New Hope Pride and private events out there over the years… I did some really fun stuff with The Raven, so I’m just going to leave them as good memories as opposed to being angry that it’s gone, you know? People are hungry in New Hope for talent — there is a lot of talent out there [I’m rooting] for — and I’m glad to be a part of it, to be able come back and make new ones to go with the old.
You debuted the show last summer in Provincetown. Has it evolved at all over that time? People in New Hope should know they’re really seeing a show that’s been extensively and carefully honed.
PT: Ooh, I love the word “honed.” I never met anyone who uses it!
When you do a show for a while, being able to put down the script can make you so much freer, you know. The last time I performed [Tucking Myself In] was in Palm Springs in November before I did holiday shows, so I just looked at the script again a couple weeks ago to go over it and wondered how it would feel different since I last touched it. I thought a few times “Where’s that joke?” and I realized that they weren’t in the original typed-out script but had spontaneously come from audience interaction as the material unfolded live. They sometimes replaced parts, too, where I’d think something like “Oh, I kind of already did a joke like this — this one is better in that part.”
Then there are moments that you thought would get a huge response and really don’t, while there are others that weren’t even supposed to be jokes where people are, like, screaming!
Every performance is unique, then.
PT: Yes. Absolutely. Within a script you remain spontaneous. The audience informs the performance, always — they show you what’s working, and you roll with it.
Tickets for Paige Turner’s February 17, 2023 performance in New York can be purchased at TheGreenRoom42.venuetix.com
Tickets for her March 11, 2023 performance in New Hope can be purchased at EventBrite.com