Mr. Kenneth Blake
“What Makes A Man, A Man.”
Many of you may know Mr. Kenneth Blake from his electrifying performances on the Las Vegas strip impersonating superstar divas Madonna and Dolly Parton. But there is more to the man behind the make-up then many people realize. Along with Performer, Impersonator, Make-up Artist, Wig Master, Set Designer, Interior Decorator, and Costume Designer; Musical Coordinator, DJ, Radio Jock, Vocalist, Director and Producer are also titles held tightly under his belt.
Kenneth began his entertainment career at the early age of seven, headlining his first singing group Kenny and the Gumdrops. He and four of his female classmates formed the group for their elementary school talent show. They won. “It was silly really. We sang over a record and did some old doo-wop moves. The girls wore little blue dresses and I wore a brown suit. But the crowd seemed to like it.” From that moment on the stage was his playground and work place.
Kenneth took dance, violin, piano and extensive vocal lessons during his youth and went on to tour the globe with the world renowned Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, the American sister choir to the Vienna Boy’s Choir. “We were a bit different from our European cousins. We sang everything from the very traditional, classical pieces to Barber Shop, Broadway and Rock-N-Roll. I remember once I was headlining “The Wiz” portion of our show and they had to wheel me out to the bus in a wardrobe trunk. No joke. We had performed at a middle school in Wyoming (I think) and I was mobbed by over 500 screaming girls, I couldn't get out of the dressing room. I thought it was funny, my director did not. But when the tour bus rolled back into Tucson all the parents rushed the bus screaming ELVIS as a joke…once again, my director was not amused.”
But it was his sixteenth birthday that changed his life forever. “I saw La Cage aux Folles the musical and everything made sense. I understood it and I was very moved. I said ‘this is for me’. I told my Mom and she said she knew...I think all Moms know. My Dad on the other hand was furious and we didn't speak from the day I moved out at eighteen until his passing more than 15 years later. But that’s another story.” And so began a journey that was filled with many ups and downs and a career that would make heads spin.
Kenneth began female impersonation at the age of seventeen (over twenty-three years ago – not to give away his age) working night clubs and conventions. But meager salaries couldn't pay the bills so he went on to beauty school as a lot of young gay men do. “It was stereo-typical really, and I mean that in a broad sense. There are a lot of gay, male, hairdressers out there, and I wasn't satisfied with it, it didn't fulfill me in any way. So I went on to study other things while waiting tables or selling sweaters at Penney’s or renting apartments during the day. I needed to find a career that not only paid the bills, but that I enjoyed. I studied a lot of different things trying to find ‘the one’, but once again, none of them were rewarding. I was a performer and I needed to be on stage.”
Kenneth is an accomplished Pageant Queen as well. In the world of female impersonation there are many different competitions and contests around the world for artists like Kenneth to strut their stuff and be judged and rewarded for their presentations. Kenneth is a former Miss Gay Arizona America, and, Miss National Capitol Cities USofA (not to be confused with Miss USofA). “Although I never won Miss Gay America, I do own a preliminary to it, Miss Gay Western States America. The contests are great learning tools. It really allows you to hone your craft and learn from others in the same field. I learn something new practically every day. And I chose the America system because in it’s bylaws it states you must be male in gender with no body augmentation. That is to say, no breast implants or body work to feminize your look. It must be done with costume, padding and makeup only. I really like that aspect of the company. Not that the other systems are any less impressive or legitimate. I have a lot of transgender friends and I understand them, that just wasn't my path. I am a male actress…so to speak.”
Kenneth gave up competing in the pageant world in 2001 when he received a call from producer Dan Gore out of Los Angeles. Mr. Gore was opening a new show in Palm Springs, California, to be headlined by Las Vegas veteran Kenny Kerr. The show was Boy-lieve It or Not!. Kenneth didn't hesitate. He commuted back and forth every week from Tucson to Palm Springs to be a part of the production until it’s closing in 2002. He was then offered to appear in Gore’s Lake Tahoe production Carnival Cabaret. Once again Kenneth didn't hesitate. “I packed up the U-Haul and headed to Tahoe. The show was headlined by James ‘Gipsy’ Haake and we did two shows a night, six nights a week, fifty weeks a year. I loved every minute of it. I was finally doing what I loved to do, making a great living, and really perfecting my art.”
But it was Las Vegas where Kenneth would really make his mark in the industry, not only as a performer but all of his other studies would finally come into play and end up paying off. “I had always wanted to live and work in Las Vegas, it was a dream really, above all else. And when I was asked to audition for the most prestigious show of its kind (at the time) I went numb.” An Evening at La Cage, starred Frank Marino and was produced by Norbert Aleman, and ran in Las Vegas for twenty-four years at the Riviera Casino and Hotel. It was indeed the elite show for female celebrity impersonators. With-in three months of his audition, Kenneth was appearing nightly on the Las Vegas strip. “I impersonate a lot of people: Madonna, Dolly Parton, Celine Dion, Cher, Reba McEntire, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Midler, Joan Rivers, Bette Davis, Mae West, Eartha Kitt, Phyllis Diller, Lady Gaga, Elton John and Elvis; some visually and some vocally.” But it is Madonna, Dolly Parton, and what has become his signature piece “What Makes A Man, A Man” that have made him famous on the strip.
An Evening at La Cage closed in February of 2009, seven months shy of completing a twenty-five year run. The cast was given no warning and left in limbo to fend for themselves. “I was devastated!” Kenneth recalls. “The dream I had worked so hard to make reality had suddenly been taken away from me. I was upset, hurt and angry. It didn't happen pleasantly. No farewell performance, no warning, no nothing…we were in shock. We were told on Monday night after the show, that was our last performance at La Cage and to come in the next day and clean out our dressing rooms. They tried to soften it by taking us to dinner, not everyone attended.”
So for nearly a year Kenneth went back to doing the club circuit and judging female impersonator pageants. Then in August of 2009 he got a phone call from Frank Marino, former star of La Cage, asking him to be a cast member in his new production show Divas Las Vegas. “I jumped at it! To be back on stage in Las Vegas and working with the people I loved, absolutely.” Divas Las Vegas opened to rave reviews on Labor Day weekend 2009 at the Imperial Palace, right in the heart of the Las Vegas strip. “I thank Mr. Marino for not letting female impersonation be swept under the carpet of the Las Vegas night life and for breathing new life into the art. I count my lucky stars to be part of it.” Now, you can continue to see Kenneth and all of his “Diva” friends in Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas playing Saturday – Thursday (dark Fridays) at 10pm at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino.
“I have met and worked with an eclectic and amazingly diverse group of people through out my life, and I have managed to put all of my skills to work here in Las Vegas. It amazes me.” Kenneth has produced two production shows, directed three production shows including a run of Breck Wall’s Bottoms Up, owns a pageant, is the wig master and make-up advisor for American Superstars at the Stratosphere, works closely with the entertainers at Legends In Concert helping with hair and make-up, is Frank Marino’s wig master, has created the soundtracks for three Las Vegas production shows, is the musical coordinator for Divas Las Vegas, has a successful ebay business, designs and constructs his own show wardrobe, runs his own production company, mixes music for entertainers around the world, and still has time to walk his dog – a bull mastiff named Gunner, and spend quality time with his Mom Cynthia; both of whom share a home with him in Henderson.
"Do what you love and love what you do, and you'll never work a day of your life."