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October 21, 2018

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Shangela steps to the front as ‘53X’ takes shape

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

MC and host D.J. Pierce, aka Shangela of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” during rehearsal for the new Chippendales show “53X” at Chateau on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.

‘53X’ Rehearsal at Chateau

Cast member Alejandro Granados tries on his Freddy Krueger gloves as stylist and costume Designer Jeffrey Debarathy works during rehearsal for the new Chippendales show “53X” at Chateau on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.
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Alejandro Granados, Okewa Garrett and Kyle Efthemes rehearse for the new Chippendales show “53X” at Chateau on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.

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Stylist and costume designer Jeffrey Debarathy strikes a pose while making last-minute adjustments on a neckpiece during rehearsal for the new Chippendales show “53X” at Chateau on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.

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Stitcher Kay Baker makes finishing touches on wardrobe during rehearsal for the new Chippendales show “53X” at Chateau on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.

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Artistic Director Bryan Cheatham studies cast members during rehearsal for the new Chippendales show “53X” at Chateau on Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Paris Las Vegas.

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Natali Tangherlini, Alejandro Granados, Jessica Delgado, Ryan Kelsey, Shangela, Okewa Garrett, Shaeja Lee-Boiser, Kyle Efthemes and Jacinthe Morearty star in the new Chippendales show “53X” opening March 11, 2016, at Chateau in Paris Las Vegas.

Shangela takes a seat at a table near the performance stage of “53X,” and it is apparent instantly that this person is a singular embodiment of the show: She … is … hosting.

Shangela is pretty and handsome, the type of look that draws attention from guys and gals alike. Strangely enough, avid sports bettors understand this quality when a point spread is established to draw action from both sides.

Shangela is such a number — let’s say she’s opening as a 3-point favorite — as “53X” premieres March 31 at Chateau at Paris Las Vegas.

The 9 p.m. show runs Wednesdays through Sundays and opened for previews March 11. Tickets are $29.95 for general admission and $49.95 for VIP packages. Ticket-holders are offered access to Beer Park Las Vegas and Chateau Rooftop and Gardens.

The pivot person in this grand party scheme is the slight performer from Paris — the one in Texas — who happily says, “I made it from Paris, Texas, to Paris on the Strip. Who else can say that?”

No one I’ve met.

“You know, when you start thinking about residencies in Las Vegas, you have J.Lo, Britney, Mariah, those types of stars,” Shangela says during a few-minute convo during a recent “53X” rehearsal, where onstage dancers are wielding a fire hose to Jessie J’s “Burnin’ Up.” “So to be performing next door or across the street from them, I’m just thrilled beyond my wildest dreams.”

Something to know about Shangela, or performers of his ilk: Never refer to them as “cross-dressers” or risk facing some sort of wrath. “Drag impresario” is a far better fit.

Naturally, the host is paramount to the success of “53X,” in terms of marketing the show and what is produced onstage. Shangela, whose full stage name is Shangela Laquifa Wadley and whose legal name is Darius J. “D.J.” Pierce, is a perfect model. Shangela gained national fame as a competitor on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in Seasons 2 and 3 of the Logo phenomenon.

Shangela has performed in charity events for AFAN and at such Las Vegas clubs as Share and Piranha. He became friendly with Chippendales at the Rio dancer and vocalist Bryan Cheatham, who is now creative director of “53X.” The show is an offshoot of the Chipps production, and, in a more expansive sense, from anything the company has previously produced.

The idea is to expand the appeal of Chippendales by adding female dancers to the stage. The show’s full, full-time lineup of dancers is all Las Vegas performers. The crew: Dance captain Shaeja Lee-Boiser and dancers Jacinthe Morearty, Natali Tangherlini, Jessica Delgado, Curtis Goodman, Okewa Garrett, Kyle Efthemes and Alejandro Granados. The swings are Patricia Bouchebel, Geraldine Metayer and Ryan Kelsey. On board as choreographer is another familiar Las Vegas figure: Enrique Lugo, whose credits include a run with “Fashionistas” from 2004-2006.

Never does a male dancer perform solo to the audience. Women are always featured. The show also is invoking a comedy element that both sexes will find funny and, of course, sexy.

“They needed a host who could appeal to a broad crowd,” Shangela says (broad to mean large in scope, not an Old Vegas reference to a female). “The performance and comedy has to work for both sexes, so, yes, I am here to add comedy and spice to the show.”

“53X” is ambitious, a quality evident even before you see a full performance. The cast is filled with talented, experienced and physically fit dancers who have worked out extensively to prep for the production (one male dancer has dropped 15 pounds; another has put on 30 to be in shape for the show).

It’s not topless, but certainly risque, and expect a lot of Victoria’s Secret-styled attire from the females — and Shangela.

“We’re going to hit them with all the pizzazz of a Las Vegas show,” Shangela says. “It’s fun and sexy with lots of styles of dance. It’s everyone’s party.

The show will doubtless infuse needed animation in its host venue. The performers are grooving inside an impressively redesigned Chateau nightclub. For those who hung at the club in its first design, the new look is fairly startling, as the stage completely moved to the VIP platform facing the entrance, and seating is set at a capacity of 225.

From here, the measure of success for “53X” will be how it plays to heterosexual men, for whom a show featuring a high complement of shirtless male dancers can be a tough sell. Cast members have already suggested putting the show to the test under real conditions on a VegasVille date night.

As one of the dancers said recently, “Get a room at Paris on the night of the show, and I’ll guarantee you’ll use the room.”

The absence of sexual ambiguity is further reflected in the “53X” website, which asks and answers this question: “Will I get turned on?” “Mmmm, yes, that’s the plan.”

Shangela is promising that sensation, too: “If you can’t have fun here, you can’t have fun.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats on Instagram at Instagram.com/JohnnyKats1.

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