Drag Queen Christmas 2020 (A Red Ribbon Review)
The following blog is written for Red Ribbon Reviews, an annual project dedicated to spreading AIDS and HIV awareness online. In an especially chaotic time such as this year, it is more important than ever to use what resources we have to help those in need such as those suffering from AIDS and HIV. Please consider donating to a charity that offers treatment to those afflicted and preventative measures, such as one of the organizations listed here: https://www.hiv.gov/federal-response/pepfar-global-aids/global-hiv-aids-organizations
It’s hard to believe how much of a cultural powerhouse RuPaul’s Drag Race has become. When it first began it was a niche reality show on Logol that didn’t leave much of an initial impact, but over the last decade it’s exploded in popularity to gain mass mainstream appeal. It’s inspired lines of merchandise, international spin-offs, and copycat shows. A number of the queens who have competed have even been propelled into superstardom. Many have even participated in several tours to visit cities around the country (and in some cases other countries) to perform for their adoring fans. One of these programs is the Drag Fans tour sponsored by Murray and Peter, which has been running since 2017. However, this was the first year that the tour did not take place due to COVID-19, but that didn’t mean the drag fanbase would be denied. The company put together an on-demand Christmas show that assembled several queens along with one drag king together on stage to entertain viewers while both audience and performers stayed safe and healthy. And I have to say, like so many entertainers who worked to adapt to the new reality of online, socially distant theater, they succeeded admirably.
Note: Throughout this review I will be referring to the performers using the pronouns specific to the gender of their personas, queens as feminine and kings as masculine, to avoid any confusion.
Trinity the Tuck and Nina West host the show, getting in the expected jokes about how the holidays are going to be very different in the time of a pandemic, leading to a rather predictable joke where the applause from the audience is revealed to be pre-recorded and the auditorium is completely empty with the exception of Lady Bunny. It’s not the strongest opening, but thankfully they do get some moments to shine in between acts, such as Trinity showing a clip from a past tour where she told off a humorless heckler, some banter with the backstage crew, as well as a few moments that come later in the show
Since this is an act-by-act format I’ll be offering a quick analysis of each performance and offering my thoughts.
- Shea Coulee kicks things off with the first act, pantomiming a scene from the Jim Carrey Grinch movie in a full femme-Grinch bodysuit before lip-synching to several numbers including Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy (appropriately) and Nicki Minaj’s Roman’s Revenge. I didn’t really care for the pantomime segments, but everything else was delightfully campy as she put so much energy into the exaggerated moves to capture the Seussian style. I also have to give her credit for all the effort put into designing her bodysuit, as it really looks like something you’d see in a film or stage adaptation.
- Jackie Cox performs a Christmas-themed parody of Call Me Maybe. While I’m not a fan of the original song, Jackie makes it work as the song is reworked with a jazzy 20s/30s vibe, accompanied by some very impressive choreography. As she later explains in her address to the audience, it felt appropriate to kick off the first Christmas of the new decade with a throwback to the original Roaring 20s, and it definitely worked.
- Landon Cider of Dragula fame performs an epic heavy metal cover of All I Want for Christmas while decked out in a rather intimidating Krampus costume. While I’ve never seen Dragula I have heard that it leans more into darker themes and horror vibes, and given Landon’s stage presence I can understand how he won Season 3. As with Shea, I have to give him credit for all the work put into designing his outfit to stand out from traditional drag. It definitely left an impact.
- Brooke Lynn Hytes lipsynch a Celine Dion’s rendition of O Holy Night , and it’s just beautiful. I appreciate the more lighthearted and comedic side of drag, but the medium can also be used for serious, heartfelt performances, and this is a perfect example. Though the most restrained, subtle act by far, Brooke puts everything into delivering the movements and gestures that give a wonderful song the glory it deserves.
- Jaida Essence Hall brings the energy level back up again with an original song (at least I assume it’s original as I can’t find any information when Googling the lyrics.) While I love the upbeat big-band inspired swing music, I can’t say I’m a fan of the lyrics as it seems like it’s trying a little too hard by just listing generic holiday experiences. Still, Jaida is giving it her all, coming off at times like she’s channeling the spirit of Eartha Kitt. It’s the sign of a truly skilled performer when they can take a lackluster piece and elevate it into something more enjoyable.
- Thorgy Thor plays a rendition of Silent Night on violin. The act starts out very subdued and almost somber, however after Thorgy takes a shot, she ramps up the energy to accompany a backing track by Trans Siberian Orchestra. As a good Irish boy, I always appreciate some good string music. I also appreciate that Thorgy used her number to show off some of her other talents; lip-synching is fine, but I’m always curious to see what else queens can do when on stage.
- Lady Bunny gets an opportunity to take the stage herself with an original parody song called Santa’s Spreading COVID Around. While I’m sure some people will object to the subject matter, given how stressful and chaotic this year has been, any opportunity to laugh is welcome, and this song definitely provides that with some clever lyrics taking jabs at COVID conspiracy theorists and a failed attempt at a dance from a sick Santa. Bunny proves why she’s been a staple in the drag community for years by bringing big hair, big laughs, and some big… you know. Plus, it’s nice to hear a Christmas parody song that isn’t one of the usual Bob Rivers tracks that gets played over and over again this time of year.
- Sasha Velour, one of my absolute favorite queens, pays tribute to her Russian roots by lipsynching to a medley of songs as she gradually sheds a Matryoshka-doll inspired costume. I’ve always admired Sasha for her appreciation of the avant-garde and unprofessional, going for high concept themes in her performances that still retain a playful side to them. It’s always impressive to see how elaborate and creative her routines can be. You can tell she’s having a lot of fun, and so will everyone else who watches.
- Nina gets a break from co-hosting duties to perform her original song Jingle Juice. Once again I can’t say this is one of my favorite pieces since it’s got a country sound to it and it’s a song about drinking, neither of which I’m a fan of. Still, as with Jaida, Nina does her best to put her own vibrant, sultry energy into the performance, and for that I have to give some credit.
Oh, and all these performances… that’s just the first half. There are still several more acts along with some moments between the queens that are sure to bring even more laughs and cheers. But I don’t want to spoil any more. This really is a show that needs to be experienced.
So as you can guess from my recap, I highly recommend checking out this special, even if you’re only a casual Drag Race viewer. As I mentioned earlier, we all need a chance to smile given all the crap we had to endure this year. This special is stuffed with glam, camp, and wit, and is sure to put its viewers in a good mood. Enjoy, and let’s all work to make 2021 a much more fabulous year than this one was.
Drag Queen Christmas 2020 can be purchased for viewing at https://www.dragfans.com/
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