BWW Review: Trixie Mattel Balances MOVING PARTS Like a Pro at the Laurie Beechman
A unique queen in the pantheon of RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE queens, in just a few years' time, Trixie Mattel has risen from promising also-ran to cult fave to full-blown drag superstar (with a number one folk album, to boot).
Fans coming in expecting to hear tracks off of that album, TWO BIRDS, during Mattel's new show, NOW WITH MOVING PARTS, won't get them, but the show maintained the spirit of those songs. Beyond that, her bold performance at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on September 22 marked the rare show where the musical numbers were few and far between, and, yet, there was nothing lacking.
NOW WITH MOVING PARTS is comedically driven to its core, with the DRAG RACE queen taking the stage after the first of a few hilarious video vignettes. The segments, which continued later on during Mattel's costume changes and told a linear, ALL ABOUT EVE-esque story, never felt like empty calories.
"I call this my ex-boyfriend makeup because it also got away from me," Mattel cracked, taking the stage after thanking the crowd for the "absolute smattering of applause" for the video. Covering a great deal of ground, she managed to work in tales of the trials and tribulations that come with performing during Family Week in Provincetown and the women's march in Seattle, as well as a in a killer Jinkx Monsoon impression, all before singing a single song.
More broadly, though, if there was a running theme the star wanted to explore, it was whiteness. A white, self-described "low-level gay celebrity" with a folk album and---at least at this show---a primarily white audience, Mattel puts a lot at risk diving into that material in this arena. But of everything from the evening, these jokes had the least bite out of anything Mattel was serving up. It's a solid enough joke, but there's nothing particularly incisive about saying white people invented "puzzle stores."
"I can make anything white, and I'll prove that to you now," she teased, dubbing herself "the Ed SHeeran of drag" before launching a cover of RuPaul's "CoverGirl" (RuPaul/Lucian Piane). The queen transformed the dance track into a guitar-driven, Jewel-esque folk song. A few seconds in, she cracked up the crowd, setting her hands on top of the guitar and tipping off the audience that she has a backing track for the instrumentals. But it was the kind of performance that drew a split reaction, with the audience laughing at times to the clubby lyrics sung straight, while sitting back at other moments, soaking in the beauty she brought to it.
There was nothing ordinary about any of the show's other musical moments, either. Every chance she got, Mattel found a way to set herself apart from the pack, including a lip sync medley that turned a satirical eye on religion. Kicking off with Alison Krauss's take on "Down in the River to Pray" (complete with some hand choreography that managed to be equal parts mesmerizing and hysterical), the awe-inspiring number was packed with cultural influences ranging from Kesha to the infamous "God Warrior" speech from TRADING SPOUSES.
She continued that unpredictability, offering up a sing-along to Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" (Lavigne/Lauren Christy/Scott Spock/Graham Edwards) and Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" (Stevie Nicks), starting with straightforward renditions of each before trading the instrumentals for both and proving that a Stevie Nicks melody truly can make anything sound like poetry.
Between numbers, Mattel wasn't all jokes, either. In fact, the early bit about ex-boyfriend makeup tied into her last show, AGES 3 & UP, during which she dissected a breakup the star had recently been through. As amusingly flippant as the queen could be, there was a clear undercurrent of sensitivity and graciousness behind so many moments throughout the performance.
Still, the show was a riot, with the queen mining laughs out of something as simple as prepping for a song---"I have to put my guitar on. Support me through that. Thank you."---to existential questions like why Melissa Joan Hart follows her on Twitter, or "Why didn't Valentina just learn the fucking words?"
Closing out the show, the star broke out an autoharp for a wistfully optimistic original song about starting over, fittingly called "Moving Parts." The tug-of-war between salty and sweet that provided an engine for the entire performance gave way, with the bittersweet tune claiming victory for the queen's softer side. If you needed a snapshot of just what makes Mattel an incomparable star, that image would probably look a lot like a drag queen with a vintage-y cowgirl dress and an overblown Tammy Wynnette wig plucking the strings of an autoharp.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.