The Kats! Bureau at this writing is rehearsal for “RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!” at Flamingo Showroom. It’s the former Donny & Marie Showroom. Sufficed to say it’s undergone a makeover rivaling the work done on Sharon Osbourne, Marie’s co-host on “The Talk.”
An giant set of disco-mirrored headphones is at center stage. Impressive for you fans of disco, and also of vintage headphones. The cast is beautiful, as expected, but you won’t get a look at them onstage just yet. No photos in this session, The show is to open Thursday night. “Drag Race Live!” is an ambitious effort, starring a rotating cast of such drag mainstays as Asia O’Hara, Derrick Barry, Kameron Michaels, Naomi Smalls, Vanessa “Vanjie” Matteo and Yvie Oddly. All take the spotlight in individual numbers, and as an ensemble.
Director Jamal Sims is orchestrating this session. Sims choreographed Will Smith on “Aladdin” and also worked on “Step Up,” and “When The Beat Drops.” The live show is a scripted rendition of the popular TV series, with each performer pumping up the crowd onstage and in video segments (those, out of costume). The opening reminds of a big TV studio, with some Vegas-style flair.
The set is similarly dazzling, devised by Emmy Award-winning designer Andy Walmsley, for whom there is never wasted space. Deeply textured, the stage glows with such effects as the Clap-O-Meter, which is a big set of lips and a tongue serving as an applause meter. Miley Cyrus, inevitably, is mentioned as inspiration for that image.
There are several references to “tuck.” We have a dual staircase, flying British flags, song lyrics, silhouetted figures, all flashing from the stage LED screen and the two panels flanking the set.
This show boasts ample investment in its stage-and-sound setup, with backing from World of Wonder, the creative team behind RuPaul’s Drag Race, along with drag-show production company Voss Events. It’s the first large-scale drag revue on the Strip since “Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas” shut down in June 2018.
RuPaul himself is seated in a booth in the middle of the room, surveying the latest offshoot of his TV fiefdom and grinning at a series of scenes where drag performers slap each other. We are shown the proper way to slap, and how to recoil. It is explained that if the Three Stooges were drag queens, they would have constantly slapped each other silly.
I learned how to slap, too, having been called onstage to demonstrate how to deliver, and accept, a slap. Turns out I’m better at being slapped. Expect this sort of audience participation in every show. I feel RuPaul’s latest adventure will find its audience and fill a void Vegas. The show is very much a revival, an artistic slap in the face. Be prepared.
For months, I’ve been hearing about this wild video starring Rockie Brown and Jason Tanzer, filmed last May at The Space. It’s out now, and worth the wait. “Soul Sister Retribution,” directed by Tanzer and Las Vegas videographer/photographer Robert John Kley, is a thundering and full-throated ode to female empowerment. The song and video feature an all-star choir of great Vegas vocalists: Anne Martinez, Aubrey Anderson, Bri Padilla, Cheryl Daro, Gloria Vivelo, Jaclyn McSpadden, Jenn De La Torre, Lisa Marie Smith, Michelle Johnson, Sarah Hester Ross and Stephanie Sadownik.
The child in the video is Cecilia Picasso, whose parents are Ashley Horton and Brendan Scholz (of Vegas punk band Mercy Music), with Tanzer and DJ Optic providing the backing track. Just the assembly and organization of this lineup is remarkable, and naturally Brown soars in her performance. It’s worth a look-see, or three, on YouTube.
Cool Hang Alert
Vegas singer/songwriter/musician Philena Carter’s Stanley Avenue band is set up at a sweet venue, The Barrymore at Royal Hotel on Convention Center Way, from 6-9 p.m. Saturday. The restaurant and club’s social hour with drink and food specials is from 5-7 p.m. No cover to catch Carter’s collective, which provides “a unique spark of originality for your soul” and is going on two years at Barrymore. No cover charge, either.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.