Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or don’t have access to Netflix and iPlayer – you will be well aware of the global phenomenon that is Ru Paul’s Drag Race. There have been 13 series in the US, 2 in the UK and it has even reached Down Under with the current series of Antipodean queens fighting for the RP crown. Everyone has their favourite queen and part of the fun of the series is following their journey from the first time they walk into the “Werk Room” until they sashay away or snatch the title of Next Drag Superstar. One of the all-time favourite queens is Series 5 and All Stars series 2 contestant Alyssa, who has brought herself from Mesquite, Texas to the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End to present her one-woman show Alyssa Memoirs of a Queen!
A small confession from me at this point. I watched the first two series of Drag Race, then nothing until series 1 of the UK version, at which point I rediscovered the show and have been hooked ever since. So, my knowledge of Alyssa was practically non-existent before the invite came through. However, talking to a real Drag Race aficionado, I was soon put right. He told me that Alyssa Edwards (Justin Johnson) is a worldwide fan favourite – and then went on to extoll her claim to be drag royalty. Intrigued, I went along to see if his analysis of her fame was accurate.
The curtain rose, then after a video montage, the music started and four very attractive young men – Austin Farrell, Luke Vella, Alex Brown and Billy Sawyer – danced furiously and there she was. Alyssa came on stage, looked out beyond the footlights, popped her tongue and the audience went absolutely crazy.
So, what is the attraction? First, she is stunning to look at. According to a drag sister of mine, no queen wears a dress for more than twenty minutes. And Alyssa obviously believes in that maxim, as she changed clothes a lot – both on and off stage. The clothes were gorgeous. Very much in the style that we know and love from our drag queens – for those old enough, think Danny La Rue in her heyday. There was also the hair, which I can sum up in two words, big and beautiful. One wig, which was a particular favourite of mine, was silver and covered in sequins that reflected every light and gave Alyssa an almost halo-like glow around her head. Not surprisingly, the make-up was flawless and the total package an absolute visual delight.
But Alyssa is so much more than just a gorgeous mannequin. She has personality and, really knows how to connect with an audience. At the end of every Drag Race episode, Ru signs off with “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Alyssa definitely loves herself – she happily admits that – but not in an arrogant way. She is personable and likeable. Over the course of the show, she told us about her past, including her very touching coming out story, and gave us an insight into her life as a diva with a capital ‘D’. She also lip-synched and danced her way through some fabulous songs, and while the stage is not that big, Alyssa and the boys really performed some awesome choreography.
For me, the second act, which really concentrated on the Drag Race years, was harder to follow – not being totally up on my DR herstory – but she was still engaging and kept me chucking along. Those that were fully in the know were really in their element and occasionally shouted encouragement or comments. Alyssa handled these good-natured heckles with aplomb and, unlike many drag queens, talked back without resorting to putting people down. The performance felt very natural and I’m guessing that she went off-script many times as she went through her stories. This was not a problem as I could have sat and listened to her Texan accent for hours.
The final number came all too soon and, while in my opinion was not as spectacular as I was hoping for, was a great way to round off a wonderful trip getting to know Alyssa, and finally understanding why her seat on the drag race throne is assured for a good many years to come.
Review by Terry Eastham
From young gay boy in Mesquite, Texas, to global fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 5 and a triumphant return to season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Alyssa is hailed as one of “the most powerful drag queens in America” by New York Magazine.
Having recently starred in the critically acclaimed Netflix docuseries Dancing Queen, Ms. Edwards now brings her fully realized autobiographical extravaganza, complete with iconic costumes, high kicks and splits, phenomenal dancers and outrageous tongue pops to the Vaudeville Theatre this summer.
Don’t miss the world premiere of this much-anticipated drag spectacular, where herstory will be brought to life!
Writer Brad Loekle
Director Spencer Noll
Designer Libby Tood
Lighting Designer Gillian Tan
Press Representative: Kevin Wilson
Marketing: Jan Baister (JB Creative Consulting)
Graphic Design: Steph Pyne
Photography: Dillon Del Toro
Video Creation: Dekel Lazimi Lev
Production Management: Ian Taylor and Jerome Reid for eStage
Produced by New Frame Productions