The queens of pop

JAHNA PELOQUIN | Updated 11/8/2012

Drag performers credit Madonna, performing this weekend at Xcel, as a key inspiration.

Roxy Marquis has performed as Madonna for more than two decades.
Provided photo

It's not easy being queen.

Just ask Roxy Marquis, who has been performing in drag as Madonna for more than two decades.

Roxy also does a mean Dolly Parton and Annie Lennox, but it's her striking resemblance to Madonna that has made her name in the Twin Cities drag scene.

"It's almost like each [character] is coming from a different entertainer," said Wes Byers, the man under the Roxy Marquis wig. "You have to come up with different motives for each of those personas."

Byers said he has played just about every Madonna incarnation imaginable in his years of performing. His costume wardrobe (housed at the Gay 90's, where he performs every weekend as part of the "Ladies of La Femme" revue) is nearly encyclopedic in its breadth, from a replica of Madonna's Marie Antoinette costume for her performance of "Vogue" at the 1990 MTV Music Video Awards to her "Like a Virgin" white lace wedding gown -- complete with its "Boy Toy" belt.

"I remember seeing [1983's] "Burning Up" on MTV, and I was like, 'What in the world?'" he recalled. "I had never seen anything like it. She was in charge and brazen. It was fascinating."

Growing up gay on a farm on the Iowa-South Dakota border, Byers said that Madonna was a huge inspiration for him to get out of the closet and start doing drag.

"She was going out there shocking people and everyone was loving her for it, so I thought maybe it's OK if I shock people, too," he said. "She made it OK for us to come out and be OK with who we are."

It's a sentiment that's echoed throughout the drag and GLBT communities. Gay 90's resident performer and "Ladies of La Femme" host Nina DiAngelo (né Jamie Olson) also credits Madonna with inspiring him to come out. "She didn't apologize for what she was," he said. "Seeing someone who was obviously a little bit different and didn't give a shit about what people thought was huge."

"She's always been an inspiration," added Matt Fever, who has performed as Krystal Kleer -- a character he describes as a "mix of Madonna, Marilyn Monroe and Boy George" -- for the past 17 years. "Madonna gives you the power to express yourself."

The feeling is mutual. The pop star has been a vocal advocate for the awareness and prevention of gay teen suicide and bullying, and in a 2010 appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," she said she "wouldn't have a had a career" if not for the gay community.

To celebrate Madonna's first Twin Cities concerts since 1987, Fever is throwing a bash Friday at St. Paul gay bar Camp. Festivities include a "Madonna Drag Race," in which partiers dressed as the star will lip-sync to Madonna songs. Fever will do some lip-syncing of his own as Krystal Kleer, wearing a trio of Madonna-inspired getups. Half of the proceeds will benefit the Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide among GLBT youth.

"This is like the second coming of Christ," Fever says. "Her last tour was in 1987, and I was there. I thought it was expensive when I paid $37 for a ticket! I thought I was really breaking the bank. I just paid $400 for a ticket. Times have changed -- and so has she."

Don't have $400 to drop on a ticket to the show? There's always Roxy and Krystal.

M: THE OFFICIAL MDMA PARTY

What: Lip-sync contest, Madonna-themed drink specials and performances by Krystal Kleer. When: 8 p.m. Fri. Where: Camp, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul. Tickets: $5. 651-292-1844.

ROXY MARQUIS

What: Performing regularly with the "Ladies of La Femme" revue. When: 9:45 p.m. Fri.-Sun. weekly. Where: The Gay 90's, 408 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. Tickets: $5-$10.