BWW Review: Alaska Makes the Holidays Spectacular in FOR HEAVEN'S SNAKES at the Laurie Beechman
The holidays are all about excess, and what's more extra than a drag queen named Alaska Thunderfuck 5000?
Unwrapping her December 19 performance of FOR HEAVEN'S SNAKES at the Laurie Beechman Theater, the "inimitable, indomitable, abominable" RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE alum took the stage in a festive plaid gown, with holly in her outsized blonde wig. But it was the other accoutrements that truly made the ensemble, namely the lengthy "couture wrap" constructed "that very day" from actual wrapping paper.
With "Handsome Jeremy" Mikush as her pianist-slash-partner in crime, Alaska swiftly opened the show, taking the not-so-long way down Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" in her unhurried rasp, while making a quick detour with that bit from "American Pie" about Jack Flash sitting on a candlestick. ("Ouuuuch.")
A more than capable singer, the queen still seemed to value mischief over melodies, often toying with various vocal styles within the same song. Covering Madonna's "Holiday" (Curtis Hudson/Lisa Stevens), she cleverly worked the track's title in at the end of a sentence and dove right in, with the crowd joining in.
Over the course of the evening, Alaska seemed too energetic to stay in one place---or in one lane---for too long, leaving and returning to the stage with regularity. Amid her "Holiday" number, she traipsed through the crowd, handing out candy canes and gift bows.
In a fleeting earnest moment, Alaska expressed her gratitude for the community over the past year. But the sentimentality didn't last long, as the "serious community song" she chose as an homage turned out to be the theme to CHEERS (Gary Portnoy/Judy Hart Angelo), with the audience chuckling in recognition as the song's lyrics came into focus. Then, a funny thing happened. The theme songs just kept flying, fast and furious, with the star covering everything from THE Mary Tyler Moore SHOW (Sonny Curtis) to THE NANNY (Ann Hampton Callaway). Once again, she ran the gamut musically, dropping octaves one moment before settling into a barbershop duet with Jeremy the next.
After a few themes, Alaska cracked, "Thank you for your applause, but it keeps going like this for some time." And it did, but it was more painstakingly constructed than it might seem. The bit grew increasingly more inventive as it went along, whether it was grunting noises to approximate the LAW & ORDER opening or mimicking the STRANGER THINGS theme with her own lyrics to the eerie instrumental. ("It's on Netflix... whatever happened to Barb?") In many ways, the theme-a-palooza served as the centerpiece of the show, marking the longest musical performance of the evening and, while not specifically holiday-themed, conjuring up the kind of warm familiarity the best Christmas songs are all about.
As she left for a costume change, Jeremy remarked that it was a wonder she hadn't destroyed the stage in the show's first half, before wistfully singing Joni Mitchell's "River." Far and away the least extravagant performance of the evening, it still managed to be far more than a mid-show palate cleanser, continuing Alaska's method of giving the crowd something different moment to moment.
In a complete turnabout, the sprightly queen returned in full Cinderella-at-the-ball extravaganza, and one audience member couldn't contain herself, squealing upon seeing the queen's Disneyfied look. Undeterred, Alaska flounced through the crowd, her poofy dress making quite a scene as she made her way through the narrow aisles.
After a rendition of Pat Benatar's "We Belong" (Eric Lowen/Dan Navarro), she took requests, belting Bonnie Tyler's"Total Eclipse of the Heart" (Jim Steinman) and WICKED's "Defying Gravity" (Stephen Schwartz), as well as singing what turned out to be a repeat performance of Khia's ever-filthy "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)." If anything, the riffing underlined the fact that Alaska is a more skilled singer than she lets on, her often comically exaggerated gravelliness just one tool of many.
What's less surprising than her skipping over well-trod Christmas classics is that, having appeared on each of the CHRISTMAS QUEENS albums with her DRAG RACE compatriots, she opted out of singing any of her own holiday hits. Joking that, contractually, she couldn't go an entire holiday show without a single holiday song, she then kicked off a rendition of Tamia's "Stranger in My House" (Shep Crawford/Shae Jones), which, to be clear, is not a holiday song.
Alaska appeared as interested in breaking down the cabaret form as she did in working within its constraints. On the one hand, it's unlikely any other cabaret performer has ever employed a pterodactyl screech with such glee and regularity as she has. That said, it was a tight hour-long show where nary a joke flopped and not one number failed to entertain.
Closing out the night, Alaska came to play with her rendition of Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right but It's Okay." Culminating in a wig reveal dropping faux snow all over the stage, the performance simultaneously sparked Sasha Velour flashbacks while proving Chekhov's gun apparently even applies to drag queens making messes.
FOR HEAVEN'S SNAKES was proof positive that Alaska can hold her own vocally, and trusting and embracing it could only bolster her already-impressive bag of tricks. Because if you can't trust yourself, how in the hell you gonna trust somebody else?
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.