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Review: Alyssa Edwards: LIFE, LOVE, AND LASHES at Town Hall

The RuPaul's Drag Race and Dancing Queen star brings her solo show to NYC

Review: Alyssa Edwards: LIFE, LOVE, AND LASHES at Town Hall Last night I had the pleasure of seeing RuPaul's Drag Race fan favorite and self-described "lovely fifth alternate" Alyssa Edwards, and it's no secret that, over the course of her two act, sold out engagement at Town Hall, she sashayed and tongue-popped her way into the hearts of her audience, one can of Red Bull and confidently declared malapropism at a time.

To use Alyssa's famous Drag Race catchphrase, she is indeed a "BEAST!," and the monster was out in full, spectacular form last night during the New York engagement of her Life, Love and Lashes tour. For two acts, four lip syncs, and several many stories, the audience sat rapt, hanging onto Alyssa's each and every Texas-twanged word while revelling in her signature facial expressions that, frankly, give even Gloria Swanson a run for her money.

Alyssa is in the top tier of Ru girls, along with superstars like Trixie Mattel, Bianca Del Rio, Latrice Royale, and Shangela. Like these ladies, Alyssa has found success by sticking to her unique point of view and always being the first to laugh at herself. In fact, many of Drag Race's most famous Alyssa moments center around the Mesquite, Texas native just not quite understanding the assignment, but coming up with a result so wholly original and endearing that it just didn't matter. Take, for example, her famous All Stars malaprop moment, when she thinks a challenge has been rigged: "It was rigor morris!" she confidently declares, to which the other queens reply, "Who's Morris?" before the entire workroom, including Alyssa herself, doubles over with laughter, creating not just a meme, but a perfect, organically grown pop culture moment. (There is similar moment during the live show when, reclining on the onstage chaise lounge, she invites the audience to join her in her "bougeoir.")

Another unforgettable episode is the All Stars Snatch Game, where Alyssa chooses to impersonate Joan Crawford, but possesses, we quickly realize, a depth of Crawford knowledge consisting solely of Mommie Dearest quotes. However, she delivers these lines with such Alyssa-style hilarity and aplomb that it doesn't even matter. She makes RuPaul laugh--a lot--and turns a trip up into triumph once again.

It's this I'd-watch-her-read-the-phonebook star quality that makes Alyssa such a rarity these days, in an age when our newer drag stars have grown up watching Drag Race and have committed to a brand before even auditioning for the show. But, as Alyssa reveals onstage, it didn't always come easy. Growing up in a conservative state where boys wear blue and play baseball, little Justin found solace in people like his Granny, who not only protected him from bullies, but instilled in him a sense of self-acceptance with the oft-repeated mantra, "You are beautiful, you are kind, you are unique," and laid the foundation for his ability to adapt with the reminder that "when life gives you lemons, you make some very sweet lemonade."

It's stories like these that are the core of Alyssa's show, and while some fans might complain that there wasn't enough dancing or lip syncing, I was in hog heaven, and could have listened to hours more. (This despite the fact that the show was already two hours long, making it the only drag show I've attended that included an intermission.)

The first act of the show covers Alyssa's childhood, with comic tales about growing up queer, artistic, and out of place. However, like Dorothy on the road to Oz, Justin finds friends to assist him in his journey: his beloved granny, his biggest advocate and protector; his gay uncle, who introduces him to New York and queer culture; and his best friend and drag daughter Shangela, who, we learn, was the one who convinced Alyssa to audition for Drag Race.

The second act is all about Alyssa's entry into the Emerald City of drag--aka The Werk Room--where she finally meets the wizard herself, Mama Ru. And while Alyssa is a seasoned queen, having competed in--and won--a number of pageants, she makes it clear just how unprepared she was for the show, having watched a mere single episode of the show in support of drag daughter Shangela. But, as any fan of the show knows, what Alyssa lacked in preparation she more than made up for in charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, the acronymic pillars required to win the crown.

Another character who persistently pops up along Alyssa's journey is her boldly assertive yet charmingly clueless inner diva, who not only resists the initial Season 5 casting offer from World of Wonder (due to an already busy schedule in Texas, where she owns and operates the dance studio Beyond Belief), but is also shocked when she is not the sole contestant to be brought back for All Stars' legendary Rudemption episode. Alyssa fills us in on what happened that day, from the moment she is asked to sashay away to the pivotal one-way mirror scene where she witnesses an oblivious Phi Phi O'Hara railing against her. In the interim, Alyssa apparently attempted to walk back onto the runway, thinking she was being brought back into the competition immediately, and then, when steered into the space behind the mirror, was shocked to find her fellow eliminees--including past pageant nemesis Coco Montrese--up for Rudemption as well.

It is this quirky confidence and delightfully delusional mindset that links Alyssa with other showbiz personalities like Liza Minnelli, Celine Dion, and Carol Channing, and makes her such an engaging star. Though she has traveled extensively, from the gayborhoods of Dallas, to the sound stages of Hollywood, to London's West End, it is clear that she still resides primarily in her own sparkly, sequined world--that home where there's love overflowing--and it's such a treat to be invited in.

Daniel Nolen is a writer, designer, and performer in New York City. He is the co-host of the BroadwayWorld podcast Broken Records, as well as the weekly live show Cast Offs, every Monday at 8pm at Alan Cumming's Club Cumming.



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