Arts preview: Nina West Presents!

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Nina West

“I want sing-along movies with Nina West at the Gateway Film Center, and I want them now!” – Columbus movie musical fans, channeling their inner Veruca Salt

Have them you shall, as Nina West Presents! returns to the Gateway in 2018 with six films, beginning with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) on Saturday, March 31.

“It's just like watching at home, but with a drag queen,” Andrew Levitt said in a recent phone interview.

Levitt-as-West meets with audience members before the movie and sings and dances through multiple costume changes during.

“We encourage people to come in costume. I run up and down the stairs, sing along with the audience and invite people to come down to the front and dance during the movie,” Levitt said. “These are such serious times, so I think it's important to let ourselves play a little bit, to let our hair down and have some fun.”

Levitt said the communal experience of seeing movies on the big screen with a theater full of people is still capable of creating a special experience, given the many and varied options for consuming film and media online and in isolation. Making the experience fully participatory just enhances that experience, he said, and creates an entirely new dynamic.

“Everyone's singing at the top of their lungs, and you'll have a hetero man with his wife and two kids sitting next to three gay guys dressed as nuns and watching ‘The Sound of Music,'” Levitt said. (In a past season, anyway — “TSOM” doesn't feature in this year's slate of films.)

Levitt said the number of younger audience members has steadily increased, and was especially notable last year. While perhaps that speaks to the increased success of the series, Levitt said a more important byproduct is the ability to start conversations that lead to awareness, understanding and acceptance.

“It speaks to my drag character and my persona, because I'm just a big kid at heart. … I get to represent a completely different side of life than kids are often exposed to, and do it in a super fun way. I'm almost this Barney-esque character that allows families to have a dialogue and a conversation that's really important, but in a fun way,” Levitt said. “I recently did a reading at the Westerville Public Library and I'm really starting to find a completely different calling and to see how my idea of what I'm doing is evolving.”

The 2018 Nina West Presents! season also includes Levitt's all-time favorite movie, “Mary Poppins,” in May, “The Wizard of Oz” in August and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in October. Levitt recognizes the need to get that one right, since it's long been a staple of participatory film experiences.

“People are going to have expectations, and I want to exceed them,” Levitt said.

Gateway Film Center

6 p.m. Saturday, March 31

1550 N. High St., South Campus