Nina West Featuring Seth Rudetsky

Nina West Featuring Seth Rudetsky

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale, AZ, February 10, 2024

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Nina West

Drag Queen Nina West sat on the throne in Seth Rudetsky’s court after receiving rave reviews as Edna Turnblad in the recent national tour of Hairspray. The persona of Nina West belongs to Andrew Levitt, originally from Greentown, Ohio. She rose to national prominence in 2019 with her appearance on the VH1 Emmy-winning show RuPaul’s Drag Race where she placed sixth and was named Miss Congeniality. She was named the “most Googled Drag Queen in the World” for 2020-21 after receiving over 7.8 billion unique searches.

Levitt is clearly a phenomenal talent who began his career at our shared alma mater Denison University. He has a fascinating personal story about having been one of the few out gay men at his college. He came to drag in a college show by lip-synching to Linda Eder’s “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote).” He spent his post-college years working in clubs in Columbus, Ohio under the mentorship of his “drag mother” Virginia West. Persistence, confidence, and belief in his talent eventually led to his television prominence that opened some doors and will hopefully lead to Broadway. Levitt has a clear, high baritone/tenor range and good acting chops and I would even pay to see him perform in non-drag roles. There were plenty of Drag Race fans in the audience, and West was articulate about the cutthroat world of television drag as compared with appearing in clubs and bars.

Rudetsky chose “When You’re Good to Mama” (Kander & Ebb; from Chicago) as the show’s opening song, a role West could definitely play. West was equally strong on “Somewhere That’s Green” (Alan Menkin/Howard Ashman) but he is way too tall to play Audrey. The show was too heavy on conversation with West and Rudetsky only performing nine songs over the two-hour cabaret. West proclaimed herself a Disney baby and a huge fan of Ashman, who tragically died of AIDS at age 40 in 1991. She shined on “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” a saucy, evil-character song from The Little Mermaid and on “Sheridan Square,” one of the most poignant songs in the American Songbook and one that sums up the AIDS epidemic. West delicately sang each lyric and brought tears to my eyes.  She is a veteran of Disney+ Pride, and she shared stories about and her love of working with Alan Menkin. She proclaimed that another career high was working with The Muppets, and of course Rudetsky called for the song “Rainbow Connection” (Kenneth Ascher/Paul Williams).

As with any Rudetsky cabaret, there was plenty of gossip and name dropping. In addition to an opening video clip of West, there was an entertaining video of Cher in male drag playing all of the characters in West Side Story. (Meeting Cher is still on West’s bucket list.) She has, however, buddied with Melissa McCarthy and Rosie O’Donnell. (We learned Rudetsky had written for O’Donnell early in his career.) Improv comedy reigned. West was clearly grateful to be in Scottsdale with Rudetsky. Her return came full circle in as much as she had given her final performances in Hairspray at the ASU Gammage Center in Tempe, Arizona. West shared “(You’re) Timeless to Me” from that show along with a medley in which she impersonated Harvey Fierstein; it hurt my ears and made me worry for her vocal cords. “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton would have been better if it had been sung by Levitt rather than West.

Having been a big Linda Eder fan since college, West closed with “Bring on the Men” (Leslie Bricusse/Frank Wildhorn) and put it all out there, going into the audience and ending on a long, high note. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative despite being smaller than usual. West was a replacement for Kelli O’Hara, who has been rescheduled for later in 2024. Having not heard of Levitt or West, I was grateful to cover the show, and I look forward to seeing him and his drag persona the next time he’s in town.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.