Review: Ru Paul’s Drag Race – Battle of the Seasons Live – Luna Park Big Top, Sydney (02.07.16)

The stars of cult TV series Ru Paul’s Drag Race got ready to lip-sync for their lives at Sydney’s Luna Park Big Top this past weekend, arriving in a flurry of sequins, glitter, fake lashes and vertigo-inducing high heels. Fans delighted in performances from some of their favourite artists of the last seven seasons, but those less familiar with the all-stars may have been left a little dragged down by the end of the show.

Like any big night out on the town, the evening started with the group on point, looking fabulous, amped up and ready to party. But sadly, the end of the show was a little less than glamorous, with performances reminiscent of falling hair, smudged eye-liner and lipstick dregs; more of a miss-match of vocal talents, diva moments (and not the good kind) and questionable song choices than the stellar performances of the first half of the show.

Ru Paul Drag Race Live

Even though the event was billed as a ‘Battle of the Seasons’, the only real battling I saw was from audience members trying to get an autograph from special guest Adam Lambert post-show. On the stage it was every Queen for herself and other than the obviously more raucous cheers for some of the crowd favourites, there was no opportunity to name a winner, or even to see anyone break a nail while clawing at her rival’s eyes.

To be fair, this was a show for the fans, and it certainly delivered opportunities to showcase the style of performance each artist has become known for. But the event was also a platform for these once-were-lip-syncers to spruik their own musical forays post season, and it was here that the production began to lose momentum.

The show opened with a big cast medley of adapted numbers from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, think Off of TV (Under the Sea) and Poor Unfortunate Queens (Poor Unfortunate Souls) – a clever and engaging piece in a style that could (and should) have been repeated later in the performance.

Host Michelle Visage then gave an introductory address, in principal to let the audience know what they were in for but mostly to cover the wardrobe changes going on behind the scenes. This could easily have been a dull, cliché-filled set piece, but Visage was surprisingly eloquent, delivering a profound message to the Sydney crowd. She spoke about the LGBTIQ+ community being a place for anyone who doesn’t fit in, and thanked the parents in the audience for standing by their gay children. She also delivered a clear anti-bullying message, urging women and gay men in particular to lift each other up, instead of tearing one another down.

Michelle Visage
Michelle Visage

It was then over to the Queens, who were given two performance slots each, commencing with a personalised video-package introduction that showcased their time on the show and their subsequent career highs.

Special mention goes to:

  • Adore Delano opening the show with a very impressive live rendition of Bang Bang – My Baby Shot Me Down. Delano can certainly belt out a tune (a fact fans of the show will note was perhaps her undoing in her series – you were on American Idol, you can sing, we get it) and provides an interesting emo/grunge take on traditional drag fashion.
  • Sharon Needles, in one of the best costumes of the night, who gave us a touching tribute to David Bowie with Space Oddity (also sung live). She later appeared as Frank N Furter in the obligatory Rocky Horror tribute section, demonstrating why she received critical acclaim for playing the role in a number of American tours.
  • Violet Chachki, who showed off every inch of her famously tiny waist during an edgy burlesque routine, leaving almost nothing to our imagination.
  • Manila Luzon and her sparkly pineapple dress – the outfit of the night – in which she lip-synced (finally someone NOT singing live) to I’m Every Woman. She was every inch the traditional Drag Queen in this performance, with facial expressions that defied gravity.
Manila Luzon
Manila Luzon

Designed as a circuit breaker between individual performances, the production then attempted to capture one of the elements that makes the TV show so entertaining – the interaction between the contestants as they participate in a variety of challenges. The producers tried their best with a live version of The Snatch Game (where the artists impersonate famous people on a made-up game show similar to Blankety-Blanks) and the laughs were certainly flowing freely, thanks mostly to a scarily accurate Caitlyn Jenner. But this segment was the only one of its kind, and the production would have benefited from another similar group engagement piece.

Sharon Needles
Sharon Needles

Bar a few standouts – like back-to-back numbers from Detox, whose hysterical Meryl Streep-inspired mannequin performance of Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now was followed by an on-stage wardrobe change and excellent audience interaction in a rendition of George Michael’s Too Funky – the rest of the show seemed to fall a bit flat. This may have been due to the the large number of original songs (none of which were familiar to this reviewer), the lack-lustre mini-group tribute to the Rocky Horror Show, or just the factor of an audience who had been standing for many hours in high heels.

It may also have been because of the impact of the Big Top venue, far too large for the purpose. Each artist seemed swamped by the massive main stage and in desperate need of more catwalk length, especially because there were no live cameras to project their faces onto big screens. The stage was also too high, and the wide, standing-only audience space may have provided plenty of room to dance but gave the event an empty, cavernous feeling, especially if you weren’t lucky enough to have secured the expensive VIP section tickets.

Adore Delano
Adore Delano

The second half did bring us another special guest in Jessie J, who delivered a thunderous performance of “Bang Bang” and gave the Queens a run for their money in the fabulous body stakes! But it also saw the return of Visage with a rendition of Madonna’s The Show is Over, delivered against a backdrop of footage tracking the US government’s decision to legalise gay marriage. This was not so much an empowering anthem but an enema to the already flailing attention spans of the crowd. And, considering Australia is still yet to grant the same rights to its gay and lesbian community, perhaps a little insensitive.

Likewise, the show ended with a whimper, in another group number (far, far shorter than the opening and for some unknown reason featuring an all-black wardrobe) which was really no more than an opportunity for everyone to bow and then sashay away to the after party (which I’m sure is where the real fun began).

Entertaining, but definitely one for the fans.

Photo credit: Mahlie Jewell, Graphics for Good