On a Sunday afternoon in Cherry Grove on Fire Island, drag performer Tina Burner is engaging the crowd on the deck of Cherry's on the Bay.
"There's a drag queen rite of passage," she informs them. "You have to do a Broadway number with all the original choreography." Then she and guest performer Jada Valenciaga break into a lip-synched duet medley of "Chicago" tunes.
For the past hour, Burner has been lip-synching and dancing to hits such as "I Am What I Am" from "La Cage aux Folles" and selections from "Dreamgirls." She's changed costumes several times, starting in a bodysuit with blue and white stars on the torso and long red sleeves, fishnet stockings, tan stilettos and a wavy brown wig, and ending as a blonde in a floor-length black-and-silver sequined gown. "That was like 40 Weight Watchers activity points," she jokes after an energetic dance.
DRAG AS SHOW
Burner's show is one of eight drag shows that Cherry's offers each week, featuring performers with memorable names such as Hedda Lettuce and Ginger Snap. "It's a big tradition in Cherry Grove since the early '70s," says Donna Bianco, co-owner of Cherry's on the Bay. "The crowds love it. And it gives entertainers a chance to perform the way they feel most comfortable."
Cherry Grove has long been known as a community that welcomes both gays and straight people, Bianco says, and the crowd watching Burner has both men and women.
Seeing a drag show in Cherry Grove is a weekend highlight for Peter Orsini, 59, a hair stylist from Massapequa. Orsini says he enjoys Burner's interaction with the audience. "She's very good at singling people out and keeping the show going," he says. Patrons reward Burner by handing her bills -- singles, fives, tens -- as she sings.
Performing in drag is a full-time job for Manhattan resident Kristian Seeber, 34, who morphs into Tina Burner when he puts on his costumes, describing himself as "a linebacker in a dress." He is the reigning "Miss Cherry," having won last year's annual Cherry Grove drag queen competition.
"I'm just a guy who puts on a wig to make people laugh," Seeber says in an interview before the 5 p.m. show. "At the end of the day I take all this off and grab a beer . . . This is just my 9 to 5."
The drag shows on Fire Island can be racy. They can also be politically incorrect, says Josh Rosenzweig, a media executive from Manhattan who summers in Cherry Grove. "You can push it a little further out here," Rosenzweig says. "It sort of echoes the free spirit of Fire Island in general and Cherry Grove specifically."
Drag shows at Cherry's on on the Bay
158 Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove
INFO 631-597-7859, cherrysonthebay.com
WEEKLY SCHEDULE OF SHOWS
Sundays: 5 p.m. Tina Burner, 10 p.m. Gusty Winds and Ginger Snap, 11 p.m. Hedda Lettuce
Mondays: 7:45 p.m. Dining With the Divas dinner and show (a la carte menu, reservations required); 10 p.m. Busted Cherry Bombed
Tuesdays: 10 p.m. Hedda Lettuce
Wednesdays: 9:30 p.m. Bingo with Ginger Snap
Fridays: 9 p.m. Vita Summers
OTHER FIRE ISLAND ENTERTAINMENT
From comedy and drag shows to fine arts and theater performances. Upcoming events:
Invasion of The Pines
WHEN | WHERE Noon Saturday, July 4, from Cherry Grove to Fire Island Pines
Expect a heavy (and spirited) crowd for this long-standing July Fourth tradition: drag queens travel en masse from Cherry Grove to Fire Island Pines for a day of barhopping, complete with a pageant.
Fire Island Dance Festival
WHEN | WHERE 5 and 7 p.m. July 18, and 5 p.m. July 19, Fire Island Pines
INFO 212-840-0770, ext. 268, dradance.org/fidf
ADMISSION From $125
In its 20 years, this event has raised $3.8 million to help dancers in health crises. Performed on a waterfront stage -- the Great South Bay is the ultimate backdrop -- it's a standout, as well as a sellout.
15th Biennial Fire Island Pines Art Show
WHEN | WHERE 1-3:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at Whyte Hall, Fire Island Pines Community Center
The juried show is a chance to see (and buy) works created by resident artists.