The iconic and legendary, Frank Marino, the Queen of all Drag Queens, stopped by TVT to talk Vegas, showbiz, and promote his new gig as MC for “Legends in Concert” at the Tropicana Hotel Resort.
Marino is well known for his Joan Rivers impression, but Shapiro took it all the way back to Marino’s drag roots with this first question – when did Marino have that first revelation that he was ready to be a “queen?”
While we all pictured some artsy kid who was president of the drama club, Frank kept it frank and proved he’s all about providing a good plot twist: “Well, I originally wanted to be a doctor.”
While “Dr. Drag” could still be a thing someday, Marino said that he originally got a job at a Long Island pharmacy so he could get medical experience. But, it was the ultimately the cosmetics counter that caught his attention, much more so than cutting pills. At the tender age of 16, Marino honed in on the art of makeup, spending hours talking to cosmetics reps and learning how to use all the products.
Marino soon felt comfortable enough to take on the persona of his idol, Diana Ross. He started performing as a Ross impersonator, doing bar mitzvahs and weddings. He caught the attention of an agent, who immediately recognized Marino’s talent. The agent also helped Marino realize that he should probably switch gears: “I told myself you’re not black, and you can’t really sing, so you better find a white comedian if you’re going to do drag.”
Marino kept it real with himself, which naturally led to the birth of his most authentic character to date- his Joan Rivers impersonation.
Marino eventually got a gig opening a show called “La Cage” in Atlantic City (where the actual Joan Rivers was also performing). Marino had the cajones to knock on her door uninvited, and Joan welcomed him in. In that room, he met with producers who happened to be working with another Joan impersonator.
“I knew I was much better than that guy was,” Marino said. And with that confidence, he got another offer to perform in “La Cage,” this time in Las Vegas (at the Riviera). The gig was supposed to be temporary, but ended up lasting 25 years. From there, Marino started his own Vegas show “Divas” at the Linq (formerly Imperial Palace and The Quad) which ran successfully for 10 years. Marino has been a Las Vegan for a grand total of 36 years (totally weird math, considering he looks amazing and can’t be older than 35).
Shapiro pointed out a lot of the misconceptions and “fears” surrounding drag queens, especially as it pertains to ideals expressed by the religious right. Marino stated one of the biggest stereotypes is that “all drag queens are gay.” Marino pointed to historical art forms, such as Kabuki and Shakespearean drama, to highlight the fact that drag has been done by straight men, since forever. “People make assumptions and think they know what they’re talking about, when they really have no idea.”
Marino is super stoked to MC “Legends,” because it’s way different from other Vegas shows – it’s one that is constantly evolving with a fresh rotation of performers. The monologue is even updated to touch on current events. It’s what Marino calls the “ultimate Vegas show” where you get modern music (with a live band), risqué humor, sexy show girls and a fantasy concert experience where you can see Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, and Freddy Mercury all in one show. What a party.
Shapiro decided to share a (slightly disturbing) story of when he dressed up as a “bald, white crack whore” (wearing fishnets and high heels) one time for Halloween. He went to the men’s room to use the urinal, and created confusion when other bathroom patrons saw him lifting up his skirt. Since Shapiro obviously made a lackluster drag queen, this led to him asking Marino about the “process” of celebrity impersonation.
TVT had a George Michael impersonator come on the show recently. Both Sharp and Shapiro said they were amazed at how much he looked and sounded like the real George. Marino shared a throwback moment, as he reflected on a time where he watched hours of concert footage, on VHS tapes, to get the mannerisms of certain performers: “It’s easier to capture someone’s essence, and study them when you like them. You have to continue to learn and grow with the character as the celebrity ages.”
When asked about famous folks he’s met along the way, Marino name-dropped some serious A-list heavy weights – his idol Diana Ross (he drove out to Vegas from Laughlin to meet her at a moment’s notice), the one and only OPRAH, Bruno Mars, members of the original Rat Pack, and the first family – Ivanka and Donald Trump. Marino met Donald Trump several times (pre-presidential status) and found him to be very nice and personable. Marino pointed out that he was actually a Donald Trump employee, as a performer in one of his Atlantic City hotels. The interactions were brief, but Trump was always respectful, and Marino felt he ran his hotels with “perfect efficiency.”
In honor of Presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, and his historic run for office, Shapiro asked Marino if he felt America would ever elect an openly gay president. While Marino emphasized that he tends to veer away from politics, he may have earned bipartisan approval with this epic line – “It’s a shame America won’t elect a gay president. We wouldn’t win anymore wars, but the parades would be fabulous.”
Whether you’re a local (Frank loves locals), a tourist, or an up and coming drag star looking for inspiration, “Let’s talk” about what an awesome Joan Rivers/MC Frank Marino is going to be for “Legends” at the Trop.