Paige Turner, the bright, sassy songstress, promises that the true meaning of the Christmas season is to be greedy, to be a misfit, and to get your stocking stuffed.
After headlining a full summer here, Turner is returning to Provincetown for one big bang of a holiday show, “Slay Ride!,” on Friday, Dec. 1 at the Post Office Café. The show features all live-sung songs from favorite Christmas singers including Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand, and Mariah Carey, as well as original music.
Turner was born and raised in Highland, Ind. as Daniel Frank Kelley, with a Jewish father and a Baptist mother. The holidays were fraught with awkwardness and mixed messages. “Christmas was a little weird,” he says, “but now as an adult I realize that I really love it, and these shows have been a way for me to reclaim Christmas.”
These days, drag queens seem to be divided into two categories: naughty, like Bianca Del Rio, or nice, like BenDeLaCreme. Paige Turner stands on the side of kindness over vitriol.
“Paige Turner is like the Elle Woods of drag,” says Kelley, referring to Reese Witherspoon’s iconic character in Legally Blonde, the movie that made Witherspoon a huge star and introduced generations of gay men to the “bend and snap.”
“She’s the girl everyone wanted to be in high school,” he says.
The new show is “a little bit like a children’s show for adults,” he says. “Nothing is mean. No one is going to leave feeling bad.”
Like many queens who have forged full-time careers from drag, Kelley has a theatrical background. A graduate of the American Musical and Drama Academy in New York City, Kelley uses his training to produce high-quality shows.
“Drag is now considered a legitimate show business career,” he says. “My shows are theater pieces. I write them, but I’ve got a team to help me. My partner and my friends bring ideas. Costumes for a summer show begin in January. I’m working with composers who write original songs, and I can make props myself.”
Drag wasn’t his intention when he graduated from college and began going on auditions. The way he describes it, drag pursued him.
“I was playing Jack in Into the Woods for the umpteenth time and getting good notices but not the attention I wanted,” says Kelley. “But when I would get a role with some sort of drag element in it, like the emcee in Cabaret or a role in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, people would get very excited.”
This led him to do more drag — until he realized it was his vocation. He made his way to Barracuda, the legendary Chelsea gay bar that’s been hosting drag shows for nearly 30 years. That night, he saw his first drag show, hosted by none other than Provincetown royalty Varla Jean Merman. Kelley was mesmerized.
“Not only was it the first drag show I’d seen, but it was a Christmas show,” says Kelley.
The name Paige Turner came from an incident in a rehearsal room when a pianist needed someone to turn the pages of his sheet music. “I’ll be your page turner,” said Kelley.
To which the accompanist replied, “Thank you, Paige Turner.” The moniker stuck; so did the persona.
“Paige really hasn’t changed much from that original vision,” says Kelley. “She’s still a nice girl you’d like to have as a friend.”
That nice girl is “book and busy,” as the professional drag kids say today. Provincetown is just one stop on her holiday tour.
“Road work can be stressful,” Kelley says. “But now I work in places where the tech crews are great, which takes a lot of the stress out of it. I try to get to an out-of-town gig the day before opening so it’s not so overwhelming on show day. The day of the show I find it important to get some exercise. It gets my heart rate and my voice going. Sixty minutes of cardio and going over my script does wonders for my mental clarity.
“I won’t get angry at an audience that barely reacts while I’m on stage but then jumps to their feet at the curtain call,” he says, acknowledging that the vagaries of audiences can be taxing on the mental health of a performer. Wisdom has come with experience: “Now I just remind myself that my responsibility is to be the best that I can be on that day and let the other stuff slide.”
All those good vibes can be a detriment in gay-centered environments where vitriol is encouraged — even demanded. “Paige is not a good fit for Fire Island,” says Kelley. “It’s a little too party. Cruises are the same way. I’ve been on cruises where it felt like no one knew who I was or cared.”
It’s one of the main reasons why Paige Turner returns to Provincetown every summer.
“Lots of people won’t work there because they have to pay for housing,” says Kelley, who stays in Truro and commutes to Provincetown. “But this year I really had to bark a lot less. Word has gotten around that the shows are good. The other drag queens in town now come to see my shows, and people are coming back to see me year after year.”
The Girl Everyone Wanted to Be
The event: Paige Turner’s “Slay Ride!”
The time: Friday, Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m.
The place: Post Office Café & Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: $35-$40 at postofficecafe.net