The Original SLC Divas
This past Sunday I attended the most enjoyable brunch ever, and I’ve been to plenty of them. No, it wasn’t as opulent a brunch spread as you’d find at The Grand America, Stein Eriksen Lodge, or Tuscany. But this one had something no other does: The Viva La DIVA Show!
Viva La DIVA is said to be Salt Lake City’s “first and only professional celebrity and female impersonation show.” Well, more about that later. But first, a bit of brunch background.
One of my favorite local restaurant managers is Miles Broadhead. He’s worked previously at places like Alamexo and Zy, but of late has joined up with talented chef Jason Talcott at the Marriott University Park Hotel and their Thistle & Thyme restaurant. Miles is also an actor at the Desert Star Playhouse. Well, a couple of weeks ago Miles contacted me asking if I would like to attend Sunday brunch at the Marriott, and to also enjoy a special show: Viva La DIVA. I checked with the missus, who had the day off from work, and we were in!
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect – either of the brunch or the show, having only seen female impersonators in New York City’s Greenwich Village. You mean there are female impersonators in SLC? I thought. Well, boy are there! And they kick ass.
Tips are Permitted and Encouraged
Arriving at the Marriott, I could see that this wasn’t going to be like any brunch I’d been to before. A number of fellas (DIVAS) were circulating amongst the brunch-goers in stunningly tall platform heels and sequined gowns and minis. They were dressed to the nines and hadn’t been stingy with their makeup, either.
But what confused me was that there was a lot of cash changing hands. I thought perhaps folks were paying for their Viva La DIVA show tickets. Nope. It turns out – and this is something I wasn’t prepared for – that a Viva La DIVA performance involves lots of tipping. So the DIVAS circulate beforehand with stacks and stacks of dollar bills, making change for audience members who understand (as I didn’t) the tipping etiquette of a DIVA show. Thanks, by the way, to the generous gal at our table who donated $10 in dollar bills to us (having not brought any cash) so that we could join in on the tipping fun.
Best Brunch Bang for the Buck
We’ll get back to the DIVAS. But first, a word or two about brunch. First, the University Marriott brunch has got to be the best brunch bang for your buck in town. It’s a mere $12 per person, and that includes non-adult beverages. Alcohol is available for extra. If there is another 12-buck brunch out there, I’d sure like to know about it.
The Marriott brunch is set up buffet-style (what brunch isn’t?), and features a fairly typical array of breakfast foods like bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, biscuits & gravy, waffles and more.
In addition to breakfast items, chef Talcott had also featured tender boneless chicken breasts, barbecued ribs, grilled Caesar salad, pastries and other desserts, along with a bagel station with lox, minced red onion, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, fresh cheese, capers, tomato, dill and lemon wedges. All-in-all, it’s a very attractive brunch for 12 beans.
I mentioned to Miles that the last place I’d expect to find a show based around drag queens was at a Marriott property. But to my surprise, I discovered that back in 2014 Marriott launched an LGBT-focused marketing campaign called #LoveTravels, coinciding with that year’s Pride Week. Broadhead says that Marriott is very LGBT-friendly and that when he suggested bringing the Viva La DIVA show to the University Marriott, the response was “Absolutely. Let’s do this!”
Folks start showing up for brunch around noontime and the DIVA show begins promptly at 2:00. Brunch is still being served at that point, and you can eat at your table during the show (in the dark) if that’s your preference. Most of the audience had wrapped up brunch, but not beverages (there are a couple of bars in the back of the showroom), by showtime.
A Viva La DIVA show kicks off with uber-talented host Jason CoZmo (aka Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, Carol Channing, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and others), who fills newcomers in on what they’re going to see for the next two hours or so, as well as instructions on the aforementioned tipping. When performers finish their routines, audience members line up (and the lines can get quite lengthy) to tip their favorite performers. It’s the same routine as at a strip club, except less flesh is flashed. “Don’t worry about touching my boobies with your bills,” said CoZmo, “They’re not real.”
Throughout the afternoon, CoZmo would emcee and entertain, and I have to say that I’ve not laughed harder or longer in recent memory than I did when he was onstage and in amongst the audience. He is quick-witted and devastatingly funny, even when encouraging people to leave their politics at the door. A Viva La DIVA show is a safe place, during which, for a couple hours at least, Jason CoZmo says, “Trump is not our president. Not in here!” There are lots of big name professional comedians that don’t strike me as half as witty and humorous as CoZmo.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
During the show, I had to keep pinching myself. Where AM I? Is this really a Sunday afternoon in Salt Lake City? The audience was about as diverse as you’ll ever find – an eclectic mix of gays, straights, lesbians, kids (it was the DIVAS first-ever all-ages show), transgenders, farmers and ranchers from places like Tooele and Roy, and others – all having a fantastic time under one rainbow-colored umbrella.
CoZmo spares no one. He got his digs in at some gays guys next to me – “Really? You’re wearing flip-flops????, as well as “tie-dye lesbians” – “Are those your motorcycles parked out front?” I give him much credit for keeping the show (relatively) clean and not dropping the F-bomb with a table full of little girls smack dab in front of him, complete with tiaras. “You may be princesses,” said CoZmo to the girls, “But I’m the QUEEN!”
Kicking off with elaborate renditions of songs from The Sound of Music, the show proceeded to feature various impersonators – most don’t do their own singing, but lip sync and do it better than I’ve seen the original artists lip sync their own songs.
Along with the aforementioned Jason CoZmo, David Lorence appears as Cher and Celine Dion (spot-on, by the way), Cooper is sound engineer and handles the Jennifer Hudson and Aretha Franklin assignments, Wayne Blair does Jessica Rabbit and Mariah Carey and he does sing live, Edgar Alexa is the queen of salsa, Celia Cruz, Cody Rose perfectly channels Katy Perry, and Jeremiah Del MarZ provides additional comedy relief with selections from Annie and Everybody’s Girl. Photographer Ben Morgan also steps from behind the camera occasionally to perform.
DIVAS Deliver – Don’t Miss Them!
Now I understand why at least half of the audience at any Viva La DIVA show is made up of repeat customers and longtime fans. I can’t wait for my next Viva La DIVA show. It is so entertaining, so life-affirming, and just so much damned fun that you can’t help but walk away happy. The DIVAS really deliver.
Stay tuned for the next Viva La DIVA brunch location. Word has it that they may be moving from Club X to the Marriott, permanently. Check out their website for schedules and tickets.
And if, like me, you desperately need a break from reality these days – even if only for a couple of magical hours – The Viva La DIVA Show is a guaranteed escape and respite from the real world. Do not miss these sassy gals (guys?)!
Culinary quote of the week:
Brunch without booze is just a sad, late breakfast.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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