Many years ago, I did a nightclub act as a character named “Sheila Sands.”
Sheila was a bloated, bottle-blonde singer from Truckee who played every run-down showroom west of the Rockies. She had a crème de menthe habit, and was fond of rewriting the lyrics to popular standards – mostly because she couldn’t afford sheet music and would have been too drunk to remember the real words anyway.
I played this character for so long that I eventually created her entire resumé (she was discovered doing commercials for The Pasta Trough in Sacramento, and played a corpse on an episode of Quincy). After five years of doing Sheila as part of a midnight show at a gay bar in West Hollywood, I decided to test out a solo act. I pitched the idea to a friend at Largo, and they booked me for Valentine’s weekend.
The act I put together was a deliberate train wreck. Props failed, people interrupted me, things caught on fire and I even had a pizza delivered on stage. I made sure everything that could go wrong, did. And people just kept coming. Two nights turned into six months of sold-out shows.
There was just something about this character that people loved and related to. I think it may have been because she never got discouraged. As long as she was on stage, everything was right with the world. Maybe that’s why so many celebrities started showing up.
Sheila became so popular that Love Jones asked her to pose for the cover of their CD.
One night, Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner came to the show. And by the end of the evening, they had decided to take Sheila to The Roxy on Sunset for three nights.
That was in 1998, and I haven’t done the show since. I mean really, how do you top The Roxy? I put the custom-made Nolan Miller gown in the garage, and found other things to do.
Then in July, John and I went to visit my old friend Brad Garrett in Las Vegas. Brad had seen Sheila many times, and we reminisced about how fun it had all been back then.
As we were driving back to Los Angeles, I got a text from Brad informing me that Sheila got a gig. She would be opening for him at the MGM Grand in October.
I have to admit, I was a little overwhelmed. But sometimes you have to say yes before you have a chance to talk yourself out of things. So I took the gown out of mothballs, had it cut down (I was 100 pounds heavier back then), called my old piano player and started slapping this thing together. Now I just need to find my wig and it’s on like Donkey Kong.
If you’re in Vegas that weekend, why not see Sheila Sands in person? You’re going to be drunk anyway.
IT’S AN EVENING YOU’LL NEVER FORGET, NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY
BONUS: A reader in the forums just found this Variety review from 1998.
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