Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, July 27, 2012 | 6 p.m.
One hundred wigs, 10,000 gowns and 350,000 costume changes. By comparison, 1,000 shows seems kind of modest for a guy like Frank Marino, who celebrated the milestone for his show “Divas Las Vegas” at Imperial Palace last Saturday.
Indeed, as the Las Vegas drag veteran patiently applies his makeup in the hour before show time, you wouldn’t know that the evening’s performance was different from any other.
“A thousand shows to me means a new house in the Hamptons and a speed boat,” Marino jokes from behind the vanity of his Imperial Palace dressing room. “But all kidding aside, I’m just lucky to have a job in this economy.
“So having a career like this, I’m one of the happiest people in the world. That’s what it means to me — to know that I’m doing something that I love.”
Like his show, Marino’s dressing room is at once meticulous and excessive, a jewel-encrusted inner sanctum in which only the colors pink, purple and green are permitted.
A shelf above the vanity is stocked with heaping, bouffant wigs so enormous that even the blank stares of the mannequin heads look more distressed than stoic under the weight.
To the right, a multitiered painter’s palette of stage makeup and a curio assortment of perfume. All around, plush seating and photographs line the walls; many of Marino himself, even more of his friends.
“When I come in, my assistants already have the lights dimmed, air freshener sprayed, music on very low. I like it quiet. And I like a deep freeze; I need it to be really cold when doing makeup because you get so warm,” he says of his 1 1/2-hour pre-show routine.
“And then it’s like choreography between us; I don’t even speak anymore. I put out my arm and there’s the bracelet, or I reach out and there are the eyelashes. It’s like a really fine-tuned dance.”
With 17 costume changes per show, and just two to three minutes between changes, Marino can’t afford to be anything but fine-tuned. However, as the longest continuous-running headliner in Las Vegas (including his shows before “Divas”), the dance of drag has become second nature.
“I’ve done 21,000 shows, performed before 10 million people and done 350,000 costume changes. Which means I’ve taken my clothes off more times than Lindsay Lohan!” he says.
That’s not to say he hasn’t learned a few tricks along the way. After various wardrobe mishaps and malfunctions, he has a quick-change secret.
“Since I’m a man, all the outfits are built in with the breasts and all the paraphernalia that you need. But they’re also all zippered in the back, so I really just have to step into them. Even if they look like they’re buttoned or whatever, they’re all jimmy-rigged in the back so I can get into them,” he says.
As his entourage summons him for curtain call, Marino slips off his flats for a pair of dagger-esque, patent leather stilettos. I ask him if comfort is ever a factor when selecting heels for an outfit. He responds with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk.
“My goal isn’t to look like a woman. I try to look like Vegas — over-the-top, crazy costumes, crazy wigs. Women can go next door to see the girl next door. Here, I want them to see fantasy.”
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