The Girls Can't Help It

Call it drag, call it nouveau vaudeville -- Little Havana's Teatro de Bellas Artes' Midnight Follies is all entertainment

The youngest of the Follies performers and the only who speaks fluent English, Erika joined the cast a year ago. "It's not an easy thing to get into the regular cast," she says. "It was a major thing for me A this is like the Spanish La Cage. There are things that I can do here that I can't do at a club. I can be glamorous without being campy, I don't need camp makeup and big hair. The audience here isn't a gay audience. They just see it as a show like any other. That's why it's different. I think that people who come here see us as actors, which we are, because for me this doesn't have any purpose beside entertainment.

"I'm not a woman trapped in a man's body, I'm happy as a male. I do this because I think I'm an actor, and to me this is acting," Erika contends. "I'm a hairdresser. This is my hobby. Some people build model airplanes, I collect dresses."

Erika owns over 30 beaded gowns, which can cost between three and four thousand dollars each. Eric's boyfriend, a young bank vice president who asked to remain anonymous, helps him out with expenses. As Erika's "producer," he accompanies her to the Teatro de Bellas Artes, as well as when she performs in clubs on South Beach and clubs in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa.

Looking in the mirror, Erika smiles and lifts her bare shoulders in a subtle shrug. "I'm very shy as Eric, but not so much so as Erika," she says. "I dress like a woman, and I'm not, and I get more attention this way."

At 2:30 a.m., the performers take the stage for the show's finale. China and Paloma come out in their usual gowns, but Mariloly, Debbie, and Erika are dressed in tuxedos, with their backs to the audience. They turn around and pull off their wigs. Danilo Dominguez's black hair is gathered in a ponytail that reaches the middle of his back, and Jesus Gonzalez is still wearing makeup with pants that strain at the waist. Eric Guzman, without makeup, looks like a fresh-faced college student. The cast stands with their arms outstretched as Julio, the bearded dancer, mimes "A Mi Manera," the Spanish version of Paul Anka's "My Way."

"It's been hard for me to really understand this phenomenon, but I think it's a very beautiful thing," says Pedro Herrera, looking on. "They're human beings, and they know that here we treat them with respect, caring, and love. They recognize that, so they treat us with the same respect. They're a great bunch of guys.

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