She didn’t zing out barbed lines from Mommie Dearest or Mildred Pierce, but rather huskily called out: “B-8,” “B-11,” “G-3,” and her very favorite—“0-69.”
Joan Crawford—aka Joe Evangelista—made those calls as she presided over some serious bingo with between-the-numbers bawdy humor and holiday guilt jokes on a Christmas-with-the-Crawfords theme.
That was the campy scene Saturday night at a monthly fundraiser organized by the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus (CGMC) at the Annex Club on Woodward Avenue. The usual crowd of 350 people came wearing red antlers, and twinkling elf hats, all desperate to prevail in the coveted Most Hideous Holiday Sweater competition.
Wendy Rehberg said she stayed up until 2:30 a.m. Thursday fashioning these heavy-on-the-golden-glitter sweaters for her family. She said she, her husband Jason, son Henry and his girlfriend Ashley come regularly from their home in Clinton because they think of the evening as quality family time with fun, good humor, and a chance to win door prizes, and some serious bingo money.
“I was skeptical at first,” said 19-year-old Henry. The money was the real hook. Now he hopes to score a big bingo winner and add to his savings towards his first car.
At precisely 7 p.m., to the strains of movie Oscar music, Joan made her grand entrance in a bewitching spaghetti strap red cocktail dress. Nodding to her admirers, she ascended to the bingo-number calling platform.
“I’d rather be here with you than anyone else in the world,” she said.
After hoots and applause subsided, she asked how many in the filled-to-capacity hall were first-timers. When hands were raised. “My!” she declared. “Look how many bingo virgins we have.”
The tone was set. The numbers were spun and began to be called as Joanettes like David Campanelli circulated selling tickets to the extra special games to folks like Renee Healey.
Healey’s favorite part of the evening thus far? “I like Joan’s dress. Fabulous. She wears it well.”
One of her companions for the evening, James Bickford, checked out the crowd and parsed it this way: 30 percent gay community, 30 percent [attending] for the shock value, 40 percent ... like bingo.
Several minutes went by as Joan called out B-3 and G-1in her deep, breathy voice. Then suddenly someone in the far corner of the hall screamed.
“Did I hear a bingo?”
If it were true, it was the first of the evening. “She could have had a premature bingulation,” Joan cautioned.
Joan deployed the Joanettes, that is volunteer members of the CMGC, to verify. Sure enough, Amanda Moore was a winner. A Joanette handed her five crisp twenties.
You can see why people come to play this game monthly. Not only is Joan Crawford her sassy best. Compared to the stakes in church bingo games, there’s real money to win here, and up to $2,500 in prizes.
Jennifer Wrye had another reason for attending. Both she and her friend Renee Healey are new moms, each having a two-month old baby at home. “It’s time to get out of the house,” Wrye said.
She’s been a regular and big winner, not at the bingo but at the fashion contests, since Bingomania was established by Joe Evangelista, er, Joan Crawford, back in 2006.
Wrye said she has won many times in the crazy costume competitions. She recalled one win in an Outer Space category, another as a Sassy Saloon Girl, and, most recently, in the Pretty in Pink category when she came dressed as Molly Ringwald. Most of the costume prize winners nab a bottle of wine.
Between breathlessly calling out more numbers, Joan had been riffing on the revered holiday theme of the dozen days of Christmas. Her ninth favorite reason why an Xmas tree is great: It’s always erect.
Then a remarkable thing happened. Wendy Rehberg won the third game. There were two other winners, so they’d have to split the $100 equally. Still it was a red letter moment.
And, Julie Kelly, who is also the sole judge of the various competitions, told a reporter confidentially, that the Rehbergs were her favorite to win the Hideous Sweater award as well.
Kelly also said that Alex Adkins, in the suspenders, was also a likely winner in a category, which she seemed to make up on the spot: She called it the Donner and Blitzen Category.
The numbers kept breathlessly flowing from Joan’s heavily lipsticked mouth. Then she took a survey of her admirers and made sure to greet all her Jewish friends among them, wishing them Happy Chanukah.
Then came a pause. The acid was boiling up nicely: Do you know the one about the Jewish mother who gave her son two sweaters? Or the one where the mother thanks her son for the flowers, telling him, “I’ll put them in the freezer so they’ll be fresh for my funeral?”
At intermission, the CGMC was scheduled to assemble, including Joan after a costume change, in order to perform a medley of songs from the TV program Glee. Then the games resumed.
Julie Kelly said each month the CGMC shares some of the proceeds of the event with another organization. At Saturday night’s Bingomania with Joan CGMC was partnering with AIDS Project New Haven.
The next Bingomania has Joan likely bringing a whip to the Annex Club. The them is a circus one, Joan Under the Big Top. It’s scheduled for Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. CGMC’s partner beneficiary that night is Dogs for Autism.
It takes $20 to enter, for which you get a chance to play 11 games of bingo for $100 prize money for each, one game at $200, and three special games for which the prize is even larger but depends on how many people pay an additional buck per card to enter.
CGMC General Manager Julie Kelly said each month has a different theme—with Joan presiding in appropriate costume and with new jokes. Each Bingomania event on average grosses from $5,000 to $10,000.
Bingomania goes on 11 months a year. All told, that adds up to about half of CGMC’s annual budget. The bingo is regulated by the state; 5 percent of the proceeds go to Hartford.