Madison got all kinds of fabulous last Thursday when RuPaul's Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons sashayed into the Barrymore for the night. If you're familiar with the Logo television show, you'll know it features drag queens competing to be America's "next drag superstar." Sort of an America's Next Top Model where RuPaul replaces Tyra and the "ladies" are tucked as well as tweezed.
RuPaul herself needs no introduction. She burst on to the club scene in 1993 with her hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)," and since then has been the familiar, friendly ambassador of drag. One performer at the Barrymore said it best: "If you watch (the show) you've seen drag queens portrayed as sweet, kindly people," she said, "but what you haven't seen are queens as they truly are: boyfriend-stealing, house-robbing, drug-taking a-holes."
That queen was Sharon Needles. She took the time to explain her name was a play on sharing needles, perhaps a necessary explanation as there were a few 10- and 12-year-olds in the crowd. While it definitely wasn't rated PG, Battle of the Seasons was all that Needles described, the sharp, raunchy underbelly of gender play. In short, it was fantastic.
RuPaul wasn't there, but BFF Michele Visage was. She (the only Original Female in the bunch) led off the evening with a Broadway-quality rendition of Annie's "Little Girls," rewritten as "Giant Girls." Then came the queens. Willam, from season four, brought the bawdy with a song designed to get every euphemism for male body parts into one tune. Season five's Detox did some old school Birdcage drag, appearing in a white body-hugging dress and lip synching a sexy rendition of Portishead's Give Me A Reason. But lest it get too classy, don't worry; it was all delightfully downhill from there. The excited crowd thrilled to performances by Manila Luzon, Pandora Boxx and Alaska Thunderfuck.
I grew up and came out in NYC, so none of this is unfamiliar to me. The annual Wigstock dragfest was a must each year, and my first visit to a gay bar involved a 7-foot-tall drag queen whispering to me on the stairs, "Don't worry, honey. Just relax and it will all be okay."
What made this a particularly fun night in Madison was seeing how many people turned out. The joint was packed. Gay, straight, male, female, whatever. Everyone was having a great time. It turned out a couple of the ladies had ties to Madison, and all had ruined their lady-figures with Ian's macaroni-and-cheese pizza earlier in the night. Willam commented, "Y'all don't have anything better to do out here in Madison than mix a carb with a carb?"
The evening was best when it mixed old and new. Boxx's Hermione Granger drag featured a mashup of magic-related songs through the ages. It was a classic act with a Harry Potter theme. Smart, witty, sequined and pop, it wasn't for the children, but everyone else had a blast.