Danny Ximo recalls that it all began in Sag Harbor back in 2008.
The location was The Cigar Bar on Main Street, the occasion was Halloween and the impetus was Arlene Furer, the owner of the place, who suggested that Ximo, who she knew was a performer, dress up in drag and put on a show.
“She had the idea of doing something different and inspired me to create Raffa,” Ximo said in a recent interview, referring to his first feminine persona. “She was the one with the idea — the fairy godmother of the show.”
Today, Raffa officially goes by the name RaffaShow and though Ximo works as a hair stylist by day, in the 10-plus years since her invention, he has developed a side-career in which he channels a full line-up of unique, lip-synching personalities as well as the world’s most famous divas.
Since that first show at The Cigar Bar, Ximo has performed at restaurants and clubs throughout the East End and New York City and has also been hired to perform at private soirees, including an anniversary party in Paris held in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. But in recent years, perhaps most notably for local audiences, the Sag Harbor resident has become a regular performer in Our Fabulous Variety Show (OFVS) productions. The non-profit, all-ages community theatrical troupe was founded in 2010 by East End residents Anita Boyer and Kasia Klimiuk, and on Wednesday, March 10, OFVS will be the beneficiary of “RaffaShow Retrospective, Behind the Heels,” a live fundraiser and virtual extravaganza presented by Ximo via Zoom. The performance starts at 7:30 p.m., and during the course of the evening, Ximo will share the story of the creation of his first female alter-ego and channel many of his later personas. Some, like Marilyn Monroe or Lady Gaga, are known the world over, while others, like Deox, who he describes as Raffa’s cousin, and FlavStar, her niece, are inventions all his own.
And it’s important to insert here, that even though Ximo wears wigs, high heels and sparkly dresses when he performs, he would prefer that you not call him a drag queen.
“Although I’m in drag, I don’t consider myself a drag queen, but a female impersonator,” explained Ximo. “The difference is drag queens are more clownish and exaggerated — with big boobs, big hips and tons of makeup. The female impersonator does impressions of people like Liza Minelli and Cher.”
While Ximo invented the character of Raffa, he explains that she was, in fact, modeled on a real person — Italian singer Raffaella Carrà who was popular in the 1960s and ’70s.
“She’s my muse and that’s where the name comes from,” said Ximo, describing how she once led to a big job. “I got a phone call from this guy in New York City who was celebrating his 50th birthday and wanted to hire me. He said, ‘I Googled female impersonator of Raffaella Carrà, and you’re the only person who imitates her.’
“That was an awesome experience,” he added. “The party was held on the Hudson River and there were even fireworks. It was totally insane.”
A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ximo came to the United States two decades ago at the age of 20 (he celebrated his 40th birthday in November). When asked if drag or female impersonation was a common offering during his youth in Argentina, Ximo responded, “The Latin culture in general, is very machismo-like, but some guys with guts would perform as women and they were very successful. It was never taboo, but it existed around the edges.
“Growing up, it was big time in our culture, but I never paid attention to it,” he added. “I did theater since I was 14, but it was always for kids — like ‘Aladdin’ or ‘Wizard of Oz.’ My dream was to have a TV show for kids.”
In a way, Ximo has brought that dream to life on stage through his performances with OFVS, where he often performs alongside the troupe’s young actors and dancers. He notes that his character FlavStar is the younger persona in his line-up who interacts with kids.
“My characters are a whole family within myself,” Ximo noted.
He admits that he initially didn’t expect to make a career out of being a female impersonator, but Ximo realized his talents were striking a chord after performing his first big show at Blue Sky (now Page), a restaurant and bar on Main Street in Sag Harbor.
“What impressed me the most was the reception,” Ximo said of that first large performance. “People got what I was trying to send out — besides showing my talent, it’s doing everything with respect, professionalism and love. I think that’s what people get. [Musician] Jim Turner approached me after the show, and he was in the first row. He pointed me out as Marilyn Monroe and said, ‘I know you, but then you transform yourself.’ That’s what I’m trying to project.”
Ximo notes that although he may not look like some of the famous singers he imitates, once he is in costume, they come alive for him.
“I feel like I take on their persona. My profile wouldn’t fit Marilyn Monroe’s, my nose and chin are different, so it’s just the dress and wig,” he added. “But I get in her skin and it makes me feel I am Marilyn Monroe. Same thing with Tina Turner or other characters you wouldn’t think I can fit in.”
Ximo also portrays Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga, and during his upcoming show, will present a Liza Minelli medley, perform “Jazz Hot” from Victor/Victoria and offer a rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita. While in his performances, Ximo lip-syncs the songs he is performing, fans have asked him if he will ever sing live.
“I don’t have the guts to sing live,” he confessed. “It takes so much energy just to be Madonna, I would need a different preparation. Also, I sing with my own voice, which is very deep. But with people asking me, at some point I may prerecord my own voice and lip sync to it.”
Because Ximo will be performing around a dozen numbers during his upcoming show, several costume changes are required throughout the evening. During those transitions, viewers will spend their Zoom time with Boyer and Klimiuk, who will host the event, and be treated to video clips from Ximo’s previous OFVS performances. They can also expect to meet his newest character, AnnChovy, who will perform in skits with Naomi and Aunt Barb (as portrayed by drag queen Robert Kohnken).
To some, it may seem odd that a female impersonator would share the stage with children, but Ximo notes that for the young singers and dancers of OFVS, being selected to perform alongside him is considered an honor among the troupe members.
“When they were misbehaving, Anita told her dancers ‘You have to focus, otherwise you won’t get picked by Danny who is looking for another little dancer. Whoever pays attention might do the dance with him,’” he recalled. “They were so excited. I was worried about parents getting offended if I added their daughter to perform with me, but the parents were excited, too.”
But right now, because of the pandemic, there is no live theater or big dance numbers with groups of performers, so Ximo will be presenting the “RaffaShow Retrospective” from his home. While he loves the fact that friends and family, including those who live in South America and Europe, will be able to watch the show live wherever they are, he can’t wait until COVID-19 is under control and he can return to the theater.
“I love that we can be seen worldwide. But I miss so much being on a real stage,” he said. “I don’t mind working virtually now, but I want the theater to come back in person.
“We all need it.”
“RaffaShow Retrospective, Behind the Heels,” a detailed and comical look back at Danny Ximo’s incredible journey and celebration of 10 years with Our Fabulous Variety Show, is Wednesday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m., on Zoom. Suggested ticket price is $10 for kids and $20 for adults at ourfabulousvarietyshow.org or 631-507-4603, but viewers are invited to give whatever they can to help OFVS sustain its programming through these less than glamorous times.