BWW Review: Latrice Royale Serves Redemption Realness in LIFE GOES ON at the Laurie Beechman
With a regal violet gown covered in jewels for days and a mile-high bouffant that would leave Priscilla Presley gagging, Latrice Royale ambled up to the stage of the Laurie Beechman Theatre. When her hair, teased to the gods, soon brushed against the ceiling, she said, with a cackle, "My hair's too high, and I'm not."
But, as the title of the show says, LIFE GOES ON, and so did Royale. In the show's first night on March 30, the RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE star first made her way through the room, singing a husky rendition of "Nobody Does It Like Me," originally from the Broadway musical SEESAW (Dorothy Fields/Cy Coleman). It was most famously sung by Shirley Bassey, but after witnessing Royale's enthusiastic interpretation of "I hear a love song or ballad / I toss like a salad / Nobody tosses like me," I don't think anyone in the audience will listen to that song the same way again.
The star's previous show, HERE'S TO LIFE, explored the experiences that led her to this moment. Royale, whose name out of drag is Timothy Wilcots, retold a bit of that tale, recalling growing up gay and the difficult relationship he'd had with one of his brothers. Then, in one hysterical moment, Royale got distracted and needed help picking up where she left off, telling one helpful audience member, "I'm glad you're paying attention, child. Don't stop taking notes. I'm going to keep coming back to you."
But that wasn't necessary, because this is the tale the queen was born to tell: her journey through a tumultuous childhood until an eventual escape to Florida, finding a passion with drag along the way, but, due to a misstep or two, taking an 18-month time-out in the "clink clink."
The rise of DRAG RACE has led to an interesting phenomenon where many of the queens---created in Ru's image---turn from lipsyncing in the clubs to recording original songs (presumably because you can't sell a lip sync on iTunes). Then, as the cycle goes, they end up back in those clubs---or cabaret venues, as it were---performing those singles.
Not every girl is an Adore Delano, and while Royale probably wouldn't make it into the Top 20 on AMERICAN IDOL, she is an expert at being a drag queen. At times, the vocals were a tad shaky, particularly the cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," sung around interstitials of Royale sharing her rags-to-rhinestones story.
Yet, for the most part, Royale had a knack for selecting songs that maximized her vocals. She gave her all saluting the "chunky yet funky, large and in charge people" out there with a rendition of her original single, "Weight," transformed from club track to ballad. She relished every lyric, particularly one of her many catchphrases, "I may be fat, bitch, but you're ugly, and I can lose weight."
Poignant while still being funny as hell, the star stepped out of his drag persona for a few minutes to offer up the story of his engagement to Christopher Hamblin, who also happened to be helping out on piano (along with PJ Roberts on bass and Andy Martinet on drums).
Wilcots decided he wanted to tie the knot after losing friends in the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, eventually popping the question at Pride Seattle. He's planning his first trip to visit the future in-laws in Tennessee in four years. "I'm marrying my mother's worst nightmare," Hamblin joked.
Snapping back into showgirl mode, Royale revealed the show borrowed its name from a somewhat obscure song by the jazz singer Diane "Deedles" Schuur, co-written with her father. The queen performed the title track, which seemed perfectly suited for her sonorous voice.
And then, like a bottom-two queen on DRAG RACE throwing down to save herself from elimination, Royale truly came to play with a lip-sync showstopper to the gospel track "Still I Rise" by Yolanda Adams, because, as she herself said, "It wouldn't be a Latrice Royale show if we didn't go to church, amen." Royale took the crowd all the way up to the steeple, capturing every lip quiver and erupting into a shoe-kicking climax that had my pulse racing.
It was the pinnacle of everything she was trying to do with the show, a true story of redemption ending in a storybook romance. That's why the tail-end of the show came as a bit of surprise, as the spotlight turned to the "difficult" queens on the current season of DRAG RACE, some of whom Royale called "Extra, extra, don't read all about it." She had kind things to say about several of the queens, namely Nina Bo'nina Brown and some shade to throw at a few others. Spilling all that tea here would be unfair to the show, and, besides, it's not mine to spill.
But as juicy as it all was (and the crowd was clamoring for it), pettiness also wasn't the best look on Royale, particularly after the Iyanla-Vanzant-Super-Soul-Sunday special she'd treated the crowd to for the first hour or so, and perhaps it wouldn't have felt like it was coming out of left field at the top of the show. Yet while it's true that Royale waxed poetic about the power of positive thinking, the larger point of the show wasn't about optimism but about self-determination.
Latrice Royale told the crowd upfront she was doing it her way, and she wasn't lying. "You didn't give me this, so you can't take it away." But what made her a fan fave in the first place was that, while she certainly commented on "the shade of it all," she wasn't necessarily the one throwing it. That's what made much of LIFE GOES ON---and the happiness she's found both in and out of drag---such a delight to see. So keep doing you, Latrice. Just don't make us snatch that Miss Congeniality title back.