Heels of Glory has the feel of pantomime, the adult variety, although it could get much more down and earthy;complete with audience participation but no pie throwing. Audiences should be prepared to enter into the spirit of it all to fully recognize this light entertainment with a heart of gold.
Welcome to La Douche! Behind the glamorous, glittering façade of legendary drag club La Douche all is not as it seems…Will our heroes be in time to save the drag world?
Heels of Glory is now playing at the Chelsea Theatre following a seven-year-long development period and this is its second showing in London. These are the opening words in the programme for Heels of Glory and gives an inkling as to how it may go: it’s supremely silly in the most delightful sense of the word.
The production is backed by a talented and experienced team. Written by Tricity Vogue with her intimate knowledge of the world of drag, Heels of Glory has benefited greatly from the experiences of her alter ego, Heather Tyrell. Tyrell is a veteran writer and an experienced performer. Her partner on this show is Richard Link whose quirky and lively score sends the audience out singing Don’t Let Them Drag You Down from the all dancing finale which most definitely includes the audience.
Heels of Glory has been directed from its earliest days by Stephen Heatley, imported from Canada by his long-time friend and collaborator, composer Link. Heatley has developed many new musicals and was keen to work on this project. He likes the combination of musical theatre, drag, cabaret and clowning, and has blended these to serve the narrative well.
Meth, aka Benjamin Giddins, is production designer extraordinaire. He is influenced by comic books, colour and curves and has produced a visually exciting show with a high drag camp aesthetic. Working within this aesthetic is costume designer Neil Gordon. The costumes for the Splenderella character, in particular, are appropriately fabulous and the finale with the full cast is a rainbow in sequins and heels.
The band occupy the upstage area of the stage and staging of the action is restricted to a series of props and signs by illustrator Steve May, again in the comic book aesthetic. This is an effective device for the style of the show and is well executed by the cast who make it an entertaining feature.
The band, under the direction of Link on keyboards, greets the audience with some very cool music. The quartet joyfully execute the score in a tight ensemble and full, rich sound.
Lastly there’s the icing on the cake in the form of a top notch cast.
Heading the list is Topsie Redfern, aka Nathan Kiley playing Splendorella. Kiley has a long history in musical theatre but it’s his time as Topsie that informs his portrayal of Splendorella, headliner at La Douche and the face of Supreme cosmetics. This queen clasps the audience close to her bosom from her first entrance, working the room like the professional she is. Kiley sings up a storm throughout and her power ballad, You Can’t Change What I Am, just a little close in style and feel to a musical theatre classic with a similar name, shows off an amazing vocal range.
Playing Allura Supreme, head of a cosmetics company and arch villainess, is Sarah-Louise Young. Young is very strong vocally, hitting the high notes of her numbers with great style and ease. She also proves to be no slouch in camping it up in her own wicked way. I Hate a Man in Drag and The Day a Drag Queen Dies are outstanding musical theatre numbers cleverly delivered.
The heroes of the story are a pair of teenagers out on a birthday treat for Honey. Her friend Jay takes Honey to La Douche to see her idol. Matthew Lloyd Jones looks like an ingenue due both to his acting chops but also to the clever styling. She’s a vision in silver and pink. A note to the costume department though: the back of that outfit needs to be revised unless the audience is really supposed to see the underpinning of the lady.
Susan Harrison plays the friend, Jay, who appears androgynous. Jay is only 15 and could well be male with an as yet unchanged voice and yet could be a girl who likes to dress up as a boy. The jury is out on this one. Whichever gender, Jay is a fan of James Bond and his antics as that hero show fine comic timing.
Together Harrison and Jones deliver some snappy dialogue and duets and keep the narrative moving along at an energetic pace.
Supporting the main characters are a crew of four henchmen, each played by skilled artists in singing, dancing and clowning. They are Kiki Lovechild, Josh Morris (aka Beth Necessity), Holli Dillon and Grace K Miller (aka Good Ness Gracious). The henchmen play security guards, hideously deformed drag queens and everything in between. They add unlimited fun to the whole show and lovely harmony to the production numbers.
There is some feel of pantomime, the adult variety, although it could get much more down and earthy than it did at the matinee performance I attended, complete with audience participation but no pie throwing. Audiences should be prepared to enter into the spirit of it all to fully recognize this light entertainment with a heart of gold.