Ahead of the Salisbury Pride Parade, where she will serve as Grand Marshal — Magnolia Applebottom is at home in Rehoboth Beach rehearsing the song “Trustfall,” by Pink.
As one of the (if not the) top echelon drag queens in the region, Magnolia, and the man behind her, Jeremy Bernstein, is used to adding songs and bits to her ever-growing oeuvre. At Diego’s Bar and Nightclub, where Magnolia performs regularly, a discreet music stand holds the lyrics to a library of songs — everything from the “Frozen” anthem “Let It Go” to “My Heart Will Go On” (in full Celine Dion regalia) to… “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song.
“But I also have a drinking game for the people,” Bernstein says with a laugh. “If I mess up on a word, just drink. So, you’ll be drunk really quick, but at least I’ll sound good.”
Magnolia Applebottom doesn’t seem to need much extra help these days. One of Rehoboth’s busiest and most in-demand performers, Bernstein, 32, has been performing drag for 12 years, the last eight of which as a full-time career.
“I’m pretty much Rehoboth’s queen. I love the amount of support I get from this little community.”
On any given night in Rehoboth, one might run into Magnolia singing Lizzo at the Blue Moon, doing cabaret at Purple Parrot, hosting bingo or Family Feud, and otherwise digging into her bag of tricks, which can include puppetry and spinning plates. The winner of “Rehoboth Idol” in 2013, Magnolia has been honored twice in the Washington Blade as the Best Drag Queen in Rehoboth.
“After so many years of hard work and keeping this character up and just pushing, this community has really accepted me,” Bernstein says. “And I’m not conceited, I’m confident. I’m pretty much Rehoboth’s queen. I love the amount of support I get from this little community.”
A decade ago, when Fred Munzert began as director of the Milton Theatre, one of his first bookings was Magnolia Applebottom. Over the years, the pair developed a theatrical and all-ages approach to drag shows — with more singing and comedy and fewer drinking games and phallic humor (among other things). It’s what Munzert calls the art of drag.
“The thing about Jeremy is that he has what very few people have: an unbelievable quick wit and timing,” says Munzert. “He can clap right back to an audience member so fast, and just shut them down. Not in a bad way, but in a funny way.”
Magnolia quickly won over the theatre crowd — and today she stars in a monthly show in Milton to rave reviews and a major following. “Her live singing is next level,” Munzert says, “but it’s that really professional comedic timing that makes him so different than so many other queens.”
Says Bernstein: “I’m lucky enough to come from a very witty family. My dad’s side of the family, they are hilarious. Like, it’s God-given, my comedy. And I knew that’s what I wanted Magnolia to be. I wanted Magnolia to be very retro, incredibly unique and very, very colorful.”
Veteran drag performer Scott Beadle has been appearing as Regina Cox for 38 years. Even he was blown away to witness Magnolia Applebottom lip-syncing to “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” while spinning literal plates atop slender poles.
“I remember seeing that for the first time, and I was like, Oh my God, he’s so talented. Look at this,” he says. “I mean, who’d have thought to even spin plates during a number? He’s always so creative. He’s always thinking.”
But who exactly is Magnolia Applebottom? Bernstein combines a bit of Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller — “those female comedians who were just very, very outspoken and just witty,” he says — with a high school substitute teacher named Mrs. White.
“I got really picked on in high school for being gay and bullied all the time,” Bernstein says. “And [Mrs. White] was always very supportive and she was very protective over me. She was probably one of the funniest and most outgoing people I had ever met. She was just very caring, and she was loud and wacky.
“She always wore bright colors, and she always had some type of either headband or a flower in her hair. And she always wore types of glasses, like cat eyeglasses or funny glasses. So, Magnolia Applebottom kind of encompasses her personality, and Magnolia always has flower and glasses on.”
As Bernstein points out, Jeremy and Magnolia are two different people. The reserved, quiet Jeremy, who grew up in a rural part of Salisbury, Md. as the only outwardly gay student at his high school, seems far from the party-starter that is Magnolia.
“Especially when I finish getting ready and I look in the mirror and she’s there,” he says. “I see her, and she just comes out. It kind of sounds weird, but it’s kind of a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde, and I don’t even see Jeremy anymore.”
As Magnolia, Bernstein has emerged as one of the beach area’s biggest social butterflies. “And I think that’s one of my most favorite things about the summer season, because I meet so many new people and I can make their vacation and they remember me. And they come back and then they meet me out of drag and they have no idea it’s me.”
JEREMY’S LOCAL FAVS
- Beach Poodle Beach
- Restaurant Blue Moon
- Nightlife Diego’s Bar & Nightclub
- New Restaurant Drift
- Cocktail Cosmopolitian
- Nail Salon Pearl Nails and Spa
- Barber Faded Barber Shop
- Sunset Spot Northbeach in Dewey Beach