Theater: What to expect at a drag revue

  • Photo by Alysia Burton
From the April 4, 2012 edition

Attending a drag revue can be intimidating if you’ve never been to one before, but shows like “Once Upon a Nina,” which premiered last weekend at Axis, are nothing to be afraid of. It’s like musical theater but with more painted-on cleavage, penis puns, lip-synching, fabulously filthy dance moves and stripper heels. Plus, a fully loaded bar sits five feet away.

In fact, “Once Upon a Nina” — and other themed shows this city’s drag powerhouses put on — are really great chances to see cleverly campy comedic local theater.

“Once Upon a Nina” is a two-hours-or-so show that revisits famous fairytale themes and stories, and it stars local drag queen Nina West as a busty protagonist.

The show began with a hilarious full-cast lip-sync performance to the opening song from “Beauty and The Beast.” Nina acts like Belle, faux singing lovingly about what the audience thinks is a book but turns out to be a porno mag.

Throughout the show, the ladies dance to a robust song selection (eg. audio from “Honey Badger” and “Hypnotize” by Biggie). The numbers and plot-furthering character interactions are intermittently broken up with comedic videos that spoof things like “Law & Order.” A video called “S--- Fairytale Princesses Say” happens. The show’s art direction — the costumes, puppets, set and video illustrations — alone is worth the cost of admission.

For readers well-versed in the citywide infatuation/crush on Nina West, this is also a chance to see other really great performers.

Portraying a hyper-exaggerated version of the opposite gender has potential to go very badly. True of any art form, non? Thus, when it is done right, drag will leave you feeling like an animosity-free glitter bomb ready to explode with fabulous. Nina may shine the brightest, but there are plenty of drag stars in this town. Virginia West, for example, had me gushing.

Tables for “Once Upon a Nina” are $50 and $60, and standing room general admission is $10.

As for drag-queen revue viewing etiquette: Bring dollar bills and give them to the ladies while they’re dancing their solo routines; spin-to-splits moves and snake-wave-style splits are probably deserving of some Lincolns. Cheer loudly. Don’t be shy.