Heels of Glory: The Drag Action Musical

| May 28, 2016

Heels of Glory: The Drag Action Musical

Pride in London Festival
Chelsea Theatre
June 9-26, 2016

May 27, 2016

By Fiona Coffey for Cabaret Scenes

(L-R): Susan Harrison as Jay, Matthew Floyd Jones as Honey, Topsie Redfern AKA Nathan Kiley as Splendorella, Sarah-Louise Young as Allura Supreme, Kiki Lovechild as Henchman, Josh Morris as Henchman. Photo: James Millar

(L-R): Susan Harrison as Jay, Matthew Floyd Jones as Honey, Topsie Redfern AKA Nathan Kiley as Splendorella, Sarah-Louise Young as Allura Supreme, Kiki Lovechild as Henchman, Josh Morris as Henchman.
Photo: James Millar

For the thousands of visitors drawn to the capital for its annual Pride in London festival in June, curator Duncan Day promises a headline event that will bring ‘”great entertainment and joy to the LGBT+ community.” This is Heels of Glory, the brainchild of two award-winning artists: international cabaret performer and former BBC television scriptwriter Tricity Vogue, and Richard Link, composer of musical theater and choral, film, television and dance music.

Billed as “The Drag Action Musical”, Heels of Glory has developed over seven years as an extraordinary collaboration of London’s top cabaret artists, drag queens and musical theater actors. Various workshop performances have been staged along the way, but the Pride in London Festival brings the first opportunity to see Heels of Glory as a fully realized production in its three-week run at the Chelsea Theatre from June 9-26.  After a long gestation, one senses this is a project whose time has come and that the appeal of Heels of Glory could extend far beyond the LGBT+ community that Day seeks to delight. 

Drag acts have always featured prominently in London’s thriving alternative cabaret scene, but new audiences have been alerted to and inspired by drag culture through the mainstream success of U.S. reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race.  As Time Out reported two months ago, “London’s drag scene is on fire right now.” Drag queen superstar Meth, production designer for Heels of Glory, has been in the vanguard of this process, bringing the stars of Drag Race across the Atlantic, and presenting London Live’s reality show, Drag Queens of London. Alongside this, a new wave of London-based drag artists is stretching the genre beyond female impersonation, exploring all aspects of gender identity through innovative forms of entertainment. And as queer culture becomes associated with universal messages of self-acceptance and empowerment, its voice is being heard well beyond the confines of the LGBT+ community.

Tricity Vogue Photo: James Millar

Tricity Vogue
Photo: James Millar

Tricity Vogue is adamant she did not want this show to be  “a niche thing, just for those in the know.” Her TV screenwriting career left her with an aversion to a broadcast culture where “people were forever trying to create something that was ‘edgy.’” Heels of Glory is positioned as “a grown-up family show for alternative families.” The concept is anchored in mainstream popular culture—an action adventure, with songs inspired by vintage Bond movies—but there is a twist. The hero’s place is taken by an international drag superstar Splendorella, played by Drag Idol finalist Topsie Redfern, who is pitted against villainess Allura Supreme, played by award-winning cabaret artist and actress Sarah-Louise Young.

As Vogue notes, “If you are going to mix secret agents and drag queens, you think of Shirley Bassey, and if you want to make it camp, you look at 1960s James Bond films.” Vogue and Link’s starting point was writing the songs “because those are the pearls on the string and the heart of the story has to be in the songs.” The numbers poke fun at received notions of Bond-style masculinity, such as when Young sings “I Hate a Man in Drag.” The whole is pitched as a joyful “celebration of fabulousness”—a message which few are likely to resist.

The show’s theme echoes Vogue’s journey into cabaret and her own discovery of “fabulousness”with the aid of drag queen, costume designer and mentor Stephane St. Jaymes. St. Jaymes helped to transform “Heather Tyrrel: TV Scriptwriter” into “Tricity Vogue: Cabaret Star,” and his habit of creating fantasy stories with his former drag partner about drag queen secret agents with superpowers was also the inspiration behind Heels of Glory. But the show also reflects Vogue’s personal enquiries around identity that inform her work as a cabaret artist. In her twenties, “the notion you could have a queer family was a revelation.” Reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, she felt “this is my tribe—this group of ambisexual, oddball, outsider creatives that can’t find a way of fitting who they are into the boxes that are available.”

As well as co-writing the show, bringing “outsider creatives” together in a spirit of inclusiveness, has been Vogue’s distinctive contribution to Heels of Glory. The cast and creative team span musical theater and cabaret genres and represent different sexual identities. They have participated in what is clearly a living, breathing creative process, in which ideas as well as differences are worked through intensively and collaboratively. At one stage, Vogue ripped up her script—“It was being treated with too much reverence”—and invited her cast to improvise the scenes, with the show’s director Stephen Heatley. She then reformulated the show, using the best lines.

Left to Right: Topsie Redfern AKA Nathan Kiley as Splendorella, Sarah-Louise Young as Allura Supreme. Photo: James Millar

Left to Right: Topsie Redfern AKA Nathan Kiley as Splendorella, Sarah-Louise Young as Allura Supreme.
Photo: James Millar

Vogue explains: “At every stage, as we’ve broadened out and consulted and shared, we’ve had a sense of how our vision for Heels of Glory can accommodate more and more different types of people and different views. It’s the best way to work, instead of sitting in a box by yourself.” The result is a show that cleverly blends cabaret and musical theater traditions. “We are taking the drag queen out of the back of the pub and putting her in a theater story, but we are also taking the audience out of the theater and bringing them into the cabaret club, because we are making it a much more participatory experience than a traditional theater show.”

Vogue’s joyful enthusiasm as well as her ambition for Heels of Glory are infectious and there is a distinct Field of Dreams air about the enterprise. The three-week run at the Chelsea Theatre —with a stellar cast, four-piece band and production values which honor the theme of “fabulousness”—has been organized without all the necessary funding in place, a successful Kickstarter campaign providing some, but not all, of the backing required. But Vogue remains optimistic that this run will attract the attention of those who can take the show on to bigger and better things. She concludes with a twinkle in her eye: “Obviously, we want to see it in the West End, on Broadway, a film made of it and then I want to buy a castle next door to JK Rowling. I’m going to invite the whole cast over for fabulous parties. We can just have the most amazing ball.” One senses she may be only half joking.

Editors note:
Tickets are now on sale for Heels of Glory from 9-26 June at www.chelseatheatre.org.
More information at www.heelsofglory.com

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Category: Cabaret Features, London, London Cabaret Features, Regional

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