A video montage of drag sensation Alyssa Edwards’ incredibly well documented time spent in the public eye flashes before us in a maelstrom of gorgeous gowns and exaggerated facial expressions. Set to a mashup of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s ‘Woman’s World, the audience is champing at the bit to see her in all her glory. Finally the legend arrives on stage, against a dramatic cityscape in the middle of a rainstorm. She slowly moves to the front of the stage, stares down the audience and swiftly delivers the only sound necessary – her signature ‘tongue pop’.
Over the course of the next 2 hours, Alyssa reveals her innermost thoughts and feelings about her life and career, both on stage and screen and behind the scenes – with some light-hearted jabs at her peers and even some COVID-secure audience interactions.
Starting with her very early childhood, Alyssa takes us through a potted history of her entire life, leading up to her post-Drag Race fame. Stopping along the way to share anecdotes and with her narrative following along a series of ever branching tangents rather than a strict line, she starts with her initial fears of standing out from the crowd (!) and growing up in Mesquite, Texas. Moving on to her teen years, including her first visit to a gay bar and a cherished memory of flying to New York City to attend the Pride celebrations, Alyssa eventually lands on her journey to RuPaul’s Drag Race – the show that catapulted her into the public eye and won the hearts of millions across the world.
This one-woman show is everything you could want from one of the most renowned queens from the Drag Race archives. Alyssa’s ease and likeability positively spill into the auditorium as she moves about the stage, effortlessly poking fun at the audience, her dancers and herself in equal measure. She builds instant rapport with the audience by artlessly sharing stories that would be embarrassing if they weren’t so funny and this relationship is echoed by the four accompanying dancers – Alex Brown, Austyn Farrell, Billy Sawyer and Luke Vella – who not only execute every piece of choreography expertly, but flavour each routine with their own individual personalities too. While Alyssa’s stories are very often interrupted by small anecdotes and funny memories that seem to pop into her head at random, this only enhances her charm. Proving herself the true dancing diva, Alyssa breaks up her tales with a mix of energetic routines and some truly beautiful lyrical moments. The undeniable high point of the show comes at the beginning of Act Two where Alyssa leads her dancers through dazzling rendition of ‘Work Me Down’ (from 1987 movie Disorderlies). A high-octane 80s synth number, it’s the perfect injection of energy that brings the audience to its feet with thunderous applause.
As the world begins to come together again with the gradual reopening of theatres and performance venues, shows such as Alyssa: Memoirs of a Queen! are the perfect tonic to the cabin fever we have all felt. Mixing in heartfelt and truly moving personal stories with backstage gossip and light secrets shared with her fellow drag queens, Alyssa delivers a beautifully balanced platter that is every part as delicious as the ‘lovely fifth alternate’ herself!
Reviewed by Alex Foott