At first glance, a Boys R Us show may seem no different than those of other risqué Tucson performance groups. It’s not until you notice a slight bulge in the underwear of the pretty girl you’ve had your eyes on or discover the fake mustache of the hunky guy who caught your attention. Suddenly, it dawns on you. He might be a she – or vice versa.
“We’re a collective group of gender benders,” says Dante Celeiro, troupe manager and performer. “Some people are gay or straight or bi or transgender or anything in between. Our job is to push that envelope and to entertain. By the end of the show we have you thinking or even questioning, ‘What’s the point of gender?’ ”
Boys R Us started in Tucson in 2002 as a drag king style performance group. It has since broadened its scope to include male and transgender entertainers. The group primarily performs lip-synched variations of songs both to entertain and address topics of gender stereotypes and labels.
The burly, mustachioed Celeiro, who has been on hormone therapy for the past five years, says many of the group’s skits are based on cast members’ personal experiences. For example, The Veronicas song “Untouchable” evokes memories of Catholic grade school for Celeiro, who incorporated the incident into one of the sketches in the upcoming “Kneel Before your King” show. In the sketch, two girls are being reprimanded by a nun because of their attraction to each other.
“I heard the song and it just reminded me of Catholic school girls. It reminded me of being in grade school,” Celeiro says. “I remember going to Catholic school and having my uniform on and seeing girls and just thinking, ‘I like you.’ ”
While Boys R Us’ subject matter is sometimes considered taboo, Celeiro says that oftentimes people simply need to be exposed to things they don’t understand in order for them to accept and even embrace them.
“People see that this (transgender) person is normal,” Celeiro says. “The only thing that’s different from this person is the physical part. What’s in the mind, what’s in the heart, that’s still who I am. That doesn’t change.”
Jessica Rosenbaum, who has been a member for about a year and a half, says that Boys R Us provides an all-inclusive forum to tear down stereotypes and bridge connections between people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender preference. While some people may be skeptical about attending their first gender-bent show, Rosenbaum assures that few are left apprehensive.
“People come in from off the street that would have never ever been caught dead at a Boys R Us show in their lives and they walk away saying it was the best thing that ever happened to them.”
Boys R Us has recently begun to see more people coming in from off the street. The group has noticed a dramatic increase in their audience as a whole as well and in the number of straight couples attending, says Celeiro.
“About half of our audience is straight now,” he says. “At first it was predominantly (homosexual) female based. To see that evolution tells us that we must be doing our jobs.”
Boys R Us’ upcoming show at Club Congress will be no different than the rest. The group will continue to cast light on prevalent topics of gender as well as keep the audience laughing and guessing what will come next. The only thing consistent in a Boys R Us show is that the audience never knows what to expect.
“Is it going to be sexy, is it going to be funny, is it going to be political, is it going to be geeky or is it going to be serious? That’s how we do our shows,” Celeiro says. “It’s like a roller coaster ride.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Kneel Before your King” Boys R Us performance (21 and older)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
Price: $7 general, $10 limited seating
Info: 622-8848, www.hotelcongress.com