Well… only Alyssa Edwards could order her own standing ovation. The Dancing Queen herself, leading lady (in the eyes of her passionate fans, as well as herself) of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 and All Stars Season 2, and star of her own Netflix show, Alyssa Edwards’ show Alyssa: Memoirs of a Queen! brings the story of her life to the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End, culminating in her calling the audience to their feet for a dance and a cheer. Unfortunately, the show falls short of its promise to tell the story of its effervescent star.
Let’s get this out of the way early doors – Alyssa is an absolute queen. She’s funny, unique and completely unpredictable; moreover, she’s an entertainer down to the marrow. Proclaiming that ‘she doesn’t read scripts – she is the script,’ nothing in the show seems like it’s planned – she darts from story to story, her pointed glare and hypnotic Southern drawl casting a spell over the whole audience.
As she weaves through stories of her personal life from young, naïve ingenue from Mesquite, Texas, USA to global superstar drag sensation, there’s a clear sense that Alyssa has no problem riffing, if it’s what her audience wants. Her connection with us cheap-seat subjects is palpable, and it’s in the free-form audience interaction sections that she proves why people pay top dollar just to be in the same room as her.
The problem with the rest of the show is… it’s just not that interesting. There’s some juicy behind-the-scenes tea about RuPaul’s Drag Race in the second act, but far too often Alyssa ends up on a rambling journey about a pageant she took part in in 1999, or a left-field anecdote about puberty and human biology. It’s not that the stories are badly told – they just go on for a VERY long time, and every time you think you’ve reached the punchline, it veers in a different direction.
Alyssa doesn’t do scripts, but maybe in this instance, a bit of tightening, editing and getting to the point could have done the show the world of good.
There are of course moments of choreography from the Dancing Queen, but Alyssa: Memoirs of a Queen doesn’t quite tap the potential of the drag superstar who delivered, in this reviewer’s opinion, one of the best Drag Race lip-syncs of all-time (‘Shut Up and Drive’ vs Tatianna in All Stars 2, if you were wondering).
Her four back-up dancers, however, (Austyn Farrell, Luke Verra, Alex Brown and Billy Sawyer) DE-LI-VER with their electric moves, snatching the audience’s attention whenever they appear, and though their appearances are often short and sweet, they always bring the energy right back up to a ten whenever they show up. If anything, they slightly threaten to upstage the talent of their leading lady, though of course Alyssa puts them all in their place during a haunting performance near the end of Act One.
The lighting is simple, the song choices unsurprising but still enjoyable. The set is sparse – a makeup table, a chest of costumes and wigs, which are sadly underused during the show, begging the question why they were onstage at all. They surround our dear and wonderful queen but unfortunately, add little to her performance. I found myself wondering at one point why they’d chosen the Vaudeville Theatre for this show – the audience happily broke all the rules of West End theatre, cheering for, heckling and yelling calls of adoration to Miss Edwards at any opportunity, to the point that it felt like the innate fourth wall of the Vaudeville Theatre was hampering the show’s potential.
It’s a dream for any performer to find themselves on the West End, but with the level of audience interaction and dance sequences Alyssa: Memoirs of A Queen demands, the stage never felt like it could fully contain Alyssa’s boundless, Red Bull-fuelled energy.
At the end of the day, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself. For all her claims of selfishness and self-absorption, Alyssa knows that the audience has paid to see her, and she refuses to leave them out of the action for even a second. It’s a wonder to see such a consummate professional at work, and to hear a little bit about the life of an icon – if only the material could live up to the performance.