The crowd at Club Congress erupts in applause as a Sergio Mendes-style version of “The Price is Right” theme song pumps from the speakers.
The song signifies the start of what they all came to see.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Retro Game Show Night,” shouts announcer Paul Katona, following with an extended string of boxing bell sound effects.
Within seconds, Tempest DuJour, the host for the evening appears on stage.
Described by Katona upon her arrival as “more man than you’ll ever need and more woman than you’ll ever get,” DuJour — the alter ego of University of Arizona associate professor Patrick Holt — sparkles in a purple frock with large fish scale sequins, long black eyelashes and a maroon bouffant wig.
“Welcome everybody,” she says to the crowd of rowdy revelers. “It is so great to see me.”
Standing at nearly 8-feet tall in heels and hair, DuJour plays the drag-queen host role to perfection.
Over the course of two hours, she keeps the audience howling and her contestants red-faced with her quick, politically incorrect and, at times, downright raunchy repartee.
The game of the evening is Wheel of Misfortune.
The wheel’s planks are comprised of points, rather than dollar amounts. Land on the “Uh-Oh” plank and you are at DuJour’s mercy.
“It is like (Harry Potter’s) Hogwarts,” Holt said in an interview weeks after the show. “There is some magical power that comes with drag. People will do whatever you ask them to do. We once had this 60-year-old couple doing body shots off of each other.”
The games are wild and raucous and apparently, just the thing prescribed for Tucson.
In its three years in existence, Retro Game Show Night, the brainchild of Holt and producer David Hoffman, has flourished.
Shows at Congress regularly sell out.
“We barely have to do anything to promote it,” said David Slutes, the hotel’s entertainment coordinator. “The room is filled every time.”
The idea for Retro Game Show Night was born from discussions between Holt and Hoffman about creating an alternative to the traditional drag show format.
The two first crossed paths in 2011 at Colors Food & Spirits, a now-closed LGBT restaurant and bar on East Speedway.
Hoffman, a graphic designer, was helping the struggling spot rebrand after the economic downturn. Holt was holding a weekly show there dubbed “Guys & Dolls” that he inherited from longtime Tucson drag queen Lucinda Holliday.
Holt, a late bloomer when it came to drag, was born in North Carolina and grew up Mormon there and in Virginia. He received a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts at Brigham Young University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in costume design from the North Carolina School of the Arts. Before signing on as the head of the costume design program at the University of Arizona’s School of Theatre, Film and Television, he taught costume craft at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
In his career, Holt has lent his costume and prop design talents to projects on HBO, CBS, A&E, and at Shakespeare festivals in Colorado, Utah and Alabama.
Much of the attire Holt creates for Retro Game Show Night is fabricated in the costume shop in the basement of Marroney Theatre on the UA campus. It’s not uncommon for him to take his work home, where he lives with his husband, David Dryden and their two adopted kids, Mia, 8, and August, 4.
A simple cocktail dress can take a few hours. A more elaborate gown can take several days.
“I make a new outfit for almost every show,” Holt said. “It is part of my creative process.”
He took on drag seven years ago, as part of a film project idea he conceived to find a Tucson resident, transform him into a drag queen over the course of six months, then have him win a local drag competition.
“We couldn’t find anyone else that we could trust to stick it out that entire time,” he said.
The documentary never made it to fruition, but it launched a successful side career for Holt, who has since gone on to win several high-profile honors with his Tempest persona, including the title of Miss Gay Tucson America in 2008.
“I have the drag gene,” said Holt, who turned 47 years old on Monday. “I am one of those people who is obsessive enough that, if I am going to do it, I am going to do it 100 percent.”
Holt calls himself a kitsch or comedy camp queen.
“I like interacting with the audience,” he said. “I like hosting, being on the mic. I enjoy lip-syncing too, but that is not where I shine.”
Which is why he and Hoffman wanted to create a new type of show that would complement, but not replicate, his weekly drag standard — then called “Honeybaked Glam.”
“In a typical drag show you have a hostess who comes out with a song,” Hoffman said. “She walks the crowd for cash. She chit-chats, does another number and then introduces the next drag queen who does the same thing.”
“It is lip-syncing with cash and drinks,” Holt said.
Holt suggested a throwback game show night over a lunch with Hoffman on North Fourth Avenue. Holt had heard of a similar concept taking off in Los Angeles.
“I grew up watching all those ‘70s and ‘80s game shows,” said Hoffman, a Tucson native, who was immediately on-board. “When you are stuck at home for the summer and not able to leave the house, you are watching things like “Match Game,” “Password” and “Pyramid.”
The first Retro Game Show Night, held in December of 2011, filled Colors to capacity.
“We weren’t expecting such a huge crowd,” Hoffman said.
The next month received the same response, as did the month after that.
Game Show Night continued to pack the house, right up until the venue closed its doors in August of 2012.
“It was standing room only by the time they closed,” Holt said. “Our crowd was not exclusively a gay and lesbian crowd either. We managed to bring in a real mix of people, which was our goal from the beginning.”
Not wanting to break the momentum, Hoffman and Holt began looking at venues around town.
They landed at Congress.
“I liked the idea,” Slutes said. “We are always looking to expand our offerings. The way they promoted it seemed worth a try.”
Once again, the event filled the room.
“It exceeded our expectations,” Slutes said. “We are very pleased.”
These days, Retro Game Show Night has seven games in regular rotation, with slightly-off versions of classic programming, such as Sassword, The Mismatch Game and Hollywood(ish) Squares.
Winners will often receive random gifts, such as a 10-pound bag of potatoes or toilet seat covers.
“The dollar stores love us,” Holt said.
One of the show’s hallmarks is its guest celebrities, which range from fellow drag queens to Tucson celebs, such as KGUN anchor Stella Inger.
But the key to any game show night, Hoffman said, are the people who come to watch the show.
“We’ve been cultivating this really cool audience,” Hoffman said. “They are there, ready to play, laugh and have fun. We give them permission to be as silly as we are.”
“We have everything from college kids to seniors attending,” Holt said. “Straight, gay, old, young, male, female. It is a cool mix that makes the dynamics of the show that much more interesting.”
Given its popularity, the plan is to keep Retro Game Show Night going, and to ultimately expand into other nights hosted by other members of the drag-queen community.
“We’ll continue doing it, as long as audiences continue to show up,” Holt said.