Dave Wayland looks like any other buttoned-down loan officer at the Lakeside Title Company in downtown Cleveland. But at the water cooler, co-workers clamor for the latest hair and fashion tips from his alter ego, Nadia Lexi. "I'm very open about being a female impersonator," says the 30-year-old Wayland. "If you don't like it, screw you. My co-workers can't believe it. They want me to do their makeup and their eyebrows!"
On weekends, Wayland lip-synchs to retro-'80s tracks as the director of Club Decó's drag shows. And his office staff sometimes shows up to watch. "I take illusion as a job, like banking," he says. "There, you've got Chase, National City, KeyBank all with different interest rates. With illusion, you've got queens who do country, queens who do disco, and queens who do Broadway. And each one has something to offer."
Wayland's specialty is vintage Madonna, Annie Lennox, and Kylie Minogue impersonations, an act he's been tailoring since he first stepped onstage in 1991. Then, a profitable night amounted to $25 in tips from the audience. Today, he needs to rake in more than 10 times that just to break even on wardrobe costs. "I spend $300 a week on makeup alone," he says. "It's not cheap to get the glitz and glamour people want to see. It's never about the money, but you have to do something to get a dollar tip."
That's why Wayland researches Cleveland's drag-queen scene from the '70s and '80s, when impersonators were treated like royalty in the gay community. Today's illusionists are mostly "dime-a-dozen" performers who don't invest time or money in their acts, says Wayland. "I'm old-school drag," he says. "Get up onstage and read 'em to the nines. When you appreciate the audience, you think, They must like me for a reason. If that doesn't work, I don't know what will."
Sun., Jan. 15, 12 & 1 a.m.