Drag Queens & Broadway & Brunch – Oh my! Hamburger Mary’s in Orlando has raised the bar (and bra) on Sunday brunch.
Hamburger Mary’s, Orlando, Florida
Four years ago producer/director/theatre maven Jimmi Rossi stumbled in to Hamburger Mary’s in Downtown Orlando late one Sunday morning and wondered where everyone was. “There were two people in the restaurant, I swear!” said Rossi. Around the same time, Ginger Minj – a staple of Orlando’s drag queen circuit – teamed up with Hamburger Mary’s for a Broadway-esque idea no one could refuse.
Knowing that Mary’s was usually receptive to trying out new things, Minj and team would round up a motley crew of singers, dancers and drag queens for a weekly Sunday morning performance. The goal? To create some brunch buzz. Joining in on the fun was Rossi’s boyfriend Philip “The Minx” Cain. Minx and Minj had a built-in love of show tunes and Minj was practically considered family at Mary’s. Both were willing to throw caution -- and corsets -- to the wind as co-hosts.
“Our first production was a ‘Hairspray’ production,” said Rossi. “Minx pulled out all the stops on the first show. Ten dancers … some live singing. After that second week – thanks to word of mouth – we’ve been sold out ever since.”
He isn’t kidding. Some guests have had standing weekly reservations … for four years.
“One day we met a woman named Gina. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was at brunch to celebrate life … and to check it off of her bucket list,” said Minx. “Her story really touched me. For almost a full year she was back every Sunday. Her wife said it gave Gina something to look forward to and a reason to hang on just a little longer. Stories like this happen often at brunch and that’s because of the love that is created by all of the people in that room.”
What’s the draw? Every week Rossi, The Minx and new co-host Nicky Monet create and choreograph an entire show completely from scratch. “We never do the exact same show twice,” said Rossi. “And I joke we’re performing on a postage stamp. The stage is maybe 6X5 … but it’s really special. Nicky has said, ‘Brunch is my salvation.’
What makes this production so completely unlike anything you’ve ever seen? Half the time the entire crew is winging it. Literally. “There’s this crazy element of surprise at Broadway Brunch,” said patron Kati Crane. “They are rehearsing out back of the restaurant at the 12th hour. It’s hysterically improvised – or is it?”
Does The Minx concur? “We do on many occasions only get together an hour before show start to rehearse and run through in the ally next to the restaurant,” said Minx. “Often times the dancers may not even know what we are doing that week until they open their costume bag in the dressing room and see what is inside.”
Inside, servers shill decadent dishes like “Stack ‘Em Up Pancakes” and a “GLBT Sandwich” while performers shimmy, shake and saunter irreverently up and down the aisles. Without warning, they’ll yank unsuspecting diners right out of their seat mid-bite to join in the festivities. Audience participation is practically mandatory. “Half the time we do this we are like – what are we doing?” said Rossi. “But we have so much fun doing this and it’s such a creative outlet.”
For the first three years, Mary’s merry clan included Minj -- who went on to slay the runway on Season 7 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “All Stars 2”. Minj and Minx had unbeatable camaraderie from the get-go because of their mutual love of Broadway. “Words can't even begin to describe how much fun we had back then! She was my best friend, the complete yin to my yang,” said Minj of her bestie Minx. “We've had deep, meaningful conversations without ever saying a word. She was more of a sister to me than anyone could ever imagine and I love her, to this day, from the depths of my soul.” Minj -- an integral part of the show’s success – eventually bowed out when her touring schedule became too hectic to participate on a weekly basis.
Harry Potter. Phantom of the Opera. Spice Girls. Motown. Everything is fair game on Sunday at Mary’s Orlando. “How they go from a gospel medley to Salt-N-Pepa is beyond me,” said Crane. “Especially when their costume changes seem to take less than 30 seconds.”
Rossi is quick to point out that a majority of the credit goes to the Brunch Bunch. It’s a stalwart team of nearly a dozen singers and dancers who volunteer their time every week to bring down the house. (Hint: Bring those dollar bills.) A majority of these unpaid, unstoppable performers have cut their teeth on stage at many of Orlando’s ever-present theme parks. On Sunday, however, they really cut loose. “They have helped us to take this show to a whole other level,” said Rossi. Minj agreed, “When we started, no one expected it to take off like it did and become it's own entity. We were a family in every sense of the word and the feeling we created in that room week after week could never be replicated ... or explained!”
They must be doing something right. USA Today, NewNowNext.com and a slew of other outlets have named Mary’s Orlando one of the Top 10 brunch destinations in the United States. The sentiment isn’t lost on Rossi – who mentions the show is 97% kid-friendly. “Growing up, I never thought I would ever see the day that this would be accepted”, said Rossi. “When you see a 10 year-old and 80 year-old standing up and cheering … you know you’re doing something right. They make me cry.”
Hamburger Mary's: 110 W Church St, Orlando, FL 32801