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Darcelle dazzles at 82

Legendary female impersonators Darcelle XV & Company will perform at Pacific


by: COURTESY PHOTO - Darcelle still struts his/her stuff as an octogenarian. The performer will appear at Pacific University Tuesday night.Forty-five years ago, sharing a passion for theater and performance, the owners of a lesbian tavern in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood wanted to show the city a wild and crazy sort of entertainment people had never seen, but would always remember.

Not knowing that she would become the city’s most legendary female impersonator, the glamorous Darcelle XV strutted onto the stage for the first time —and the rest is history.

Once the world’s best kept secret and now a Portland favorite, Darcelle XV & Company is the longest-running cabaret-style female impersonator company in the United States.

For a night of pure distraction, Darcelle XV and four company performers return to Forest Grove with enough glitz, glamour and stand-up comedy to make you laugh your troubles away.

The event will be held at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27 in Pacific University’s multi-purpose room in the University Center. After the show, there will be a question and answer session with performers.

Beneath all the glitter, rhinestone gowns and stiff blonde wigs is Walter Cole, a generous man who grew up in the Linnton area of Portland, and loves nothing better than to entertain.

“There’s no deep, dark reason we do this,” said Darcelle. “It’s not a sexual thing. None of us want to be women, we like very much being men. We wear costumes to perform. We do it because we love to entertain.”

Darcelle celebrated his 82nd birthday on Sunday and more than 150,000 shows in; he says he plans on retiring “never.”

“As long as I can talk, I can work. And when I’m no longer tap-dancing on stage, then there will be somebody else to take my place, and the show will go on.”

Darcelle starts his day early, around 6:30 a.m. His mornings always include breakfast with his longtime partner, Roxy Neuhardt. Neuhardt was a dancer and choreographer from Las Vegas when the two met in 1967.

Then, there are things to do before the show goes on. Evening shows at Darcelle XV run once a night Wednesday and Thursday and twice Friday and Saturday.

Darcelle makes all of the ladies’ wardrobes. Over the years, he’s sewn hundreds and hundreds of costumes at home.

After costumes, Darcelle has time for a nap before he’s off to work like the other performers, dressed in proper winter attire — jeans and a sweatshirt. “You’d never know we were the glamorous, gorgeous Darcelle and Company,” he jokes.

Darcelle is done with make-up and costume in twenty minutes tops and ready to step on stage.

Before Roxy and Darcelle started in the business of female impersonation with friend and entertainer Tina Sandel in 1972, Walter [then] was acting in local theaters, mostly playing suit and tie roles as a doctor or attorney.

But since suits don’t sell in show business, the couple invented a persona to last — Darcelle XV.

Darcelle says his greatest accomplishment is, “Making it a success of entertaining people in a different way and opening the eyes of some people who are skeptical of enjoying our sort of entertainment.”

Wives may drag their husbands in kicking and screaming, he said, but in fifteen minutes, they’re totally into it and having a great time.

“We are fun,” said Darcelle, “We are not serious — I don’t walk on stage and say ‘Oh look at me, I am so beautiful.’ You go out and get involved with your audience,” he said.

Aside from entertaining local and international visitors and hosting a variety of bashes from birthdays to bacheloretteparties, Darcelle XV & Company has raised thousands of dollars for the fight against HIV and AIDS as well as major charities like the American Businesswomen’s Association, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) and Camp Starlight.

“You have to love what you do,” said Darcelle. As an entertainer, he loves his audience. “Working with an audience that appreciates what you do — that makes a beautiful night.”



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