De Alba on Crescini
By Entertainer David de Alba*
In a profession where most female impersonators, no matter how good they are at their craft, pantomime to recordings, it is rare to find an entertainer like Criselda Crescini who not only sings 'live' but does it well. In the 'Golden Days' at Finocchio's and the famous Jewel Box Revue here in America we all had to be able to perform 'live' with musicians on stage and even then it was considered to be a rare art form. One day while surfing the Net I came across Criselda's fabulous Web Site created by Webmaster/Entertainer Ulrich Cazal. I asked him about Criselda and he sent me two audio files. I was so impressed that I asked 'her' to participate in my on-line interview series. I was sure my readers would be impressed as well. So here I bring to you ladies and gentlemen of Cyberspace, the incomparable Criselda, the golden voice of Manila!
In a profession where most female impersonators, no matter how good they are at their craft, pantomime to recordings, it is rare to find an entertainer like Criselda Crescini who not only sings 'live' but does it well. In the 'Golden Days' at Finocchio's and the famous Jewel Box Revue here in America we all had to be able to perform 'live' with musicians on stage and even then it was considered to be a rare art form.
One day while surfing the Net I came across Criselda's fabulous Web Site created by Webmaster/Entertainer Ulrich Cazal. I asked him about Criselda and he sent me two audio files. I was so impressed that I asked 'her' to participate in my on-line interview series. I was sure my readers would be impressed as well. So here I bring to you ladies and gentlemen of Cyberspace, the incomparable Criselda, the golden voice of Manila!
David: Criselda dear, where were you born and where did you spend most of your youth?
Criselda: I was born on Sept. 3rd, in Manila in The Philippines under the zodiac sign Virgo, the eldest of 8 boys and an only girl, my youngest sister. Here I grew up, studied and lived until I moved to Germany. My parents wanted their first child to be a girl . . . then they got me and since I am the eldest, my mother oriented me with all the household chores, including cooking and going to market.
David: Is Criselda Crescini your real name or a stage name?
Criselda: Criselda is my stage name and Crescini is my family name. Ulrich Cazal's show partner Micky Tanaka gave me my stage name Criselda because, as he put it, I looked like a rich elderly matron from a very prominent family in Manila. My ancestors originally came from Italy and migrated to the Philippines, thus the family name Crescini. From my mother's side I have Spanish blood and from my father, Italian blood, but both my parents are Filipinos. My fair skin color always makes people think I'm Spanish, Italian, Brazilian or South American and converse with me in Spanish, Italian or Portuguese which I speak anyway. But in the end I must confess I come from the Far East and that I am proudly Philippine made.
David: Did you have a Drag Mother or mentor who showed you the ropes to get into the field of female impersonation?
Criselda: I had friends who were my age or older and they helped me with make-up tricks, what and which costumes to wear and how to make and sew them, and how to work with wigs. I really didn't have a Drag Mother I could call. We are all called amongst us Mama (Spanish for Mother) or Ate (Filipino for older sister), in The Philippines anyway.
David: What brought you to Europe to make your living rather than let's say, The Philippines, The United States or Canada?
Criselda: I started working in The Philippines at first singing 'live' with taped music, bands, orchestras and piano accompaniments in parties, nightclubs, TV shows, music lounges and karaoke bars. Afterwards I worked for four years in Japan until a former schoolmate and longtime good friend of mine who had a German boyfriend invited me to come over to Germany and try my luck. Well to make a long story short, I did some auditions and got my first real job after three months. You could say I was an overnight success. I've worked and lived ever since here in Germany then made good connections that enabled me to work in different parts of the globe.
David: Did you have professional vocal training? Was your singing style and choice of material influenced by any famous singing Stars?
Criselda: No, I did not have any professional voice training. As I grew up, my voice started to crack and deepen. I developed my own breathing and singing techniques when I was young and have mastered them since I discovered my falsetto and that I could sing in a very high or very deep voice at will.
My early idols influenced my imitating their voices like Barbra Streisand, Cher, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Eartha Kitt, The Carpenters, Roberta Flack, Shirley Bassey, Julie Andrews, the band Earth, Wind and Fire, Bette Midler, Dionne Warwicke, Grace Jones, Carole King, Carly Simon, Gloria Gaynor, Angela Bofill, Sergio Mendes and [Brasil] singers, Donna Summer, Patti Labelle and some of our very good local singers back home in The Philippines. Later I discovered Madonna, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Christina Aguileira, Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey and other well or less known vocalists who have continually inspired me.
David: When you are singing in cabarets and theatres, do you use 'live' musicians or recorded orchestrations? Also for those of us who have not had the pleasure of seeing you on stage, can you describe your act? Do you impersonate any female celebrities? Do you do any comedy?
Criselda: It depends how lucky I get where I am working. Usually in cabarets and in some theatres where I have performed I use recorded orchestrations. But when I did the Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles here in Germany and in Switzerland where I played Chantal the Opera Diva, I had the privilege of singing with a big 40-man live orchestra. I've repeated this role for three times now and every time it still gives me a sense of awe and legitimacy performing with excellent schooled musicians.
For those who are not familiar with my show, I sing 'live' songs that have been originally interpreted from other singers. This means I don't sing my own compositions or songs personally composed for me. Sometimes I go to the point where I combine live singing and female impersonation, giving a visual illusion and aural impression copying a certain female celebrity like Cher, Liza Minnelli, Carmen Miranda, Madonna, Anastacia, Diana Ross or Shirley Bassey to mention a few. Sometimes comedy is included in my song when I do various human voice interpretations from diverse popular entertainers, sing a man-woman duet solo or make funny animal sounds. In some numbers I do facial contortions and grimaces or lip-quivering movements and in others I imitate typical macho gestures even when I am elegantly and femininely attired.
David: I am very impressed with your new CD "Criselda Live" after listening to two sample tracks that Ulrich Cazal sent me in an e-mail. Can you tell us more about this project?
Criselda: I am very pleased that the two tracks from my CD have met your good taste and approval. Of course I hope and pray that your Internet fans, friends and readers will also find acceptance, interest and joy upon hearing the 16 tracks included in this, my very first solo CD. This CD contains most of what I call my highlight songs, so really 'the best of'. Most of my friends and fans asked me where are the other beautiful songs that I sing and why they are not included in this first CD. Of course I can't always please everyone and also I had very limited time to complete this CD project . . . actually just a month's time before I went to work in Zürich, Switzerland in February of this year 2001.
Also I have been fortunate to be included in one of the numerous CDs from my good friend and treasured colleague Joy Peters from Austria. In his CD entitled 'Different Colours' I sing two duets with him and do some background vocals for the other tracks along with the effervescent Angie Stardust, among others.
David: At Finocchio's we did four different shows starting at 9 p.m. and ending at 2 a.m. because in California liquor can not be served after 2 a.m. How does that differ from the nightclubs in Germany and other countries in Europe that you have played?
Criselda: In nightclubs and cabarets here in Germany and Switzerland work may begin as early as 8 p.m. or as late as 11 p.m. depending in which part of Germany or Switzerland I was working. In one cabaret here in Hamburg where I worked, we did 4 shows a night starting at 8 p.m. and ending at 3:30 a.m. In other cabarets we did 2 or 3 shows a night which may last until 4 or 5 a.m. In some parts of Southern Germany work is finished earlier, about 2 or 2:30 a.m..
David: Who designs your fabulous wardrobe? Who styles your wigs and also are they human hair or synthetic fibers?
Criselda: Two very good couturier friends of mine from The Philippines, Peter Estocado and Edgar San Diego, design and make my fabulous costumes. Some I design and sew myself and others are from Cazal's show partner Micky Tanaka, a professional clothes maker and showman himself. Still, some of my costumes are gifts from fans and friends or bought somewhere else which I sometimes alter to suit my taste and needs. Most of my wigs are of synthetic fibers because I usually use my own shoulder length hair, partly, for the show. Also I find wigs from synthetic fibers are easier to work with, especially when one is always on the road. Most of my wigs are personally styled by myself or if I need extra help then I ask Ulrich Cazal or Cris Bennett (a comic artist from Denmark) for assistance.
David: You have performed in a number of countries. Where do you find the best audiences for 'drag shows' and why do you think that is?
Criselda: I believe that different countries have their own personal charms, general faults and obvious characteristics. In most countries of Europe where I have worked and in The Philippines, delighted audience usually show their appreciation for a performer by loudly clapping their hands, stomping their feet, giving flowers or shouting ENCORE or BRAVO in their own language. In The United States, in Canada and in Japan, enthusiastic spectators applaud too, give flowers and generously insert money in different parts of one's costumes or personally hand them over on stage. Each country has their own racial traits and distinctive temperament. Customs, habits and traditions also play an important part in how a superb performance from an artist, whether as a graceful dancer, a live singer, a sensitive actor or a lip-synching drag performer, is rewarded. There are no best audiences for me. Personally, I believe a marvelous performance in whatever form will always receive the appropriate generated and corresponding response.
David: What is the hardest part and what is the most fun, earning a living as a singer/female impressionist?
