The glitzy getups. The awesomely ridiculous dialog. The impassive sex. The cringe-worthy acting. And, it's set in Vegas, baby! If any film is rife for theatrical parody, it's Showgirls. (One of its stars actually did create a Showgirls 2 spoof/sequel!)
But the idea of having the lead characters in Paul Verhoeven's hot-mess masterpiece re-enacted by cross-dressers is sheer brilliance and such a no-brainer, we're actually kinda shocked it hadn't been done before. After seeing the new production, Showgirls In Drag, which happens every Wednesday at the Dragonfly nightclub in Hollywood, it's hard to imagine another live version that could match co-writers/directors' Stephen Guarino and Beth Wheatley's so-bad-it's-good take on the film, which ends up both a skewering and celebration of the cult classic.
The hilarity is largely due to the two leads, two well-tucked lovelies many might know via their L.A. nightlife activities and bookings, as well as their music project Tranzkuntinental (the popular cover band featuring she-males backed by rock dudes mashing up pop and punk). Sin City newcomer Nomi Malone is played with convincing deadpan density by Willam Belli, aka “Hollywood's hardest working television tranny” (her role as “Cherry Peck” on FX's Nip/Tuck remains one of the most memorable from the now defunct show). Elizabeth Berkley was obviously trying to be provocative in her first starring role, which is part of what made her so painful to watch in it. Belli takes it to an entirely different place… a place that's funnier and nastier, while being referential to the Save By The Bell babe's forced bravado.
It was just announced this week that Belli will be a contestant on the upcoming season of RuPaul's Drag Race 4. We're gonna call it right here: S(he) will win based on quips and cracks (both kinds) alone.
Her more seasoned rival, Cristal Connors, is channeled by the alluring Detox ICunt, who not only has the droll diva delivery to bring Gina Gershon's lippy lusciousness to life (love when she says “darlin'”), she's got the derrier too.
Together, the pair take the bodacious chemistry they've brought to Tranz-K's gigs and put a deeper — yes, deeper — more (trans)formative spin on it, layering on the irony thicker than their MAC lip gloss, and mocking the insipid storyline that earned Showgirls the honor of being dubbed one of the worst movies of all time (and hence most popular via rental, cable and DVD sales).
The film is so well-known in fact, even the show's more subtle recreations and changes really don't need to be explained. But just in case, there is a narrator, another Tranz-K gal, Miss Vicky Vox, who played multiple characters the night we attended: Nomi's braided roommate Molly and the strip club owner Big Mama. Vox also rouses the crowd for audience participation, most notably when Nomi famously mispronounces her designer dress by Versace, as “Ver-say's. ” The crowd is directed to yell, “It's 'Ver-sa-chee' bitch!” And of course, there are more opportunities to do so than in the original.
Like the Dragonfly's other hit stage version of a terrible film, the long running Point Break Live (which you can still catch there), Showgirls in Drag makes great use of the venue. Maybe even better use. Much of the movie takes place in strip clubs and on the Vegas stage, which are not only easy to reproduce inside a nightclub, they feel more authentic. Stripper poles are set up amid the audience chairs and Nomi's unforgettably aggressive lap dance for Zach Carey (Kyle MacLachlan in the movie) is done off stage in one of the club's VIP tables (spot-lit, of course).
Some of the VIP tables often hold real celeb fans too. Seen recently: Adam Lambert, RuPaul's Drag Race 3 winner Raja (both of whom were there the same night we were) and a bona fide star of the original movie, Gina Rivera, who played Molly. Thankfully her rape scene is not in the play version.
The entire cast brings it big time. The dance segments have just the right amount of sequins, swirls and twirls to conjure Las Vegas' spectacles, though the budget is surely anything but high-roller like. Having access to a bunch of drag queens' closets is clearly very beneficial to all.
You can see Showgirls In Drag tomorrow night, Wed., Nov. 16. The show will take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday and return the following week. Find more info, including weekly DJ'd dance parties and live performances by cast members and their friends after the show, at showgirlsindrag.com.
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