Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Drag culture is in flux at the moment. For decades, occasional nights hosting karaoke in gay bars have been the best most acts could hope for: in recent years, though, the ascendancy of TV reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race from cult hit to mainstream phenomenon has seen an influx of American-style drag performance alongside more traditional, British campery.
In recent years, drag performer Chris Dennis, in his persona as glamorous singing star La Voix, has blurred the lines further, mingling drag with that other grand tradition of cross-dressing, the panto dame. After a series of well-received turns in the Aylesbury Waterside pantomime alongside stars from Cilla Black to Su Pollard, La Voix returns with a one-woman comedy cabaret, backed by a four-piece band.
The biggest asset La Voix has is, as her stage name would suggest, her voice. Rich and blessed with an impressive belt, starting with Shirley Bassey’s cover of Pink’s Get the Party Started sets out her stall musically – familiar numbers covered with precision and a whole lot of heart.
A further number, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, allows her to talk about her experience as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent, which saw her reach the ITV show’s live semi-finals in 2014 (“Yes, we’re still milking that one,” she drily observes). Backstage tales of the exertion required to make television presentation look effortless are delivered with the sort of self-deprecating charm that infuses La Voix’s intra-song comedy.
The rest of Act I’s musical numbers are taken up by a number of impressions of classic divas, from Cher (“Always sing like you’re trying to get a hair out of your mouth,” we are told is the key to a good impression) to Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli.
But while the impressions are vocally spot on, the comedian in La Voix is never far away. Rather than performing a “traditional” Garland number, we are treated to how she may have approached Whitney Houston’s 1980s hit I Wanna Dance With Somebody (pretty effectively, it turns out). Meanwhile, her daughter Liza’s long career is fondly lampooned with a performance of the Mein Herr chair routine from her Oscar-winning performance in Cabaret, as if played by the Minnelli of today. While La Voix’s burly dancers perform the routine beside her with suggestive precision, the star herself displays some adept physical comedy skills as she struggles to keep up.
In the first half of the show, the music is predominant while the comedy backs it up. It’s an effective mix, except for a wincingly awful segment in which La Voix makes a brief series of jokes about Jews, ostensibly making comment about Easter weekend. It is surprising that any comic these days would consider any comments bordering on anti-Semitism to be worthy of inclusion – but for La Voix, a comedian whose shtick is founded upon a delivery that may be cutting, but is never anything but affectionate, it feels out of place as well as being out of order. Some Act II comments in which she refers to her dresser as “Jew-ann” suggests something deeper may be at work here: one hopes not, because it does discolour what is otherwise a tremendous evening.
But while such events are concerning, they are also fleeting. In the second half, stand up and audience interaction dominate, while the musical numbers are deferred somewhat. A particularly fine rendition of Only You may be an Alison Moyet impression, or La Voix singing “straight” – it’s hard to tell, as their voices share so much character.
The final set of impressions – after describing how to perform Shirley Bassey, she describes Tina Turner as “much the same, but with the coat hanger still in your dress and holding a football between your legs” – illustrate once more how La Voix’s vocal mimicry is matched only by her comedic charms. And while some of her inappropriate comedy moments leave a slightly bitter aftertaste, the overall impression is of a performer who dearly wants to love, and to be loved by, her audience. Judging by the crowds seeking selfies after the show, that is something she has achieved.
Reviewed on 30 March 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed