Review by Daz Gale
Following an appearance on short lived TV show Walk The Line and a successful run at this years Edinburgh Fringe, a new group of Drag Queens ate strutting their way around the UK as part of a mammoth tour Queenz – The Show With Balls. While the timing with a name like that may be slightly unfortunate, the show must go on – and after getting a taster of the show at last years West End LIVE, I was more than ready to go balls deep into their full show as they kicked off their brand new extensive UK tour with a date in London. The question is, while I enjoyed the act for 10 minutes, would an entire 2 hour show of theirs werk?
Queenz consists of five Drag Queens who have come together to form one super girl group, following in the high heels (and platform shoes) of those that have come before them. They are Bella Du Ball aka Ben Sell, Billie Eyelash aka Luke Hall, Zeze Van Cartier aka Lew Ray, Candy Caned aka Josh Hanson and Dior Monte aka Jaymi Hensley, who you may recognise as one of the members of Union J (who just last month shared a stage with Christina Aguilera). Some of the Queenz are no stranger to the world of theatre with Jaymi having played Joseph of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame, Luke starring in Priscilla and Ben has donned Kinky Boots. With impressive credits like that, you already know this show is going to be camp.
Together, the five of them become one incredibly impressive group with live vocals for days. Each of them enjoy turns to showcase their huge talents in both solo performances and together as a group. Together, they exhibit beautiful harmonies, but solo they really shine with Dior Monte (Jaymi) delivering a vocal masterclass with ‘Never Enough’ from The Greatest Showman and Bella Du Ball (Ben) showing an insane vocal range throughout, bringing the house down with a medley of LGBTQ+ anthems ‘I Am What I Am’ and ‘I Will Survive’. While Drag Queens may be more commonly associated with lip synching, there is none to be found here with unashamedly live vocals from start to finish.
You’d suspect a show like this may be the teensiest bit stagey, and you would be right. One undoubted highlight of the evening is an incredible section named “Drag me to the musicals” where the Queenz tackle 20 different musicals in under 7 minutes. Those paid tribute to include Cats, Chicago and Evita, all performed brilliantly with changed lyrics adding a bit of humour and even intelligence to the mix. The most genius of which was Dior Montes Wicked tribute where she instead sung about “Defying gender roles”.
The setlist was filled with more camp classics than you can shake a glittery stick at with legendary divas such as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner and of course their own iconic Queens the Spice Girls all paid tribute to. Highlights included a cleverly deconstructed version of Lady Gagas ‘Born This Way’ which highlighted the relevance of the lyrics, a stunning version of Cher’s timeless classic ‘Believe’ and a beautiful moment towards the climax where the Queens sat on stools (you can take the boy out of the boyband but you can’t take the boyband out of the boy) to deliver a beautiful and moving rendition of Cyndi Laupers ‘True Colors’.
The music was all expertly supervised and arranged by Alex Turney and produced by Arj Chawda, with clever ways of splicing various songs together. ‘Never Ever’ into ‘Believe’ was a stroke of genius, the Spice Girls medley was utterly joyful while a Latin infused medley featuring classics from Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan was a sure-fire way to get the audience on their feet. The songs where the Queenz added their own lyrics were a highlight of the show, but I would have personally liked to have seen more of this throughout. This was, for me, what made the show excel and become something more than a by-numbers show you can see anywhere else. When this happened, it was fantastic, but sometimes these moments were too few and far between.
The show also comes with impressive production elements, with particularly inspired lighting on both the stage and their impressively endowed QUEENZ sign permanently behind them at all times. The lighting design from Adam Murdoch gave the impression of a live arena show, with moments where the five Queens were bathed in rainbow lighting a beautiful touch. Choreography from Kieran Dailey Ward, Max Rayzor, Stuart Rogers and Matthew Stevens had the Queenz looking like a girl group, as did their gorgeous costumes designed by Rikki Finlay.
While there is no over-arching story to Queens (this is essentially a concert designed to give you a great evening) it does tie together with a beautiful message that plays out at the end. Telling the audience to live your truth unapologetically and then you too can be a Queen, it was hard not to feel an extra sense of gravitas on top of the fun factor. Interaction with audience members (if you dare to sit in the front row, prepare to be picked on) provided a hilarious bit of ad-libbing while dialogue between the Queenz in general was pretty funny throughout. Structurally, the show could use a little bit more tying together, with act 2 suffering from a pacing issue in comparison to a much more solid first act, largely down to all the Queenz getting a solo number after each other – splitting these throughout the show instead would instantly fix this pacing problem.
Ultimately, Queenz is here to remind us all to not take life so seriously and for that it did its job remarkably. While we have all been through difficult times of late, a much needed bit of escapism is always welcome and this show more than delivers, allowing us to tuck our problems firmly behind us. With incredible live vocals and a great selection of songs (albeit with the tiniest but of tweaking needed), this could be one of the most fun nights you will have in a theatre. Move over Spice Girls, there’s a new group of Queenz in town.
Queenz – The Show With Balls tours around the UK into 2023. Dates and tickets from https://www.queenztheshow.com/