Rarely has there been a week when I have been more in need of some ultra-cheesy sequins-and-glitter fun, and, fortunately, my trip to Heels of Glory, the “drag action musical,” had been pre-booked. My forays into drag culture have been expanding in the last few years – thanks to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, the Green Carnation, and the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club – but this year has been on a real high as I had invitations to competing nights watching RuPaul’s Drag Race (which I never saw before this season – disadvantage of not owning a TV) and a fairy drag mother who wanted to catch me up with what I had missed. Modern drag culture, BRING IT!
However, as a regular theater goer, I was feeling quite a bit of trepidation about this show. I’ve been to several vanity productions where someone’s noble idea was given far more attention that it ever needed (when being tied in a sack and tossed in a river was what it deserved); would this be one of those things? Drag queens who might shine in their stage act reduced to mouthing clunky jokes; flabby songs that failed to take flight; and a supporting cast clearly brought in from this year’s crop of drama school grads and completely lacking in chemistry?
But the plot sounded so outrageous and full of my kind of humor that I kept my hopes level, if not high. I mean, just read this description of the first scene: “Sumptuous velvet curtains open to reveal a stunningly glamorous drag queen. This is Splendorella (Topsie Redfern AKA Nathan Kiley). Full of regal grace, she welcomes us to La Douche, the world’s number one drag club, with her signature song, Heels of Glory.” And then we have a baby drag queen (Honey – Matthew Floyd Jones) and her James Bond loving tomboy sidekick (Jay – Susan Harrison) – it just seemed so very promising!
To my great surprise, this show was actually as much fun as I had hoped for and more. Yes, we had glorious glamazons in sequined gowns and towering high heels (and maybe a touch too much eye shadow and lip liner), but we also had extremely strong character performances from Jay and arch-villainess Allura Supreme (Sarah-Louise Young). And the backup characters – the “silent but deadly” (this is a song!) enforcer henchmen – were like a troupe of Marx Brothers pumping up the comedy levels.
In addition, there were so many things this show did that I appreciated, from the fact that the friendship between a young butch girl and a young drag queen were treated like, well, just a thing that happens, with both of them free to be their own selves and tease each other and yet still respecting each other for their differences. The drag queens themselves didn’t turn into horrible catty stereotypes (although there was some teasing of each other during an on-stage insult competition – that managed to not get genuinely nasty, quite a line to walk!), and actually wound up dealing with some of the issues (of aging, identity, and other things) that the community as a group faces, but managing it with a light touch and overall lack of meanness … well! And it had a singalonga, participatory disco dancing, and a happy ending. Really, you could not have asked for a more cheerful evening out. My friends had a great evening – and I think there are a lot more people out there that will love this show as much as we did. If you want to “get down with YOUR bad self,” Heels of Glory is just the show to take you there. Glasses of prosecco HIGHLY recommended.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 16, 2016. It continues through June 26th.)