Coming Up Roses

Ethel Merman and Katya Smirnoff-Skye


This pair is a staple at Reno Gay Pride. Their performance mixes cabaret and comedy. Crowds are encouraged to sing along to songs like “Born to be Wild” and “Barracuda.” Some songs are sung in what the two dub “popera” style, a blending of pop songs and operatic vocals. Props accompany the songs, such as an umbrella for “It’s Raining Men.” The result is a high-energy routine that keeps the pair coming back to Reno year after year.

Where are you two ladies from?

Katya: I’m from the great city of Moscow, by way of San Francisco.

Ethel: And I was raised in Astoria, Queens.

How long have you performed at Pride?

Ethel: I’ve been at Pride for the past 13 years. Katya has been here for three.

How has the hot weather been treating you today?

Katya: It’s lovely. It’s been simply lovely and gorgeous today.

Ethel: As long as it’s below a hundred I’m fine.

Katya: It is so much warmer than my hometown, though!

What’s the zaniest thing you’ve come across performing at Pride?

Ethel: More than once I’ve had a lesbian stick their head under my skirt and leave dollar bills in my foundation garments!

What are your favorite songs to perform?

Katya: Performing on stage, at home, or wherever? Well, I love singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” That’s one of my favorites. Also, I love classics like “Habanera” from Carmen. I have such a variety, from Lady Gaga to John Lennon.

Ethel: Sometimes you can even remember the second verse from Carmen!

Katya: Does the second verse really matter?

Ethel: No. No, it doesn’t matter.

How did you two start working together?

Katya: Well we were both playing at a nightclub in San Francisco. We started talking and got drunk together.

Ethel: Boozing buddies! So after performing there, we both began performing here in Reno. This year we also added DJ David Mahr to our act.

Not to drive a wedge, but who would you say is the prettier one?

Katya: Oh I’m the prettier one, this is not a hard question. Ethel will not even argue with it.

Ethel: I’m happier, goddammit!

Katya: That’s right, you are happier.

Ethel: I also have the bigger hair. She has less to keep up with.

Katya, are those rumors about Mr. Grey Goose true?

Katya: Well, I’ve been fond of things clear and delicious. Mr. Goose and I go way back, and he’s about the only vodka not in my name.

Ethel: You also love any of them named after animals, especially if their picture is on the label of the bottle!

Katya: I do. I do.

Ethel, would you agree there is no business like show business?

Ethel: None that I know. [pauses] I can sing the song if you like.

Katya: Oh dear!

Should we expect you next year?

Katya: I’d imagine so.

Ethel: I tell people it’s not Reno Pride without Ethel. I’ve been doing it for 13 out of the 14 years, and when I go I’m taking Reno Pride with me! We’ll be back.