Robbie Turner is one of Seattle’s most versatile and in-demand performers and nightlife hosts. Seattle’s drag community is full of extremely talented shapeshifters, but few have established themselves with a full range of singing and dancing chops as Turner has. Perhaps as importantly, members of the Capitol Hill community also know Turner for his engaging, open and compassionate personality in-and-out of drag.
With his charm and intelligence, Turner can be many things, and so it stands to reason that he chose a path that allowed him to embrace a wide audience while embodying multiple roles. The performance bug got him early; he was entranced seeing Glenn Close playing in a stage-production of Sunset Boulevard when he was eleven. He wasn’t merely starstruck:
“I didn’t know who she was at the time, but from her first boisterous line she commanded the entire theatre. I recall leaning forward and pressing my hand on my grandfather’s knee. I was hooked.”
He recently had the first run of his show, The Robbie Turner Revue, at the Hard Rock Cafe near Pike Place Market. We have taken the opportunity to catch up and learn a little more about this local star.
Vanguard Seattle: Do you have a first performance memory?
Robbie Turner: My first performance memory was in the Easter pageant at my parents church. I was two or three. I had a cut out of a flower on my head and a three-piece suit on my little body. I was adorable.
Vanguard Seattle: What was your first paid gig?
RT: I was asked to dance the Michael Jackson part in Thriller. I was 17. Up until then I’d only performed at church, school or community theatre. But during that October I slayed the audiences that waited to get inside the local haunted house.
VS: Many drag performers talk about being in a different persona or character while in drag. Is there a personality difference for you in and out of drag?
Robbie Turner: When I am out of drag I enjoy relaxing and recuperating at home. I do like to get out and cut a rug now and then, but my schedule is so packed that most times I prefer staying in. However, even as a boy if I am out, people expect “her,” so I’m often performing for fans, then can go back down to my normal energy with my friends who truly know me.
VS: You have a strong sense of style even when you are not in drag. What first made you interested in creating a style for yourself?
RT: I’ve always had a love for classic cinema. The men dressed just as well as the women. There was a personal expectation when dressing for the most mundane of days. I like to hold myself to that standard. It’s not always easy, and our confusing Seattle weather does get me to carry a hoodie every now and then.
VS: Local designer Michael Cepress has done the costumes for the Robbie Turner Revue. What were the style inspirations for these looks?
RT: The Robbie Turner Revue is inspired by 1960s and 70s variety shows, specifically the Mitzi Gaynor specials, The Carol Burnett Show and even Sonny and Cher. So the costuming needed to be splashy with a bit of sizzle. All of the colors I wear truly vibrate onstage. Cepress understands movement and color, but also sophistication. He designed functional, elegant and exciting costumes for the Revue. I’m so happy to wear them!
VS: What was initial spark and concept for the Robbie Turner Revue?
RT: I was approached by the Hard Rock Cafe to put on a show while I was out on New York City. Initially I was flattered that this fabulous establishment would consider me, but then I was worried that they wanted a show like shows that you could see anywhere, and at that moment I was looking to put on a show unlike anything Seattle has seen in quite some time. Cepress and I met with the wonderful coordinators at Hard Rock Cafe, and we presented the type of show I was interested in creating. Thankfully, Chris Weaver, the main coordinator for Hard Rock Cafe has been a gem. She—as well as the entire staff—has been welcoming and excited for this new endeavor.
VS: Dreaming big, if you could produce the most lavish, extravagant, spectacular musical number, what song would it be and how would it look?
RT: I love MGM musicals. I think I would definitely want to recreate the song “Who” from Til The Clouds Roll By. It has everything: glamour, scale, an insane amount of dancers, singers and fun choreography.
VS: If you could do a duet with any performer, living or dead, who would it be?
RT: I think Judy Garland.
VS: And if you could raid any celebrity closet, living or dead, whose would it be?
RT: I would want to raid Audrey Hepburn’s closet.
VS: We should have known that.