Picture it. Cumberland, 2018. You’re coming back to your little hometown in the Maryland mountains after moving to the Big Apple. But this time you’re coming back like they’ve never seen you before. Showing a side of you that your old friends, neighbors and, even some family members have never met. Perhaps, you’re a little nervous. Maybe a little proud. Maybe a little of both. But when you get there, you are embraced. You are loved. You are welcomed with open arms. Sound like a dream? Well, Cumberland native, actor, artist and cabaret performer Andy Crosten actually lived that dream when he returned to Cumberland two years ago with his fellow castmate of the trio The Golden Gays NYC.
“Western Maryland holds such a special place in my heart,” says Crosten (who plays Blanche in the Golden Gays). “To come home to perform and be embraced by the community is such a wonderful feeling; especially looking back to my younger self, afraid of being open to who I truly was. And now years later, living in a world where it's okay to be unapologetically queer, both on stage on off. Doing shows like The Golden Gays, and my cabaret shows in Allegany County- for theatres full of loving and supportive friends and family- it's been very healing.”
The Golden Gays NYC also includes Jason Bea Schmidt as Dorothy and Gerry Mastrolia as Rose. The trio is accompanied on the keys by Mason Griffin, who also serves as the group’s music director. Choreography and production management are handled by Anthony Giorgio.
The group formed in the spring of 2017. Mastrolia, a character actor hailing from North Jersey, had just come off of playing Rose in a different production in New York that was short lived. “I was still itching to play the part that I had spent weeks creating and that I had quit my part time job for,” he recalls. “Flash forward to May of that same year, I had reached out to a Facebook friend, Jason [Schmidt]. I had never met him in real life.”
Schmidt was already known as an accomplished Bea Arthur impersonator. “I instantly admired him for his message and his work,” Mastrolia says. “Also, I'll never forget when I sent him an invitation to an upcoming cabaret show of mine where he wasn't able to make it, but [still] wanted to purchase a ticket.” Mastrolia told Schmidt about vision he had which would involve the two of them making a special appearance at the Rue La Rue Cafe that had just opened in Washington Heights. Schmidt then recruited Crosten to play Blanche and Griffin, Crosten’s husband, to accompany on piano. Giorgio, Schmidt’s husband, came on board to direct and choreograph and on June 10, 2017, the Golden Gays NYC were born!
Since then, they have played to sold out houses Off-Broadway at Theatre Row, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, The Duplex, The Asbury Hotel and the Broadway Comedy Club. They have also appeared at Rupaul’s DragCon. They quickly garnered a fan base and word of their talent began to spread. Realizing that there were Golden Girls fans all over the country, they decided to embark on a mini-tour of their review “Hot Flashbacks” in 2018. The tour included Pittsburgh, PA, Baltimore, MD, Asbury Park, NJ, and a little town called Cumberland, MD.
The Cumberland Theatre sold out two performances of “Hot Flashbacks” in April of 2018. Since then, the “gals” have returned three more times and will possibly return later this year. And, although, it is a far cry from the venues in larger cities, the patrons in Allegany County have embraced them and the company now feels right at home. “Performing in smaller towns is very similar to performing in cabaret venues,” says Griffin. “You get an intimacy that you can’t recreate in a big theater. In smaller cities and venues you also tend to have a closer rapport with your audiences. It makes for an overall thrilling, comforting and wonderful experience.”
The act has come a long since that first performance in 2017. Early 2020 (pre-COVID), the guys got to perform as part of the first ever Golden Fans at Sea Cruise! They were a hit and were immediately booked for the second and third cruises. There reach has expanded into Texas, Massachusets and Florida. “We had no idea it would turn into this,” exclaims Mastrolia. “A beautiful idea that sparked so much happiness and creativity! We are able to staff a small team and elevate ourselves with each passing month, while touring all over the country!” So – what’s next?
“Currently we have three shows we rotate between- Hot Flashbacks, The Golden Games, and Thank Yule For Being A Friend,” explains Crosten. “For the next Golden Fans at Sea cruise in 2021, we've been assigned to create a "Murder Mystery" show. I'm excited to develop that this year and add that to our repertoire. I also want to keep expanding our tour cities all across the country- and internationally! We have fans requesting us from everywhere. It's almost at that point where it could become a full time job and to see it get there will be really fantastic.”
All that travel and performing must get hectic at times, but since most of the company started as friends, they draw their strength and inspiration from each other. And, over the years, they have grown closer. “Traveling as a troupe around the country and sometimes abroad in planes, trains, and automobiles (and cruise ships) certainly has its challenges but you get to see a person’s heart in those tougher moments,” says Griffin. “When you have seen a human’s heart you can’t unsee it. These boys all have hearts of gold and I’m honored to be their music director. As Sal said to Sophia many years ago at the dinner table after a fight, ‘Our marriage is like this meal...the mozzarella is our love. It’s stretches but it never breaks!’”
Schmidt echoes his sentiment. “We gelled right at first and now we are family. We are definitely cut from the same cloth, which helps.”
So, what do these guys do when they’re not entertaining masses of Golden Fans? You’d be surprised. Somehow, each finds the energy to bring even more art and inspiration to the world. Mastrolia is currently working on the fourth season of a comedy web series, Four's A Crowd Productions that recently debuted on PBS, as well as his own show Very Gerry NYC Presents Legendary Divas, Kiss my Sass, where he salutes the legendary broads of Old Hollywood, while paying tribute to the style of past female impersonators like Jim Bailey, Charles Pierce, Craig Russell and Danny La Rue. Schmidt performs solo shows as “Bea” doing everything from reading to children (via Zoom these days!) to hosting Bea Arthur Bingo. He is also still getting cast in other acting roles throughout the city.
Griffin is working on several projects, most of which revolve around the Broadway composer/lyricist Jerry Herman including two album recordings (Bosom Buddies and Hello, Jerry!), “Open a New Window”, a cabaret show featuring Herman’s lesser known songs and “Bosom Buddies” another Herman cabaret. Giorgio is a Teaching Artist in New York and New Jersey, choreographing in theatres and classrooms, and working in theatre camps with kids from 2-18. His podcast Queer Teen Podcast celebrates youth to tell their truth.
And, of course, Allegany County’s hometown boy is busy as well. “I have a mini-tour booked in the Fall for a revamped version of my cabaret show "Andy Darling Let's Chat" in celebration of hitting my decade New Yorker milestone, “Crosten says. “I've gotten some new inspiration in quarantine and have begun working on a new solo show, which might actually take the place of "Andy, Darling". It's a one-man version of The Wizard of Oz- I can finally live my Dorothy ruby slippers fantasy like I've always wanted! There's a handful of other projects up my sleeve that should come to fruition in the next year or two. We'll be debuting [the show] in New York City then heading to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and of course...Cumberland!”
And Cumberland will certainly be glad to see Crosten again! He has come a long way from playing Nathan Detroit on the stage at Allegany High School. When asked if he ever thought he would become a drag performer and what the world of drag means to him, his answer is very candid and sincere. “Drag and the performing arts have always gone hand in hand- back to Shakespeare days when men performed women's roles in drag because women weren't legally allowed on stage (that's a whole other story!). Drag is exciting because it takes risks and pushes the boundaries of art and politics. It's always on the leading edge of artistic growth; so in that way it immensely impacts the rest of the performing community. We're living in a Golden Age (pun intended) of drag, where many queens are having super successful careers in theatre, television, fashion, etc; and that is a wonderful thing to experience. And The Golden Gays are certainly part of that! I consider myself a character actor more so than a drag queen, and performing with The Golden Gays has only enhanced my range as an actor.”
You might say that all the guys have grown as performers and people during their years as America’s favorite Golden Trio. “I don't perform with the girls but they all have grown as actors,” says Giorgio. “It’s not easy playing such iconic women, everyone knows them but the best thing they all do is bring themselves to each of the ladies. It’s an homage to The Golden Girls and I believe they are best in what they do and how they invite the audience in on all things Golden.”
And, as they continue to thrive and grow, they love their audiences more and more. In fact, it has given them some of their most treasured moments as performers. “I love the once in a lifetime experiences we have with the audiences,” recalls Schmidt. “ ‘Oh remember that time when Blanche's shoe flew off and.....’ The improv that happens with the live audience. And then the stories that people tell us, like ‘I watched GG with my granny and you made me remember that time…’”
Mastrolia agrees. “The greatest reward is the memories that we get to create with our audiences. Welcoming people and families of all ages, generations and backgrounds to something that they know or would like to learn more about. It's part of the magic of live theatre. Those four women taught so much to the world of Television. As humans and actors, we are here to cultivate love. That's what the message of The Golden Girls is; Togetherness, chosen family and love.”
And just how long do this “gals” plan to keep this show on the road? “As long as there are Golden Girl fans out there, we will continue to do this act,” says Crosten. “Hell, I'll go until I AM as old as Betty White!”
For more information on The Golden Gays NYC including upcoming performances and tours, please visit thegoldengaysnyc.com or find them on Facebook and Instagram.