It’s a brisk Tuesday night and I’m sitting with my wife at Rehab Bar and Grill, home of Divas of the Grove, waiting for a quick chat with the Divas before their rehearsal. The name of the bar, located at the corner of Sarah and Manchester, could be interpreted as a cheeky take on the sometimes-substance-fueled nightlife scene, or on the Grove’s rehabilitation from a shoddy, dimly lit street speckled with a handful of dive bars to the robust, loud-and-proud (and high-rent) neighborhood it has become.
Chad Fox saunters over, sits down and immediately orders us a round of beers and Victoria Bombs.
“Screw them bitches, what do you need to know?” asks Chad Fox, aka Victoria Rose.
“Chastity is under the weather, so the girls may not be making it tonight. Screw them bitches, what do you need to know?” Fox declares with a contagious laugh. Also known as Victoria Rose, Fox is part owner of Rehab and one of the show’s resident Divas — head mother, if you will. He is ready to talk, and the stories and the whiskey flow for hours across a bedrock of personal and community history, touching on friends and loved ones lost, on rebirth and second chances at life and, of course, his pride and joy: the Divas.
Divas of the Grove is Rehab’s weekly firestorm of fabulous, igniting the stage every Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. The show features star-studded performances packed with choreography and production value rarely seen in the Midwest.
Fox originally started in Sedalia, Missouri, when drag was still very counter-culture. He eventually made his way to Springfield to work in one of the top venues in the middle of the state, where the welcome wasn’t always warm.
“We used to line up empty beer bottles in front of our stage, so that when the hecklers would walk by and throw beer bottles at us, we had our own already lined up to pitch back,” he says.
Today, Victoria is known for her extravagant performances. They’re artistic and at times controversial and shocking. Keeping it fresh, real and daring is what the Divas of the Grove take pride in: a little bit country, a little bit rock & roll, a little bit R&B. And sometimes, the stage may be lit in a literal ring of fire — symbolism is very close to Victoria’s heart.
Entertainment and theatrical drama are never in short supply during these shows.
“I bit into and shattered a beer bottle one performance, because I wasn’t getting the reaction from the crowd that I wanted,” Victoria says proudly. “The next morning I had to go to my dentist. He was like ‘What the hell?!’”
The Divas work endlessly to provide new material that complements each other’s varying styles while providing a diverse mix of music, choreography and fashion. It’s a cohesive, fiery combination, but Victoria Rose has designed a cast that depends on chemistry, not just combustibles.
I caught up with the other Divas online.
“My favorite moment is when all of us get to work together in the same show,” Diva Calexus Carrington-Steele explains. “We all have weekends where we are off and don’t always get to be together, but when we do get to do a show together there is a kind of magic that happens that always makes the show amazing!”
“Becoming a Diva is one of the best decisions I ever made in my drag career,” says Chastity Valentino.
Alton native Chastity Valentino, the Divas’ newest show director, says she found a place in the St. Louis drag scene seven years ago and has never looked back.
“Becoming a Diva is one of the best decisions I ever made in my drag career,” she says. “I have learned so much about drag, professionalism, business, pageantry and life!” A leader in the trans community, Valentino has been an inspiration to others in her hometown and the region.
Turning the party up to an eleven is Miss Robyn Hearts (Miss Gay St Louis America 2014). “One of my favorite memories is when I crowdsurfed during the show and the entire place went crazy!” she recounts. “It definitely was an amazing moment, much like a Coyote Ugly-style night. I was dancing on the bar, then it turned into me asking the crowd if they would catch me if I crowdsurfed … they were there for it, so I went with it!”
Calexus is all about the family aspect that she experiences when she walks into Rehab and up on the stage. Her experience with the Divas began last year, when she was brought on for a month in a trial run. She recalls a defining moment on the last Saturday performance of her tryout.
“I knew this was my moment, and right then and there I started dancing harder than I ever had before, twirling around while the rain was pouring on me,” says Calexus Carrington-Steele.
“I was performing on the patio,” she says. “It was unbelievably hot outside and then it started to rain, hard. I had never been in that situation before and wasn’t sure what to do since everyone was scrambling to get under the umbrellas and tent. I knew this was my moment, and right then and there I started dancing harder than I ever had before, twirling around while the rain was pouring on me.”
After that performance, Victoria brought Calexus on as a permanent Diva.
Rehab and its Divas of the Grove have grown a tremendous audience full of loyal followers and enthusiastic newcomers every week. With an eye for talent, Rehab’s owners have taken a once-small stage and created a legacy in the Divas of the Grove and in the success of Rehab itself. Time and time again we see businesses we love have to close their doors, but the dedicated and loving staff at Rehab just continue to keep surprising us with a every high-heeled, explosive turn.