Criselda: Sometimes the long working hours, the nervous waiting until one is actually onstage, the meager financial rewards, the poor room or hotel accommodations, the numerous heavy suitcases you have to carry yourself when no helping hand is in sight, the wicked and jealous colleagues, the uninterested and loud audiences, the bullying bosses, the constant travelling, the endless packing and unpacking of costumes and accessories, the personal problems and life crises, just to mention a few, make my job as singer/female impressionist difficult and to a point unbearable.
But when one has an understanding family and supportive circle of friends like I do; when one hears the resounding applause of a good audience; when one enjoys the delights of travelling to new places and making new acquaintances; when one's prayers are heard and answered from a loving God above; when one possesses good health and sane mental disposition; when one is offered numerous accolades and job opportunities; when one thinks what is life without a God-given voice and beautiful music; when one benefits from the thought of just being alive; then all hurt, pain and agony is forgiven and forgotten. It is during these moments when one has the most fun earning a living as a singer/female impressionist and then I can say, thank God that you put me on this Earth to give joy to other people with my talents.
David: Do you have any favourite foods? Do you cook at home or do you eat out a lot?
Criselda: I have a very adventurous palate so I try everything and eat anything. Basically I love Japanese foods; sushi, sashimi, tempura, teriyaki, katsudon, soba and other strange sounding dishes from the Land of the Rising Sun. Being a passionate cook I cook very often at home for myself, friends and neighbors trying out new and different recipes. As a matter of fact in most of the cabarets where I work, a lot of my colleagues, Ulrich Cazal included, await expectantly my next culinary concoctions. I seldom go out to eat unless I'm invited and then I order Chinese, Thai, American, Greek, German or Japanese . . . not all at the same time, of course! Sometimes my cooking and baking impresses my friends and the other artists I work with so much that they go to the extent of ordering complete meals from me and I have to do some catering jobs. Any orders? To eat here or take home? Please place your orders by e-mail to Criselda Food Service. Just kidding.
David: Do you have any hobbies or interests that fill the time when you are not performing?
Criselda: Honey, even Ricky Renée is flabbergasted with what I achieve in 24 hours, even counting the time that I have to do my 8-hour beauty sleep. We both have our mammoth video collections. A huge pile of CDs at home is still growing. In between I do my laundry and a little cooking and baking. On the sides I tape shows and documentaries and reports on food recipes, fashion, dance and the arts, architecture and interior design, travel guides, German history, languages, films and other objects of interest that come across the small screen called television. I go out and walk a lot, learn new songs, go bicycling, converse with friends, sew new costumes and make new accessories, watch old films, listen to my huge CD music collection and of course tinkering with my laptop and surfing the Internet, are still some of the interests that take my time when I am not doing shows. Engaging myself with other odd jobs and making the most of my spare time keeps me busy. Just tireless, dear. A busy bee, that's me.
David: If you could change anything that happened in your life so far, what would that be?
Criselda: I feel I am blessed and fortunate, grateful for all the wonderful things that have happened in my life and even for all the unpleasant lessons from life that have taught me the hard way to be tough, smart, self-sufficient and have a discerning knowledge of human nature. If I could live my life again I would live it exactly like it is all over again with its ups and downs. With my successes and failures, I all the more believe in the ingenuity and the prowess of the Filipino. "And all these, I owe to God alone."
David: If a handsome (fairy) prince on a white horse with wings were to descend from the sky and grant you a wish, what would you wish for?
Criselda: If wishes could come true I would wish for more love, peace, tolerance and understanding to make this planet a better world to live in for our offsprings and the future generations. There are still a good majority of people who suffer from wars and discrimination. I honestly believe and sincerely feel we could all work together to make this wish come true and we don't need a handsome (fairy) prince to descend from the sky to grant this wish. We could all try hard enough and make this a reality.
I thank you dear David for asking me these interesting questions and I hope that I have given you profound and satisfactory answers. I am also grateful that you have given me this opportunity to express myself. Just keep up the good work and more power to you and all your endeavours. Thanks for finding me worthy of your Web Site. God bless. Love, Criselda.
Visit Criselda's Web Site at http://www.cc-voice.de/home-en.htm
You can e-mail Criselda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: In February of 2002 I received a copy of Criselda's CD "Criselda Live" taped in Munich, Germany, and I was very impressed with all of his voices, male, female, impressions of male and female singers, (and even some barnyard animals). You can purchase a copy from his Web Site.
* Cuban/American entertainer David de Alba (also known as "Heri, Hairstylist of the Stars") is known for his live singing impressions as a concert artist since 1965. He has worked at the world famous Finocchio Club of San Francisco (USA) for many years. Visit the award winning Web Site "David de Alba’s Theatrical Arts & Tributes" athttp://david-de-alba.com and you can e-mail him c/o email@example.com