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Escaped From New York: an evening with Queerdonna and friends

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When you're a 325-pound drag impersonator of an internationally famous pop star, people can get their facts wrong in the heat of the moment.

"There was a rumor going around," sighs Greg Tanian, who in full, uh, dress regalia goes by the name of Queerdonna, "that I had bumped into her at the Truth or Dare premiere and there was a scene and she wouldn't go in until I left. But I didn't really. It wasn't true. I did sort of bump into her, and she knew it was me, and she did raise a little bit of a stink. But it was OK. I mean, I was there, but it was open to anyone who paid to see the show."

Wait--what was the rumor?

"Oh, Joan Rivers said that I bumped into her as Queerdonna. I'll tell you, I wasn't in costume. If I'd been in costume, I would have stolen the show, I just know it. Every flashbulb in the place would have been on me."

Tanian will be in Chicago at Ka-Boom! this weekend for a show called "Everything Old Is New York Again," an evening of imported stars from the Big Apple club demimonde. The show is hosted by the enterprising Manhattan party thrower Chip Duckett, who's bringing along Tanian and a bevy of other polymorphously perverse scenesters of the sort known in the midwest only as characters in the Village Voice's "La Dolce Musto" column. Among them: a DJ in drag known as Dinah who plays a weird pastiche of music--"from Kate Smith to Nina Hagen to Roseanne Barr," says Duckett--and lip-synchs to everything; another DJ, the noted Tommy Richardson; a passel of "gogo boys" (Duckett: "You know, hot Latin types"); and a Boswell in the form of Michael Musto himself.

Tanian isn't just a guy who dresses up like a famous person; he's also that special kind of fan who tends to make famous people nervous. ("He's an obsessive," concedes Duckett, "but he's not dangerous or anything.") Tanian matter-of-factly followed the singer around for years and keeps up with a network of fans in other cities--he reports that Madonna's been staying at the Ritz, and that she'll still be in town when he gets here. He's also an amateur paparazzo and says he's put himself through school for the past year on the earnings from the fortuitous moments he caught on film.

"I was riding my bike," he recalls, "following her on her morning jog, when all of a sudden JFK Jr. comes up.

"He's on a bike, yelling, 'Madonna! Madonna!' and I got some pictures. The papers blew it all out of proportion--they said they were going out, but they weren't. She just stopped--well, not stopped, just slowed down some--and they talked a little bit."

Of course Greg Tanian became Queerdonna on Halloween, but the fan was created many years before. "My father died when I was 13," he explains. "And Madonna's music said something to me: 'There's a lot to life, have fun, enjoy.'" And then one Halloween . . . "We thought it would be funny to dress up like her and go down to the Village and hang around her house. And we bumped into her brother, Christopher Ciccone! I just gave him a big wet kiss and started singing, and all of a sudden 50 people were gathered around me. A few weeks later Chip called me up."

A new vocation called. Tanian studies photography at the Center for Media Arts by day and pursues his new acting career by night. "A lot of people get it mixed up," he says. "I'm an actor, and Queerdonna is my character. It's not that I think anything's wrong with transvestites, but Queerdonna is just a character I perform." He'll be featured in a new movie, Blond Obsession, a takeoff on Truth or Dare, and has a smaller part in a movie called Blast 'Em that'll be out in September.

Queerdonna's act at Ka-Boom!, Tanian says, won't be that big a deal--just one song, a lip-synched "Vogue," complete with some tag-team spanking with a nun. "The act has great impact," he says. "It's the sort of line that Madonna will go up to and touch--but we're going over the edge she doesn't dare go over. I guarantee Ka-Boom! will never have a better act in their showcase."

Duckett, Queerdonna, Dinah, and Musto will be at Ka-Boom!, 747 N. Green, after 11 Sunday night. DJ Tommy Richardson will be spinning on the main floor all evening, as will Dinah in the club's Cordoba Room. Queerdonna will perform sometime after midnight. Admission is $5; call 243-8600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tina Paul.

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