Bianca Del Rio, a.k.a. Roy Haylock, has, over the last several years, become increasingly popular as one of New York's most respected drag queens, heralded for her sharp sensibility, iconic style and memorable one-liners. This Bianca love reached a fervent pitch across the country on this season of Logo TV's "RuPaul's Drag Race" which she won handily, returning to New York in a blaze of glory with her local performances mobbed by ardent fans.
Appearing opposite no less than James Franco in Broadway Bares, Bianca received the longest and wildest entrance ovation since Patti LuPone returned to the New York stage post-Sunset Boulevard in Pal Joey in 1995. As Broadway professionals have long known, Haylock's talents lie not only in front of the curtain, but backstage as well, with a long career in costuming for the performing arts, including a staff position with the legendary Barbara Matera, Ltd.
Haylock loved the arts from an early age and in high school, he got involved in the costume shop of a local dinner theatre, where he eventually began performing as well, mostly in musicals.
"You can hide more in musical theatre as opposed to doing a straight play, because it's always a large cast with people clunking around. I was always the one off to the side who might not have a name, but you're there." A small featured role in a 1996 New Orleans area production of the cult musical Pageant changed everything. His comic timing led to more feaured roles in musicals including the Emcee in Cabaret, Moonface Martin in Anything Goes, Angel in Rent and even Mazeppa in Gypsy at the Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre.
"They were kind of antsy and nervous about casting a man as Mazeppa. I'm like, 'Come on! She's a man as it is.' The other strippers were women. Nobody questioned it once we did it. Mazeppa's always an amazon with a deep voice anyway."
He kept up the costume work, though.
"In theatre in the South, I guess in any theatre outside of New York, you do what you can, and you do whatever's needed. I liked both of them [costume design and performing] and I liked to keep busy. I'm already at the theatre during the day. I was never afraid of work."
Pageant led local drag queens to ask him to guest on their shows in gay bars, where it wasn't long before he had a recurring act. Bianca Del Rio's edgy, no-nonsense persona of "I'm a man in a wig" came to him instinctively.
"I was never going to be the pretty queen. I was never going to be someone who was comfortable singing live in a bar. When you're in a bar, you never know what you're gonna get as far as sound and set up... And without a character in a play where it would make sense, drag never really registered for me as that. For me, it was just stating my views and trusting my instincts in front of an audience. You have to realize you're the biggest joke there is. I've never taken myself seriously, and I still don't, when it comes to what I do onstage. Showing up on time? Yes. Having your hair combed? Yes. Being professional? Yes. Not being a douche? Yeah, that's important. The thing that I discovered was that the things I was thinking, other people could relate to — and it really had nothing to do with me being in a wig, that was the packaging, but in a wig, I could get away with murder. If I didn't wear a wig and a costume, it's not really a show, you're a just a hateful queen. Put it all on and it's production values!"
After 10 years working in New Orleans, Haylock moved to New York and quickly established footholds both on and offstage.
"I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who worked at Barbara Matera. They had done La Cage, they had done everything. And suddenly I was in a room full of genius people and that's who I was working with right up until 'Drag Race.' And it's something that I'll definitely come back to. It's always been my passion and continuing to do both has been quite lovely. As you know, with theatre, I mean theatre and nightlife are both questionable forms of income! Anything can happen." Haylock's parallel careers intersected when he appeared on the Aug. 31, 2012 cover of (New York gay nightlife magazine) Next in full Evita drag. He had no trouble assembling the costume, having worked on the then currently running Broadway revival. Elena Roger and Ricky Martin even posed for pictures holding Haylock's cover story. But Haylock had never kept Bianca a secret at work.
"At Barbara Matera's for many years, anyone that came in — you know Sutton Foster, LuPone, all of 'em — knew, there were pictures of me in drag on the walls. It became a topic of conversation."
Haylock has long fantasized a Bianca Del Rio calendar with each month as a different iconic Broadway heroine. His wish list includes Fanny Brice (Funny Girl), Madame Morrible (Wicked) and Dolly Levi (Hello, Dolly!). He's got a head start on some of the costumes.
"I've been able to collect a lot because stuff is purchased and there's no space keep all the remnants. I have tons of salvage from Wicked, feathers from Barry Manilow's Vegas show. I have a couple of things that are made out of the linings from The Drowsy Chaperone. Of course, [The Drowsy Chaperone costume designer] Gregg Barnes is a genius. And he's such a nice guy. We always chatted, we need to make this dress for me, we need to make that dress for me, but almost everything in Drowsy is already drag queen personified. And Sutton's pretty tall…"
As far as actually playing a role in a musical, Haylock unsurprisingly leans toward character roles.
"I love Vera [in Mame] because she's a drunk with fabulous clothes who comes in, saves the day and then walks back out again. If there's a revival of The Women, I would love to be Sylvia Fowler. That's my favorite kind of role. And there's a lot of drag on Broadway now, which is quite promising. You never know... Ruthless! is a genius show. I'm surprised no one's done it. Sylvia St. Croix [in Ruthless!] is very, very funny — and she sings low, so that's good for me."
But for now, it's Bianca Del Rio's Rolodex of Hate tour, presented by Live Nation. The solo show premieres Nov. 28 at the Gramercy Theater. The 7:30 PM performance sold out within four hours, so a 10:30 PM performance has been added, with more sure to follow around the world. In the meantime, fans can catch Bianca's regular gay bar appearances and those together with other "RuPaul's Drag Race" stars in cities everywhere, as well as on several cruises. Even more exciting, Matt Kugelman's crowd-funded film, "Hurricane Bianca," has raised over $65,000, almost half of its budget. The campaign closes July 16 at HurricaneBianca.com.