Happy Birthday, Sandy Beach!

The longtime drag performer gets ready for his birthday show this week

Sandy Beach in his finest feathers (photos courtesy of Sandy Beach)

Most people celebrate their birthdays with a cake, some friends and maybe a night out. But for a veteran performer on the gay scene in Philly and Atlantic City over the years, a milestone can only be marked with a live show. Sandy Beach (real name Robert Hitchen) will be hosting his birthday show this Wednesday (Nov. 23) at 10:30 p.m. at the Venture Inn with $4 drink specials.

(Beach - far left) backstage at Convention Hall in Atlantic City (August 1975)

“It’s my party and I’ll sing what I want to,” says Beach. He tells us that his show will be a surprise (with surprise guests), though audiences can expect to hear at least one song from Gypsy, a musical he performed in on stage in the role of Tulsa. Today, he jokes, he channels Mama Rose.

In honor of his fabled career, we talked to a few friends who know him best.

Henry Brinton, a friend of Beach’s and one of his “drag daughters,” started off being a fan for many years. “My fondest memory of Sandy has to be arranging my schedule to get off of work early enough to go and see him perform on Thursday nights, with his USO show,” says Brinton. “I went for years. It was the highlight of the week.”

(Beach - far right) In front of The Rendezvous on New York Avenue in Atlantic City

As a drag performer himself, Brinton admits that Beach has been a major inspiration in showing him the ropes – and the fish nets. “Sandy has shown me how to be a strong woman, a classy senior citizen and how to keep a quiet dignity through a depression, two World Wars and the decadence of the 70s,” he jokes. “Being 400 isn’t easy.”

(Beach - middle) in Atlantic City

Another drag queen on the scene, Salotta Tea (real name Sal Aurelio), has known Beach for years. “I met Sandy when she started hosting 12th Air Command’s USO Show in 1997,” says Aurelio. “I was a contestant in many of those shows just starting out along with Brittany Lynn. After getting to know him, we hung out at an after-hours club in Upper Darby called the MSA.”

Ian Morrison (Brittany Lynn) also knew Beach as co-host of the Miss Comedianne Pageant with Tinsel Garland. “Sandy shows me time and time again that the great ones that have it, keep it, and hold onto it forever,” says Morrison. “He has real talent, and it gives me the confidence to know that we will both be performing and giving all we can give while there’s still air in our lungs.”

Hosting the 2010 Miss’d America Pageant

Aurelio and Beach also shared many stages together, both in Philly and Atlantic City. “My fondest memories of Miss Beach were when we did our Sunday afternoon shows in Atlantic City outside on a deck…in 100 degree heat,” he says. “Of course, then came the Miss’d America Pageant, which she hosted.”

Beach was also involved with Red Ribbon Bingo at the Sands Casino. “Between acts, he would hustle up a flight of stairs and get changed within three minutes,” remembers Aurelio. “He always offered the audience a variety of frocks. That’s one thing Sandy does and taught me about – the importance of the audience.”

And while Beach had made his mark in a wig and high heels during much of his career, he started off in musical theatre. “He isn’t a drag queen,” says Aurelio. “He’s a performer.”

Sandy Beach’s Birthday Party, Nov. 23, 10:30 p.m., Venture Inn, 255 S. Camac St., 215-545-8731.