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Tribute Artist Peter Mac Talks Judy and Other Audience Favorite Divas

Tribute artist Peter Mac happens to be one terrific actor/singer who does his very best work in a dress. In our interview, he talks about how it all started, the characters he honors and his gig at the Gardenia over the next year. Like Charles Pierce and Jim Bailey before him Peter Mac is keeping the art of creating impressions alive and vibrant.

In brief, how did Judy Garland influence you to become a tribute artist? You have an entire show about this Becoming Judy, so be brief, but still in detail. Mention all the personal stuff.

Well, for starters Judy made me just want to perform. I was drawn into that euphoric overwhelming sense of joy that she exuded. As for the impersonation itself? I gathered that Judy was being portrayed by the majority of impersonators as a falling down drunk (except of course by the brilliant illusionist Jim Bailey). And (forgive my French) it pisses me off when some queen dons a sequin jacket and a bouffant wig and launches into tirade about booze and pills. I don't find humor in someone else's adversity. Yes, Judy had an addiction problem but it is not why she is so loved and celebrated. Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery not battery.

You have such variety in your shows. I've seen three so far, and each one has been different. Each month has brought us - such a lucky audience - a diversified format! What has been your primary goal? Or what has made you diversify rather than stick with one basic show?

What I do could be described as cabaret stock. There's summer stock and winter stock, I do Cabaret Stock. So as one show is being put up on its feet we commence to working on another. It's a great challenge and I love that. I hate to hear an audience to say "Oh, we saw that already!" A show like "Judy in Concert" is always evolving because we keep certain material we need i.e. Trolley Song and Over the Rainbow but then I can add new material as well. Judy's catalogue of music is enormous. Plus, all of the songs she never got to sing.

How many other characters besides Judy do you tribute?

There are about a dozen including: Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Peggy Lee, Liza Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, Dame Edna , Little Edie Beale, Gwen Verdon, Helen Reddy.

Which ones are your favorites? Why? Which are the most challenging to pull off?

They all have a special place in my heart. Each one is so uniquely different from the other. I love Tallulah because she was so no holds barred and raunchy. Peggy Lee had such an ethereal quality to her as she got older. It was as if she were in a trance or slightly out of focus, (but still brilliant ) in those later years. It was all about the lyrics with Peggy, what a story teller! In an evening where I do 5 or 6 of them that's the biggest challenge. Making sure that each lady is her own individual self. Judy is without a doubt the crowning jewel for me.

Anyone you're working on that you'll be adding at some point in the near future? Care to share?

There are definitely new divas coming up for me. Some are musical theatre/film stars, some historical celebrities and a few fictional divas as well. There always has to be a connection for me, which is key. I don't even think that I pick them anymore rather they pick me.

Tell me more about the play you did in New York that was the basis for Becoming Judy and when do you intend to mount that here?

The show Judy and Me is my autobiography. A six person play .It really is a story about intolerance and the homophobia that I suffered in school and that so many young kids are still plagued with. Twice I contemplated suicide between the ages of 12 and 16 because I couldn't take the abuse anymore. I attribute a large part of my survival to Judy's music, movies and her wit. People respond to the show very well...both gay and straight audiences. If you were ever the odd kid out people seem to relate to it. I am hoping that the show will play the west coast eventually. It is such an important story.

Do you like singing as yourself or do you prefer the dress up shows?

I am simply a stage whore, HA! I love any chance to perform. I do enjoy performing as "me". Don't forget when I was 15 I started studying voice with the brilliant David Sabella and he taught me so much and helped to mold the tenor I've grown into. That being said I went into this business because I love make believe. How's this? I would love to do a 4 week run of Damn Yankees and play Lola for two weeks and Joe Hardy for two weeks!

Tell me about your wonderful costume designer. How did you two get together and how do you work? I mean, do you give her detailed ideas of what you want, or do you just feed her and she comes up with the goods? They all look terrific!

I've worked with several wonderful costume designers over the years. All who have been instrumental in helping to bring Judy to life. I really feel I am in the business of replicating and so I have recreations of several of Judy's concert/television gowns. Garland fans go wild for that kind of thing. It makes my pretend work that much easier. Just recently I started working a talented young lady, Athena DeCocq, who recreated Judy's Valley of the Dolls/1967 Palace outfit (top photo) for me and she is already working on two more iconic outfits.

How is it different to do the show at the Gardenia and then at Oil Can Harry's? You must have two totally divergent audiences!

It never ceases to amaze me how audiences will vary. Something that works well at one venue may not at another. Tom Rolla's Gardenia is wonderfully intimate and iconic. It's the longest running cabaret venue in the country, so that's an honor. Oil Can Harry's is whimsical and the demographic is different. I often use Oil Can's as a workshop for new shows. Both venues are a delight to play.

What plans do you have for 2012 as you fulfill your Gardenia contract?

There are several new theatrical concerts we have planned for Judy in 2012. One in particular I've been hoping to do for some time. BUT you will just have to wait and see. I love my audiences to be surprised.

Anything else happening?

You've given me this great opportunity to say whatever I want? My you're a brave man! What I do is a lot of fun and very rewarding and I'm extremely proud of my work but I do wish it were regarded a little higher in the cabaret circuit. There are those who do look down their noses at it. Though I don't consider myself (and have been told I'm not) a drag queen what I do is an extension of that particular art form and yes, it is an art form. It is a shame that Drag is considered a four letter word and that in some circles female impersonation is a poor bastard relation to be avoided.

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See Peter Mac as himself in Home the weekend of November 25, 26. 27 after Thanksgiving @ the Gardenia and then in The Judy Garland Christmas Show there December 12-17.

(photo credit: Mike Pingel)

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