Jeffery Hickman, better known as Loreal, has been doing drag shows around KC since 1986. He debuted at a bar called Pegasus (the former Cabaret spot at 50th Street and Main). He got his first regular gig at Arabian Nights on Gillham (where Costco is now located) and began emceeing in 1987 at Connections, the bar now called Sidekicks. In short, the dude has been around. He celebrates his silver anniversary in the business tonight at 1911 Main (1911 Main, 816-527-0200), surrounded by some of the most popular drag performers in town: Melinda Ryder, Daisy Bucket, Belle Starr and Buttwiser. The show begins at 7:30 p.m., and a cocktail hour with the performers starts at 6:30. The cover is $10, and all proceeds go to the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project and the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. We caught up with Loreal to find out how the scene has progressed since the '80s and how he's able to keep current.
The Pitch: How has the landscape changed in the last 25 years for drag artists in the city?
Loreal: When I started, people rarely did drag unless they were in a show. There were a few who lived as women, but that was something totally different. And the bars have changed dramatically. Gay bars were unmarked buildings, and the only people in them were gay people — no bridal parties or gawkers.
How do you keep your act fresh and mint after all these years?
I don't try to be Britney Spears. I do what I do and I do it well, and I don't go onstage in jeans, flats and a T-shirt with a rhinestone or two on it like some of these young kids that think they are being "street" or hip. Female impersonation is about glamour and style. And I like to be well-rounded as a performer. I do all types of numbers, from jazz to ballads to comedy. I rehearse, know all my words and at least have a plan of action when I get onstage.
What would you change about local drag performances?
It makes me sad that many bar owners and managers are stuck with half-assed performers. If they actually paid people a decent amount, then the performances, the wigs and the costumes would all get better. They need to get rid of the low-quality performers and hire ones that will invest in their craft and hone their talents.