As the curtains part, a silver phone on the stage’s lone table rings. Rev. Kitty Bob Aimes, a drag queen dressed in a blue choir robe and makeup worthy of a televangelist, answers. “Softly and Tenderly” blares from the speakers.
Church at The Boom is beginning.
For the next hour-and-a-half, Aimes and Rev. Norma Jean Goldenstein will lead the crowd through a hilarious, irreverent hybrid of church service and Southern gospel radio show, featuring game-show skits, sing-alongs, communion with spirits (the liquid kind) and special music.
On many Sundays, the finale features the great Vestal Goodman singing “Looking for a City,” accompanied by the congregation at the “Gospel Brunch” clapping and waving white napkins or toilet paper.
Before that, however, the highlight of every service is the children’s sermon, starring Little Sally, a hand puppet who plays the show’s straight man/girl. Little Sally is an elementary-aged girl just trying to be good. She is visited by a whole cast of biblical character puppets, including Satan. The queens try their best to lead Sally down the path of righteousness.
The Boom started “Gospel Brunch” last October, after the move from its old location allowed additional space to include a theater. Part bar, part theater, part restaurant, The Boom is a high-concept entertainment venue, currently celebrating its first anniversary at 2218 N.W. 39th.
The Boom is co-owned by John Gibbons and Brett Young. Gibbons has been in the mortgage banking industry for 20 years, and Young is a veteran stage performer who has participated in several national and European tours with “Oklahoma!,” “Cabaret” and his original show, “Elvis the Legend.”
Young, who plays Aimes, is the principal writer for the Gospel Brunch. According to Goldenstein, played weekly by Jeffrey Meeks, it was Young who came up with the idea of Little Sally.
“Brett writes the script every week, and we take a little time to review it,” Meeks said. “Much of what we do is improvisational, based on an outline, but the children’s sermon is pretty scripted. One day, Brett just showed up with Little Sally.”
With the exception of an invitation to the stage and carpet squares, the children’s sermon is very much like the puppet shows of Sunday school and Vacation Bible School that many Oklahomans experienced growing up. Several elements bring back fond, if conflicted, memories of old church services, grandparents and Gaither music videos.
“We started the show because we felt like there was an untapped market out there for it,” Meeks said. “We wanted to reach a slightly older crowd who grew up the way we grew up, with the whole Southern-gospel-in-the-South experience.”
Meeks and Young both grew up in performing families. Meeks grew up Southern Baptist, and his parents were itinerant music ministers. The soundtrack that animates “Gospel Brunch” is drawn from the songs their parents and grandparents performed, as well as the music they listened to on the road.
“We don’t really have a criteria for picking the music,” Meeks said. “Mostly, it’s just what makes us happy. We never want to offend anyone. This is an homage to our past and the things from the past that made us feel happy.”
It’s nearly impossible not to feel happy while watching Aimes wrap the audience in toilet paper while Goldenstein lip-synchs to Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and even Blondie. After Kitty Bob passes the napkins around for the finale, she ascends the spiral staircase to the stage and engages in an impromptu Pentecostal dance that exposes her girdle. The queens nail the affect, intonation and faux sincerity of televangelists every week.
Young also does a Wednesday night comedy show at The Boom called “Kitty’s Comedy Capers.” The rest of the week’s lineup includes Trashy Thursdays, an open-mic night to all manner of performers, including singers, comedians and female impersonators; a Friday night show featuring a different headliner every week; and the Ginger Lamar-hosted “The G Spot” on Saturdays.
Gibbons said he wants to expand The Boom’s entertainment offerings beyond female impersonators, and he’s been overwhelmed by response to its new location.
“Because of what we are and how we operate, people bring their straight co-workers, people bring their parents, and everyone has a great time, and nobody feels uncomfortable because we’re not what people expect,” he said. “We’re clean and we’re new. The food is great, and the atmosphere is professional.” “Greg Horton
Additional reporting by Eric Webb.