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‘Golden Girls’ tour stars 4 gay men in heels. Amid drag bans and LGBTQ attacks, they say ‘laughter is key’ for bringing people together.

When they aren’t busy stepping into the high heels and fabulous wigs of Miami’s sassiest seniors, the all-gay cast of The Golden Girls national tour is creating a community as colorful and diverse as their costumes.

That’s no easy feat. The groundbreaking sitcom starring Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan and Betty White as four older women living together was among the most-watched TV shows in history during its original run from 1985-1992 on NBC, where it aired for seven seasons. Since then, fans have kept its spirit alive through record-breaking streaming numbers, show-themed cafés, restaurants, cruises and even a fan convention.

Needless to say, the pressure of doing the characters justice is no joke, says actor Vince Kelley, who plays Blanche, the man-hungry Southern belle originated by McClanahan.

“We’re not just portraying regular people. The Golden Girls means so much to so many [people],” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We hold them in such high esteem, and we use the show as a way to honor and celebrate them.”

Ahead of its Los Angeles premiere on Dec. 14, with additional stops across the U.S. in 2024, Yahoo sat down with Kelley and the rest of the cast, Adam Graber who plays Rose, Ryan Bernier who plays Dorothy and Christopher Kamm who plays Sophia — all of whom agree that in bridging divides and uniting people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, “laughter is the best medicine.”

‘We are not drag queens’

While the cast has received “a lot of pushback” in states where lawmakers have tried to enact “anti-drag” bills or ban books and school theater productions with queer storylines, Graber says more often than not, they’re drowned out by “supporters who just want to laugh.”

“It’s very easy to see which cities are more receptive than others,” he says. “A lot of it is ignorance, but we are aware of the people there who need to see this, so as scary as it is to go into these places we’ve never been before, where drag is not welcome, we hope our show will be a unifier because The Golden Girls brings people together.”

Kelley says they all strive to make one point implicitly clear.

“We are not drag queens,” he says. “Drag queens are wonderful mythical creatures. Everything they do is political, and they rise to every occasion that comes before them. We’re just female impersonators putting on a show. Gone are the days where we’re able to say that. Anytime we put on makeup, heels and wigs, we become a political statement, because that’s what’s happening in the world.”

The cast says that while certain red states are showing hostility, the cast is still hoping the show can be a The cast says that while certain red states are showing hostility, the cast is still hoping the show can be a

The cast says that while certain red states are showing hostility, the cast is still hoping the show can be a “spoonful of sugar” to help the “drag medicine” go down. (Murray and Peter Present)

Calling themselves drag queens, Kelley explains, would be “a disservice to all the [drag queens] who are fighting this fight.” He expects to see a wave of naysayers in next year’s leg of the tour, as they venture into more conservative states like Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and the Carolinas.

“These are places where, at least on social media, they aren’t excited to have us,” he explains. “But we are ready to pick up that mantle to say, yes, we are, quote-unquote ‘drag queens.’ And we’re here to use The Golden Girls as this little spoonful of sugar to help the drag medicine go down. If you don’t like that, then you don’t have to come to the show.”

“Our show is an invitation for everyone to come laugh with us,” Bernier tells Yahoo. “If you need to spend time away from a world that’s kind of getting more terrible by the second, come laugh with us. We’re a really good time. Laughter is key.”

Kamm, who grew up watching the show with his grandmother, stresses the fact that the original cast of Arthur, Getty, McClanahan and White were fierce allies to the LGBTQ community. The show’s fans, straight and gay alike, have “always known that,” he says. That adds to the show’s queer sensibilities.

“This show has a community already built into it,” Kamm tells Yahoo. “We all know it, and so does the audience.” That’s what makes it equal parts fun and risqué, depending on where they’re at, he notes.

You won’t see the same show twice

While the original show was set in the ’80s, this production is set in the modern day. That’s given the actors more freedom to touch on current events happening in the news, Kelley says.

“Don’t expect to see the same show twice,” he says. “If something happens in the world that day that’s funny, or maybe not, we’re gonna talk about it in the show that night. So, that’s kind of jarring because you see these women in these ’80s outfits and stuff, and then we’re, like, talking about the Titanic submarine expedition.”

As he likes to describe it, “It’s as if The Golden Girls never went off air, and they switched from network TV to HBO Max.”

The original The original

The original “Golden Girls,” from left, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty. (Herb Ball/NBC/NBCU)

“[The audiences] learn something new every time,” Graber says. “There’s a lot of [lingo] that people don’t understand or remember [from the ’80s]. When they look it up after act one, it’s funny again.”

There’s also the occasional mishap, from costume malfunctions to hecklers.

“Half of the cast has had their wig left onstage momentarily,” Bernier says. “Once, an audience member was having an exceptionally good time, to the point where two state police officers came to check on her.” And no, it wasn’t Lauren Boebert, he points out.

While the show’s fanbase has historically consisted of LGBTQ people, Kelley says most of the tour’s audience has been younger women and their moms.

“It’s a female girls night out kind of demographic,” he says. “Sometimes they bring their husbands who begrudgingly join us for a meet-and-greet photo and shake our hands and tell us that we did a lovely job.”

Online, it’s mostly “younger people, 80% female between 20 and 40” who are their biggest fans, Graber says. “We love them.”

Thank you for being a friend

Bernier says the coolest thing about venturing out into unknown cities with wigs, makeup and heels in tow is the hope that the cast will “change hearts and minds” about LGBTQ folks, no matter what side of the political spectrum the audience may lean.

Delivering zingers to a “room of people who are all laughing at the same jokes,” despite their differences, “is hard to do,” he explains. “We have this unifying force, people already trust us to do that for them. It kind of sounds cheesy, but I hope we do what the actual show did, which was to bring people together.”

No matter what’s happening in the world, behind-the-scenes, the whole cast “is here for each other” as well as the audience, Kelley explains, especially “those out there who really needs to laugh the most.”

“The minute the theme song starts, I know I’m going to have 90 to 95 minutes of absolute fun,” he says. “The fact that we get to be together, and do it for us, for our community, and have a great time … that’s what I love doing more than anything else.”

The Golden Girls continues its national tour with the Los Angeles premiere on Dec. 14, with other cities to follow.

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