‘Female drag queen’ to emcee Estella Sweet’s birthday bash in Wilkes-Barre
When local drag queen and club proprietor Estella Sweet celebrates a birthday, she celebrates in style, and her annual birthday bash is returning this Memorial Day weekend.
Sweet’s 35th birthday festivities kick off at 8 p.m. May 27 at Heat Bar & Nightclub in Wilkes-Barre. The evening will feature performances by Sweet and fellow queen Wednesday Westwood and will be emceed by comedian and musical performer Wendy Jo Smith aka Wendy Ho.
Smith, who currently resides in Los Angeles, is known for her foul-mouthed comedy, singing and rapping and has come to be called a “female drag queen” because of her over-the-top, on-stage femininity reminiscent of pop icons like Cher, Madonna and Lady Gaga.
As a comedic recording artist, Smith has charted in Billboard’s Top 10, and drag queens worldwide have covered her songs. Recently, she was the only biologically female cast member on The Divas of Drag Tour.
Smith said she was “bitten by the theater bug” at age 10 when she auditioned for “Annie” in school.
“I was a chubby, introverted child, and I desperately needed to find something I was good at,” she said. “My awkwardness prevailed, but I soldiered on in the one place I found acceptance — in the theater where I could pretend to be other people.”
Smith went on to study acting at Missouri State University, where she was a stand-out and received several scholarships — one by alumna and industry success Kathleen Turner.
“All the while this was going on in high school and college, I was also backstage entertaining the entertainers,” Smith said.
Often making up songs and raps, Smith garnered the attention of fellow performers.
“People would request it so often, and most of the time the material was so dirty that a friend of mine nicknamed me by replacing the J in my real name, Wendy Jo, with an H, and it stuck,” Smith said. “I became Wendy Ho.”
Smith went into a recording studio and did two cover albums of R&B and musical theater covers and one comedy album, “Wendy Ho: Bitch Off a Leash.” She got such a positive reaction from the comedy work that she focused on performing those songs live and earned her own show at Caronline’s on Broadway in New York City.
When she became aware of how little of the house take she was being offered in pay, Smith stood up for herself and was “pretty much laughed out of the office.”
The same night, Smith heard a local drag queen was covering her song at a club she frequented with friends and went to see the performance.
“Word got to the manager of the bar that I was in the audience,” Smith said. “He approached me about interrupting the queen’s performance and taking over to sing the song live. I gladly obliged, and after that night I was offered a show in which I would be paid fairly.
I moved off Broadway from Caroline’s and went to a place where what I had to offer was appreciated. Needless to say, I have been appreciated there ever since.”
Smith’s stage act is comprised of monologue, joke telling, social commentary, musical performance and “truth telling.”
“I also like to involve the audience and make things personal for them every time,” Smith said.
Smith said it’s funny to her that her over-the-top femininity is associated with masculinity, but that she isn’t at all surprised.
“Anything that is labeled strong in this culture gets associated with being male, and so it is with drag,” Smith said. “I have appreciated learning how to embrace the power from men that have had the balls to do so themselves, but to me, the art of drag has nothing to do with what sex you are.
To me, it’s all about revealing what’s bubbling beneath the surface. I look at it as the placement of a type of armor, so that I can go out and tell the truth.”
Smith said she has appreciated her acceptance in the “boys club” of drag.
“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” she said. “I have learned so much from them, as professional artists and as human beings.”
The internationally known artist is preparing for her debut performance at Heat.
“This is my first time working with Estella,” Smith said. “What can I say? She has great taste! She has brought some of the bigger names in drag to Heat in NEPA. I’m honored that she asked me to come to perform and celebrate her 35th birthday.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Estella’s 35th Birthday Bash
Where: Heat Bar & Nightclub, 69 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre
When: 8 p.m. May 27
Additional Information: General admission costs $8 and preferred seating costs $14. Tickets are available in advance at bit.ly/2qfmXQP.