BWW Review: Courtney Act Glitters in THE GIRL FROM OZ at the Laurie Beechman
A cyclone of camp with a true gift for one-liners and an even stronger voice, Courtney Act followed the yellow brick road past the crowd to hit the stage in THE GIRL FROM OZ.
Despite several homages to THE WIZARD OF OZ, the May 4 show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre was centered on that other, no less magical Oz: Australia. In fact, the RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE alum's entire set list was comprised of songs famously written or sung by Aussies.
That didn't stop the self-proclaimed "fishiest queen in DRAG RACE history" from donning some solid killer Dorothy drag, with a gingham apron sliced into strips, a bejeweled nude bodysuit, and ruby red roller skates. Oh my, indeed.
While she was the first to admit to being a bit shaky on the skates, her Olivia Newton-John was still a total XANADU, and she had me hook, line and sinker from her opening spin in a dovelike rendition of the film's title track, penned by Jeff Lynne.
Without wasting a moment, she tossed off the skates after the number was over and grabbed some far more practical heels off a pair of disembodied legs atop the piano, teasing, "Looks like someone dropped a piano on Bianca Del Rio."
Aside from thaT Lovingly acidic jab at a queen she'd performed with just days before, the show was mostly DRAG RACE-free, aside from a truly gasp-worthy aside to the kangaroo in her basket, when she deadpanned, "This is a different kind of Ru. This one didn't block me on Twitter."
Courtney's crystal-clear pipes were on full display singing "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" (Christopher Cross/Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager/Peter Allen), and she somehow managed to make Men at Work's "Down Under" (Colin Hay/Ron Strykert) cool again---if it was ever cool to begin with---flute pantomiming and all.
She somewhat haphazardly reworked the lyrics (between guests at the meet-and-greet, she said) with city-specific references to everything from Fire Island to the Statue of Liberty to a certain White House resident wreaking havoc on Manhattan traffic at the time. The cover was equal parts corny and self-aware; basically, it was exactly what you're looking for in a drag show.
With William TN Hall on piano, Act served up the "LAna del Rey/FIFTY SHADES OF GREY Autumnal Remix" of The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" (Barry Gibb/Robin Gibb/Maurice Gibb), Despite the similarity to Beyonce's "Crazy in Love"-FIFTY SHADES redux, the stark performance was no parody. Her desperation was palpable in that moment, and you could feel a wave of energy wash over her as she leaned hard into the song's climax.
The only time her voice faltered came during a brief but slightly sharp take on Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" (Scott Cutler/Anne Preven/Phil Thornalley), but it was mostly in service of the gag anyway, as she banged a xylophone covered in bedazzled Foster's beer cans and broke into faux hysterics.
That bit kicked off a medley of heartbreak ballads like "All Out of Love" (Clive Davis/Graham Russell) and "Don't Cry Out Loud" (Peter Allen), though it was less a medley and more akin to musical speed dating, with each song separated by a brief intro.
A few interstitial videos kept the show moving while Act exited the stage for her costume changes. (Yes, changes plural, because this show queen is a professional, damn it.) The cleverest one highlighted Australia's greatest export----hunky male actors----with Act returning for a rapid-fire showing of the nation's many A-list actresses so she could lob out a hysterically half-hearted, "I hear the women have done all right as well."
Returning for the "naughty" portion of the evening and looking like Wonder Woman after raiding Liberace's closet, complete with gold embellishments that looked like mini lassos on her hips, she mashed up a sensual original song, "Body Parts" (Act/Sam Sparro/Jake Shears) with its spiritual sister, "Let's Get Physical" (Steve Kipner/Terry Shaddick). Sporting red glitter thigh-highs, with one later ripping down the side in the line of duty, Act launched into a series of horizontal leg kicks on the ground, nearly losing her lofty blonde wig in the process, too.
Throughout the night, the crowd was a bit raucous and ready to join in, whether she liked it or not. As luck would have it, she seemed to welcome any and all interruptions from the enthusiastic crowd. Even when a few eager beavers began beat her to the punch(lines) of a few of her own jokes, she teased, "My jokes aren't as fresh as fresh cut grass. I'm sorry."
In any event, it made for a warm atmosphere, with a few of the final numbers, including a cover of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" (Angus Young/Malcolm Young/BRian Johnson), turning into a full-out singalong.
Like all the best endings, THE GIRL FROM OZ's was surprising but inevitable, as the queen returned to honor the grandest of Aussie grande dames: Kylie Minogue. As if Act were exhuming Christina Aguilera's BACK TO BASICS era for one night only, she returned with an upbeat, jazzy vibe on the "Can't Get You Outta My Head/The Loco-Motion" (Cathy Dennis/Rob Davis and Gerry Goffin/Carole King) mash-up of my dreams.
And, as soon as it had begun, the frothy, hour-long show was over. In a show that's glittering from start to finish, it's easy to wish there were more, more, more. But Courtney Act is a smart enough queen to click her heels together and exit stage left before the audience has gotten their fill, sending at least one person home wishing he could see it all over again.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.