Fifteen years ago, a typical drag show at Axis had a beginning, middle and end number; however, the nightclub’s latest show, “Nina Does CBUS,” features 14 production numbers, drag kings, video sketches, an animated cartoon, commissioned artwork, a music video, a sprawling set designed to look like Columbus, countless collaborators and even a sequined COSI T-shirt dress costume that fits a grown man.
Welcome to Cowtown Broadway, bitches!
“Nina Does CBUS” is drag queen Nina West (AKA Andrew Levitt) and friends’ latest contribution to drag theater. It is an example of not just how the art of a drag show in Columbus has changed, but how the makeup of the audience going to see the shows has diversified.
The pioneer of the thematic-style drag shows at the club was Mary Ann Brandt, said Alan Saunders, Axis’ long-time DJ and production manager, and then important performers of the scene like Virginia West, Alexis Fontaine and others started doing shows that “just kept getting bigger and better.”
“Nina and Virginia are very friendly and charming and they began to reach out to a lot of people,” Saunders said. “That’s when our audience started to change. We’ll have a table of teachers [watching the drag shows] one night, a table of bankers the next.”
While they still struggle to be seen as a viable form of theater entertainment to some, Levitt and Virginia West said, that growing mix of LGBT, straight and intergenerational support for the often-marginalized art of drag, plus the performers’ general adoration of the city and its openness, inspired “Nina Does CBUS.”
“This is a love letter to Columbus. It’s a way to say thank you in a massive way,” Levitt said. “The accessibility everyone gave me was astounding. Nobody flinched about being associated with a drag queen.”
That includes institutions like the Wexner Center and COSI, where Nina et. al filmed for eight hours a music video to a song by local retro rockers The Regrettes. Nina commissioned artwork — later used on promotional posters — from artists such as Adam Brouillette, Nikolaos Hulme and Bryan “Bam Bam” Grey. There’s even an original song in the show composed by Nina and musician and Broadway vet Matt Clemens.
“Nina Does CBUS” is like a visitor’s guide with all the wobbly bits tucked in and smothered in glitter, a campy tribute to being gay and/or fabulous in the city.