Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Honey Mahogany

Best Of The Gays

The unique performer is more than a drag star

Honey Mahogany. photo: Jose A. Guzman Colon
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It's easy to spot Honey Mahogany in a bar or nightclub. The tall, beautiful event host, singer, actor and RuPaul's Drag Race contestant was voted by our readers at the Bestie-winning Best Drag or Trans Nightlife Performer, for a lot of reasons.

Whether performing solo and singing live, in TV shows (Looking), camping it up in the latest Peaches Christ spectacle, or in the popular Star Trek parody as Lt. Uhura, the skilled performer knows how to take –and share– the stage.

Born Alpha Mulugeta, the San Francisco native can be seen weekly in the Castro, where Mahogany Mondays has been running at The Midnight Sun for about three years. The variety show includes viewings of RuPaul's Drag Race, when the show airs.

The event has been ongoing with few nights off. "I don't take holidays off, said Mulugeta. "And I can count on one hand how few Mondays I've missed for being out of town for a gig."


Trekkie Talents

Performing in the recent Star Trek Live show at Oasis was "super fun," said Mulugeta. "I was so glad I was asked to play Lieutenant Uhura. She is a legendary character in African American history, and it was really an honor to be able to play her, and a lot of fun."

Originally played by Nichelle Nichols, the popular TV 1960s science fiction show, developed by Gene Roddenberry, broke new ground with Nichols' character, including the first broadcast television interracial kiss between actors.

The recent drag production was played more for laughs, and Mulugeta recounted that experience.

"We all got along very well in this cast," he said. "All the drama was onstage, which was really refreshing. We had a lot of fun with each other. Everyone was easy-going and ready to have a good time, but also very professional. We all knew how to do our jobs. It was definitely one of the most positive theatrical experiences I've ever had."

Among the highlights of the show were the subtle asides and gestures that sent the audience into fits of laughter.

Honey Mahogany in the recent Star Trek Live show at Oasis. photo: Gareth Gooch

Asked if trying to keep a straight face, so to speak, was difficult, Mulugeta said, "For the most part, we all did pretty well at maintaining our composure, but every once in a while we'd throw something new in there to keep things interesting, and it was always fun to see how your co-stars would react. There was one time that I didn't tell Leigh Crow [the veteran drag king, who played Captain Kirk] that I was going to do something a little differently, and I bent over in front of him, giving him quite the view. The first time I did that, he kind of lost his composure for a bit. Of course, the audience loved this, as it was a campy show. I have to say, though, for the most part, everyone was really good about keeping a straight face."


Drag Racing

The experience of being a contestant on the fifth season of RuPaul's Drag Race was quite a bit different, what with the pressure to make gowns, enduring the catty reality show atmosphere, and performing. That season, Mahogany, the first San Francisco drag performer on the show, lost to eventual winner Jinkx Monsoon. But Honey made her mark, performing live as well as lip-syching.

"I don't keep track," said Mulugeta of how often live or recorded vocals are used in performances as Honey. "It's whatever I feel like doing that night."

Honey Mahogany at the NewNowNext red carpet in a gown by Dallas Coulter.

For Mahogany Mondays, a general theme is shared with other performers, "I just tell people to do what they love. It is a smaller show, and I want people to be entertained on a Monday night, and for the performers to do what they're happy doing."

Honey Mahogany has recorded an EP, Honey Love, in 2014, along with singles and music videos. Fans can also enjoy a Nina Simone tribute night with The Erik Walker Band at the Bernal Heights club Lucky Horseshoe on April 9 (453 Cortland Ave).

"I used to do live shows about twice a year," said Mulugeta. "But I've sort of neglected that side of myself, so working with a band again has been really fun."


Drag Roots

The 32-year-old Mulugeta didn't start doing drag until college. Born in San Francisco, and raised Roman Catholic, Mulugeta attended St. Ignatius College Prepatory, where among his older fellow alumni are drag performer Matthew Martin ("He was there when it was all boys"). Among his younger classmates was a mop-headed Darren Criss.

Honey Mahogany's EP, Honey Love

"He was two years younger than I was, but I was in musical theatre with him, and he was always running around with a guitar."

College brought opportunities for Mulugeta's initial drag performances when he was involved in theatre at University of Southern California (where he received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Musical Theater).

"I had a friend in the film program who asked me to play a role dressed as a woman," he said. "I feel like I've built on that one influential moment. It definitely came from a place of wanting to perform, but also wanting to feel free to express and celebrate my femininity."

But the drag aspect of his performing had yet to stick.

"I had done a few parties, but it wasn't super interesting to me," he said. "I didn't really understand the attraction of lip-synching. I certainly never thought that I would make it a career!"

Honey Mahogany

While earning a Masters in Social Work at UC Berkeley, Mulugeta found more opportunities for nightlife performances, and an appreciation of the local scene. He cited an influential night, "ironically after the end of Trannyshack" at The Stud, where the short-lived replacement Tuesday drag night, Pink Slip, gave him inspiration, specifically with the torch songs performed by Virginia Suicide and others.

"I thought, 'I can do that. I want to do that!'"

Shortly afterward, the name Honey Mahogany was born, not derived from any Diana Ross or Pam Grier homage, but based on two shades of make-up from Mulugeta's high school theatre kit.

In just a few short years, this tall talent has been in dozens of shows. Along with the upcoming Nina Simone concert, Honey will be part of Peaches Christ's next extravaganza, Spice Rack at the Castro Theatre on April 16.

With so many shows, how does Mulugeta continue to find new inspiration?

"I don't think I've ever settled for who I am or what I'm doing," he said. "Hosting a weekly show has built up my MC skills. Learning new material is really great, and fun. I've been doing more live theatre like Star Trek, and another project with D'Arcy Drollinger. Working with the band again has been great. I'm exploring new avenues of performance. I feel like I'm always overwhelmed, but also that I'm never doing enough."

Honey Mahogany's YouTube Channel.

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