Squeezing through the crowd in the lobby of the Durham Performing Arts Center on Sunday night, one might have mistaken the Triangle’s most popular performance destination for the world’s largest, and most diverse, gay club. This is RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons: 2016 Extravaganza Tour!
Past the crowd of gay couples, tribes of drunk grandmothers, colorfully dressed tweens, and surprisingly few drag queens (surely an unspoken non-competition agreement), you enter an auditorium lit for a club scene, with music provided by Season 7’s own Pearl (official Drag Race tour DJ).
The slightly tipsy audience take their seats as some of the world’s best-known drag performers hit the stage in a Little Mermaid-inspired song-and-dance number, complete with bubble machines and, well, mermaids.
A little background: in 2008, world-famous drag star and supermodel RuPaul got the green light from the LogoTV network to premier the world’s first TV reality drag competition program: RuPaul’s Drag Race. Think American Idol meets America’s Next Top Model meets Project Runway. In drag. Each week, RuPaul pushes His Girls through artistic and performance-based challenges in order to determine “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Just over a week ago, Bob the Drag Queen was crowned the winner of Season 8.
The international concert tour, certainly intended to keep the show in the public eye and ear between seasons, stars different queens depending on the venue. We were honored in Durham with Adore Delano, Alaska Thunderf***, Courtney Act, Ginger Minj, Miss Fame, Phi Phi O’Hara, Violet Chachki, Pearl, and the show’s own co-judge and early 1990s pop singer Michelle Visage.
The expected glitz and glam were all there. Comedy bits (such as “Snatch Game,” a parody of the 1970s hit show Match Game), lip syncing, striptease, dance, and vocal performances carried us through the more than two hours of drag ecstasy — already performed in Charlotte, NC, just a few days prior.
Michelle Visage’s very strong statements against N.C. House Bill 2 emboldened a like-minded crowd. She received a standing ovation when she said her reason for not boycotting North Carolina was to lend her loud voice to the cause where it is most needed. Visage and the cast welcomed members of the N.C. Human Rights Campaign on stage to speak about the HB2 battle and encourage audience members to sign petition forms at the event. Visage and Courtney Act then gave the finger (literally) to N.C. Governor Pat McCrory. (At the Charlotte performance, a few days prior, they thanked Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts specifically for her work in supporting human rights in North Carolina.)
A few songs performed seemed to be particularly suited to the HB2 fight and for the LGBTQ citizens of North Carolina, including a passionate rendition of Madonna’s “Take a Bow” by Visage, accompanied by photographs from the Stonewall Riots. Add to this a new comedy character (portrayed by Courtney Act) named Caroline North — a preacher’s wife who attempted to pray-away-the-gay of one male audience member through an act of amorous congress.
What really set this concert apart from the TV series was the opportunity for the queens to really loosen up those pipes and shine vocally (something rarely done on the series). Adore Delano (American Idol Season 7 contestant Danny Noriega) stole the show with multiple powerhouse numbers including Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).”
Male soprano Courtney Act performed vocal acrobatics while Ginger Minj brought laughs with a lip sync of Adele’s “Hello” and Violet Chachki served up Bettie Page realness, with a seductive striptease.
For some reason, Miss Fame was allowed to spend five minutes of stage time painting a portrait of … someone. This was certainly the evening’s Pee Break.
The most energetic highlight of the night was a 30-minute tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a favorite of LGBTQ kids across the country for decades, and certainly a part of the Triangle’s arts history. When you tell this crowd to take a “jump to the left,” you know you’re going to get hundreds of people on their feet.
While the night was marketed as an all-ages show, something reiterated by Visage in the opening speech, it was anything but. About half the show was certainly Rated R. However, as Visage pointed out, if you’re the kind of parent bringing your kids to RuPaul’s Drag Race, you know exactly what you’re in for. If not, you should probably do some better research before doling out the dollars.
True fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race probably enjoyed the event much more than those unfamiliar with it. However, there was certainly something for everybody on Sunday night — especially for the teams of drunken white women that seemed to be all around us. It was certainly a gay-bar crowd.
More than 20 performances remain on this tour. The show now moves through the Southeast, the Midwest, and Canada, wrapping up in Nashville in June 27th.
RuPAUL’S DRAG RACE BATTLE OF THE SEASONS: 2016 EXTRAVAGANZA TOUR (Durham Performing Arts Center, May 22).
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/rupauls-drag-race-fan-favorites-coming-to-dpac-may-22-2016.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (LOGOtv series, 2009-present): http://www.logotv.com/shows/rupauls-drag-race (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1353056/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/rupaulsdragrace (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/RuPaulsDragRace (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuPaul’s_Drag_Race (Wikipedia).
RuPaul (nee RuPaul Andre Charles, actress, drag queen, and model): http://www.rupaul.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0750412/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/RuPaul (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/rupaul (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuPaul (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/rutube.
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dustin K. Britt is a Raleigh native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches high school writing and literature. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.