Ah, almost spring, when a gay man’s fancy leans heavily toward thoughts of drag — what was, what will be, and where in this wigged out world one can go to untuck his troubles. Therein lies the one to rub out, so to speak, in this March roundup of dresses, tresses, and bravely fought battles of the bulge.
“Their personalities shine, and that’s how I want to be,” says flannel-loving bride-to-be Emily, of the drag queens who give her a much-needed shot of self-confidence, in “Drag Me Down the Aisle,” which premiered March 9 and is streaming now on TLC.
Eager to offer their respective wedding planning, musicianship, style, and hair/ makeup skills, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alums BeBe Zahara Benet, Thorgy Thor, Jujubee, and Alexis Michelle arrive in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by way of Amish buggy.
Freed from the “Drag Race” elimination format that revels in conflict and competition, the all-for-one foursome, challenged with a three-week wedding prep timetable, waste no time endearing themselves to microbiologist Emily’s conservative Christian parents, and her amiable, if flummoxed, fiancé.
“I’m just excited for a whole new audience… that this is going to go into different living rooms than ‘Drag Race’ does, probably,” said Alexis Michelle, in an interview just prior to the premiere.
“Don’t forget,” Alexis noted, “TLC is called ‘The Learning Channel,’ and I do think there is some education about humanity and about the fact that we, as queer, gender-bending performance artists, have a lot of love and compassion to share.”
Edited in a manner that reins in the shade, pours on the positivity, and courts the mainstream viewer with the aggressiveness of a friendship forged in the magic moment between last call and lights on, the show’s tone is a bit too polite for our tribe’s rarified taste. Yet there are moments of sexy transgression, joyous flamboyance, and snarky defiance — as in, respectively, when Alexis endorses cream-filled donuts as “the best kind,” Jujubee frolics in a store full of wedding dresses, and BeBe gives a firm thumbs down to the clunky lanterns Emily wants as centerpieces.
“Whether family history or insecurity, it all comes bubbling up,” said Alexis, of the long road toward that walk down the aisle. “And in Emily’s case, it just so happened that her particular areas of insecurities are ones that I have struggled with myself. And I told her, it’s a daily journey. Seeing your own beauty, and your own worth, is something that takes practice. It’s not just something you can artificially put on, like a dress on your wedding day.”
A “To be Continued” placard before the credits roll leaves no doubt TLC believes our girls will be back again — to pimp the wedding plans of nervous brides, sashay away, and do it again in yet another town. “If you can’t dance, you can always add gymnastics to wow the crowd,” Thorgy wisely counsels.
She starts strong, then spirals downward fast — the titular, troubled star, that is, in drag artist and jazz vocalist Cissy Walken’s flawed but fascinating “Amy Winehouse: Back to Life,” a 2019 MAC Award-nominated nod to late chanteuse, revived March 8, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. High heels planted on this mortal plane via a conditional visa stamped by Satan himself, Winehouse tells her story in songs, archival video clips, anecdotes, and bittersweet observations. (“In life, there’s some battles you can’t win. But in death, I think, I was victorious.”)
Eerily attuned to Winehouse’s body language and piercing stare, rail-thin, tattooed Walken is a dead ringer for her muse, although she seemed rattled at the modest turnout, and two early comments to that effect worked against her. At the end of the night, she confessed to waking up that morning with vocal distress. Those factors accounted for the feeling that, despite ample high notes both literal and artistic, the perfectly enjoyable show never shot into the stratosphere.
Billed as a tribute concert, its womb-to-tomb narrative is effective — but stubbornly determined that things never veer too far into camp, commentary, or parody territory — a shame, since queens with sharp comedic chops (and Walken’s one of them) are at their insightful best during such moments.
Tellingly, in the rare times Walken put her firm fingerprints on the Winehouse persona, things really soared. Still, with a dress change for the finale and a searing, clap-along take on “Valerie,” Walken saved the best for last and, as such, left us wanting more. See what else she has to offer, on Facebook (misscissywalken).
A few episodes into Season 11 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and the masses know what’s common knowledge in New York: Our own Scarlet Envy has charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to burn.
Scarlet wouldn’t risk riling Mama Ru, of course, so we came up short on our spoiler request — but her journey on and after “Drag Race” will surely loom large, at her May run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.
“It’s actually a reincarnation of a show I did last year at [East Village venue] Pangea,” Scarlet explained, pegging it as “a reflection of lessons learned after midnight, in terms of being a working queen, trying to make it in the big city.” A preview of music from her five-track EP (in collaboration with James Wilson), scheduled to drop early this summer, is also guaranteed.
“I would love to emphasize that the show is all-ages, which is really exciting,” she said, for younger “fans who can’t make it into the bars. So as long as they have an appetite for dinner,” she noted of the venue, at which this reporter rarely fails to order the fried calamari, “it’s all-ages.”
West Coast fans not able to see Scarlet in Gotham, take heed: She’ll be at RuPaul’s DragCon LA, May 24-26, to participate in “Cupid, You Stupid!: Dating Diaries,” in which Scarlet swaps tales of first dates, texting, and nudes, with fellow panelists Becca Kufrin and Mayhem Miller.
“Reflections: A Night with Scarlet Envy” plays May 2-5 at 7 p.m. at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street. For tickets ($24 general admission, $40 for VIP seating and meet-and-greet), visit spincyclenyc.com or call 212-352-3101.