RuPaul brings her Drag Race circus to the Danforth
On Friday night at the Danforth Music Hall, a different kind of circus came to town. A glimmering gaggle of glorious "girls" were led into battle under the banner of the original Glamazon - RuPaul's Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons. If you haven't seen the show yet, best to crawl out from beneath that very large rhinestone you've been living under (not unlike those we saw on stage).
RuPaul has stormed the airwaves with her show, which pits drag queen against hopeful drag queen in a race for the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar." With season 7 debuting on Monday night, this local visit from drag race alumni was a perfectly timed reminder of why the show is so popular.
Michelle Visage, our MC for the night and RuPaul's long time partner in crime, opens the night by reminding us that she is Celebrity Big Brother's 5th place winner (beating out the universally loathed Perez Hilton). She confirms her bond with the audience and the cast by telling us how she was raised by the drag and trans community of New York in her teens, takes a couple of tips in her beloved bosom and gets the show started.
Alaska 5000, one of the show's most successful stars, delivered a horrifyingly hilarious rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" followed by a flawless welcome-to-the-show "Rules of Engagment" routine - "Flash photography is MANDATORY."
Her second set served up the mantra that every queen in the building was chanting for the rest of the night "I don't wear wigs - this is my hair." Alaska was something of a co-host for the evening, garnering more stage time and applause than any of other other queens. For me she completely carried the show.
Ivy Winters, renowned for her skill with a sewing needle and her carnival craft, did not fail to deliver. Her first set saw her snap through six stunningly gorgeous on stage quick changes (with the help of her adorable fiancee), followed by a neon blacklit juggling set. Her second set featured her famed stilt dancing routine in a gorgeous butterfly carnivalesque costume. Ivy knows how to own a stage.
Ben de la Creme was the burlesque bombshell of the troupe. Her physical comedy translated so well from screen to stage and had me in stitches. She appeared on stage, a vision in salmon sequin, and showed us how drag burlesque really should be done. After shucking her gown and boa, layer upon layer of nude, tasseled bra was removed to reveal another gag. Her comic timing and overall presence managed to capture the attention of the crowded hall without any need for a lip synch.
Following de la's high camp and high energy, Darienne Lake didn't really have much to offer. She came on dressed as I Dream of Jeannie to a Tom's Diner cover and wiggled her nose and body for the next 6 minutes. This is when I noticed a number of people take the opportunity to freshen their drinks and take a bathroom break. Lady Lake was cute, but as Michelle Visage sang to us later "ya gotta have a gimmick".
RuPaul's Drag Race is full of mini challenges and we were treated to a staple of the challenges live on stage. Three audience members were selected, including our own local star Allysin Chaynes, to be dressed in garbage couture by three members of the cast and judged by the Queen of Trash - Alaska. Although our local girl won Visage's heart "I love a bear in a frock" and a $20 tip from the audience, Ivy Winters won the challenge - which didn't surprise anybody.
Jinkx Monsoon was the only drag race winner in this tour's lineup. We expect a lot from our Drag Superstars and Jinkx has a fantastic reputation as a singer, so when her microphone kept glitching during a lung busting belt out of the witch's songs from Into the Woods, the awkward was too much to bear.
I got the feeling too that a lot of the audience were not familiar with the character or the music (Meryl Streep people, come on!) but they cheered politely. She looked magnificent, but at this point in the show the audience needed something more upbeat to keep them engaged.
In keeping with the theme of witches in musicals, Pandora Boxx walked on stage in a screen accurate costume of Elsa from Frozen, lip-synching to "Let it Go." I was a little take aback at first: Pandora is known as a Comedy queen and here she is giving full glamour! But she let that go, oh yes she did.
The family friendly frozen veneer rapidly dissolved into a side splitting ode to cocaine, mashing as many drug references and facial ticks as possible into her time on stage with audiovisual aids and a bag of white confetti. After seeing Pandora's disappointing set last year, I was pleasantly surprised and became reconfirmed fan.
Jiggly Caliente served our heads on a platter in a beautiful Queen of Hearts costume, wielding a bedazzled axe and hitting us with hip hop moves, hot beats, and an even hotter costume reveal. I didn't really know what to expect from Jiggly but she delivered the energizing eyeball kick that I needed after standing on stilettos on the slanted Music Hall auditorium for this long.
The Snatch Game is when the queens get the chance to showcase their impersonation skills. Alaska delivered a better than real life LaGanja Estranja (of season six), taking every well edited Estranja soundbite from the show and making it a punchline. Jinkx stuck with her retro schtick and put together some form of Bette Davis, that took a little too long to really hit the mark but gave us some of the hardest hitting and most hilarious "reads".
Darienne Lake gave us Paula Deen and the "N word" (and again people left red-faced to freshen their drinks), but almost redeemed herself with the line "How could i be racist? I had a Mexican omelet for lunch, french toast for breakfast, and black coffee". Pandora was meant to be Courtney Love, but it really didn't translate - she was booed for a cheap joke about Kurt Cobain's corpse. Again, Alaska really carried this part of the show.
The whole cast came back together for a final group number, and the girls came out to play with the locals after they scrubbed out post-show. It's always good to see royals out with the common people! I'll be sure to tune in for the next cast of hopefuls on Monday.
Writing by Judy Virago
Photos by Alejandro Santiago
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