These queens have been everywhere; locally gracing the Udderbelly Festival in the summer, now settling in to the Arts Theatre for a three night residency. They’re like Britney or Gaga in Vegas – only on Great Newport Street and briefer. With a final stop in Birmingham this year, then a northern tour from Wakefield to Aberystwyth in 2023, there is no excuse not to grab a ticket!
But why would you want to? Astute question my bright little bobbin! Singing drag queens aren’t a new phenomenon. Many Ru Paul’s Drag Race competitors market themselves as singers (sometimes optimistically). The difference here is the theatricality, scale, and the (almost) unanimous talent across the board. Sandwiched between The Choir of Man: a drinking musical song cycle in various keys of masculinity, and Austentatious: a Georgian comedy, Queenz is an entertaining palette cleanser.
Like any good girl group, the gals fill different roles. Although the pitchy harmonies put them more in the Pussy Cat Dolls belt than The Supremes, this visual, vocal, and style demarcation feels familiar and comforting.
Ben Sell as Bella Du Ball is the vocal lead, the Geri Halliwell of the group. Tall, bedecked in lamé, and later a silver screen-style gown in…well silver sequins, she belts, wails, and Aguilera’s her way through any number she touches. Easily the most confident on stage, her energetic Tina Turner is contrasted with slower sadder pieces later in the evening. On top of that, her battle with the sassy and stage-hugging techie Jase (played by Stephen Robson) proves she can master comedy as well. Now that’s an easy…Sell (you know, I’m not even sorry for that one)!
X Factor and Union J’s own Jaymi Hensley as Dior Monte cements the comedy factor, mercilessly skewering the audience in the front two rows. Poor Becky from Hertfordshire is mercilessly abused for her choice in Christmas jumper, and we are all reminded of the joyful cruelty of British theatre. Gifted with impressive pipes and a sense of humour to shock a sailor, Dior Monte is truly a triple-threatening queen.
Craig Colley (Billie Eyelash) and Lew Ray (Zeze Van Cartier) both look the part and have strong vocal skills but fall into the background a little, despite many spirited high kicks in truly monstrous heels. Again like Pussy Cat Dolls, they provide the hair flips and dance backbone necessary for a successful troupe.
Josh Hanson as Candy Caned is the Michelle William/Posh Spice of the gang. Looking the part in baby pink, she has the weakest voice, but makes up for it with genuine feeling in the final rather smulchy but expected conclusion. Queue the ‘love yourself’ rhetoric and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours.
The girls run through various covers, interject with blue humour and plenty of crotch grabbing: after all, this is a drag show. Interestingly, they shine best in a musical medley reworking classics of the surrounding theatres. This is the point where the group feels most alive. Of course, the covers chosen throughout do drag us up onto our feet: Cher, ABBA, Spice Girls. They clearly know their audience well.
The show is admittedly half an hour too long, but you can understand the temptation to hog the West End stage on their debut. Even with their talent, sassy choreography, Rikki Finlay’s glamorous costumes, and gutsy vocals, the lack of direction sometimes peeks out.
However, in comparison to some of the singles produced by Drag Race alumni, all these girls have bankable uniqueness, charisma, nerve, and talent. “Everyone can be a queen” is the show’s motto, but I would much rather you gals do it, as you do it so well!