Composer-lyricist John Mercurio of Palm Beach Gardens says his drag comedy Diva Diaries is an old-fashioned musical about family —with “just a lot more feathers and boas along the way.”
Diva Diaries, which opens Wednesday for a three-week stay at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, tells the story of three older drag queens who’ve worked their whole lives together and find out one evening their nightclub is closing.
“As they put on their makeup for their final performance, they decide to tell each other all the secrets, all the pent-up things they’ve never shared through the years,” Mercurio says. “Of course, it gets a little messy at times. The claws come out.”
Mercurio, a musician, grew up in north Palm Beach County and moved to New York for college. He got into show business and 13 years ago co-created Diva Diaries with collaborator Andrew Kato and drag queen Jem Jender. The show played Broward Center, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and the old Lakeshore Theater in Chicago.
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“Then we put it away. We just needed some time, we needed some distance,” Mercurio says. “We dusted it off about two years ago and realized that one of the big changes we wanted to make was to lose the pre-existing pop music we had incorporated into the score. There were actual songs from the ’70s, ’80s and ‘90s that we replaced with original songs. We realized it was holding us back a little and we could have more freedom if we actually wrote sound-alike songs. That’s what this new production has that we’ll be doing at the Broward Center.”
The drag queens are played by actors Johnny Butler, Keagan Tanner and Ryan Brown. Two of the characters are gay, one is straight. “It’s interesting to explore how this straight guy ended up in this gay world,” says Mercurio, 47, who returned to South Florida six years ago with his partner of 16 years, an Apple store “genius.”
“I like that I went away and came back,” Mercurio says. “I learned a lot. I made a lot of the professional connections I need, but I love being here. I love being close to my family. We’re very close. It’s nice.”
In addition to being a full-time writer, Mercurio also works as a conductor and musical director at the Maltz Jupiter Theater.
Next up for Mercurio: composing songs for for a licensed musical based on the classic TV sitcom Green Acres. “We’ve just finished our rough draft and are planning to give our presentation in New York in late winter or spring,” he says.
He’s also hoping the upcoming Diva Diaries run in Broward leads to future bookings. “It’s an intimate show,” Mercurio says. “And it’s surprisingly universal, even though the subject matter seems very specific. We really want to get it out there.”
Diva Diaries, which is co-produced by Broward Center and National Arts Institute, will be performed in the center’s Abdo New River Room, where food and drinks are also served. “Because the show is an intimate show that takes place backstage in a dressing room, you really feel like you are peering in at these three actors sitting at their vanities getting ready for their final performance together.”
If you go
▪ What: Diva Diaries
▪ Where: Abdo New River Room at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
▪ When: Jan. 6 through 31. Performances Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 6 p.m.