Whitefish meets the velvet rope

“I knew as soon as I was born here that someday my people would come and visit,” says Severt Philleo, a previous multi-year “Best of Missoula” winner in both “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” categories. Once described by this newspaper as “the undisputed potentate of cross-dressing drama,” Philleo, now a part-time Whitefish resident, waits in Whitefish’s Club Central on Fri., July 23, for the debut of “Prosperity,” a Friday night club gala spectacle unlike anything this city has ever seen. Philleo cavorts inside a white canvas tent, seated at a table covered in a white tablecloth and adorned with calla lilies and candles. On the enormous screen before him, Lawrence of Arabia plays while pulse-pounding house music provides an alternate soundtrack. “Punk rock waitresses” donning mohawks circulate with martinis and Ahi tuna tenderloin with wasabi crème fresh, topped with caviar.

Philleo, who sports a blue blazer and a partially unbuttoned white dress shirt, explains that “his people” are “the chic.”

And here they are, some wearing designer sunglasses even though they’re inside and it’s nighttime.

At this point, a question is undoubtedly popping up in more minds than one: Where the hell am I?

Since it opened in 2000, Whitefish’s Club Central has invoked neither guest lists nor an exclusive VIP section guarded by velvet rope. But all that is changing now, courtesy promoter Isaiah Garefino.

“The inspiration for ‘Prosperity’ was all the crazy club and lounge experiences that I’ve had living in New York City and Los Angeles,” says Garefino, who was born in Libby and raised between Kalispell and Bigfork before moving to Manhattan (New York’s Manhattan) at age 18, and later to Los Angeles. Garefino redefines the term “people person”: He’s in love with everyone, a professional schmoozer. “I hung out in the most crème de la crème places—world-famous clubs and bars,” says Garefino of his bi-coastal experiences. “They’d always do the most amazing things and when I’d come home to Montana and tell my friends about them, their eyes would get as big as saucers and they’d be like, ‘Wow, I’d love to experience something like that.’”

Now they can. On the debut night of “Prosperity,” Garefino ascends to the balcony, his hair perfectly sculpted to look accidentally unkempt, as though he had just awakened. He lifts a box full of fake snow to a blower and soon the “snow” is pouring down on the dancers below. Meanwhile two performance artists, Rose Goldthwait and Loretta Masciullo, pose and stare. They wear white underwear and their bodies are covered in white makeup, except around their eyes, which are dark, almost black, making the pair look like exquisite corpses.

“We’re just here to add character to the set,” says Goldthwait, who spends most of her time designing clothes in San Francisco. “Whitefish needs more things like this.”

At the entrance to the tent, Bigfork resident Julia Daigle plays the role of “bitchy door girl,” accepting $30 from a group of three.

“Only people on the guest list can go in the tent,” Daigle says, “but I’m letting some other people in tonight because we want to make money. Then, later, we can start being more selective.”

Daigle says she never thought she’d witness this kind of scene in her neck of the woods—until she met Garefino.

“Isaiah is an entrepreneur,” she says.

By 11 p.m., a strange scenario is taking shape: For the first time in the recent memory of any local nightspot, the women in the club seem to outnumber the men.

Soon after, a limo pulls up in front of Club Central. Out steps Anna Zelezny—though for this night she’ll be known as “Miss Kitten”—in a glittering blue dress. Doing an impression of the real Miss Kitten, a Swedish pop star whom she happens to closely resemble, Zelezny enters the tent and struts to the stage. Garefino “injects” her cheek with a fake shot of Botox, and then Zelezny begins lip-synching to the music of Miss Kitten.

“I’m rich, I’m famous. I’m the story, I’m the star,” she mouths. “Sex, drugs and rock and roll—it’s over. I decide it’s over.”

When she’s done, Garefino shuttles her out of the room, “protecting” her from a paparazzi that isn’t there, but one can use one’s imagination. It’s all very decadent, choreographed, outlandish and, well, L.A.

Is Whitefish up for it? That remains to be seen, but Garefino certainly thinks so.

“There’s a lot of businesses that I’ve talked to that have ideas like this that are really good, but when it comes down to it, they wimp out. They’re like, ‘I don’t think people are ready for that here.’ Well, I think that’s insulting,” Garefino says.

Garefino adds that the idea behind guest lists and velvet ropes is not so much to be exclusive as to ensure that everyone in the room feels connected to one another via invitation, a status Garefino refers to as “a never-ending flow of giving and receiving.”

“A lot of times people are intimidated by guest lists and velvet ropes,” Garefino says. “But those are there for a reason, because let’s admit it: When you go to a bar, how many jerks do you meet? I don’t want jerks at my party. When you create that kind of unity within the room, people feel more comfortable, and then, under those circumstances, it oozes with sex and glamour.”

At the same time, Garefino says, “I don’t want to sound like a snob. Anybody’s going to get in as long as they’re nice people, you know? Just be nice. But you’re not getting in just because you’re wearing all Prada.”

Reaction to Prosperity’s debut was mostly positive, though one Missoulian in the crowd noted that she felt as though she was at her high school prom, her tone indicating this was not a good thing. And stepping outside of the tent, Club Central remained Club Central, complete with $8 buckets o’ Bud and Sports Center reverberating from the television screens behind the bar.

Still, Garefino says, it’s a start.

Upstairs in the backstage area, Ian, a hair-designer for Soucie and Soucie in Kalispell who helped performers attain Garefino’s hairstyle vision, sums it up thusly: “We’re trying to bring big city to little town.”

“Nobody’s ever done anything like this here before,” Garefino says. “People are dying for something like this. There may be people that visit from the cities just for hiking and fishing and camping, but that’s not the bulk of the people that live here. The bulk of the people I hear say, ‘I wish I could get a good cosmopolitan,’ ‘I wish I could hear house music.’ I’ve been doing the research on this. And I want to give them what they want.”

Back inside the tent, Philleo, for one, seems pleased.

“My grandmother always said that ‘We came from Europe and they moved us west until we couldn’t go any further. And if some of that ‘bad behavior’ comes back to entertain us, all the better,’” he says. “That’s how I feel about it, and I’m a native-born Montanan—who loves to shop in San Francisco.”

Doors for “Prosperity” open at 10 p.m. every Fri. night at Club Central in Whitefish. For guest list reservations, call 250-7887.

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