In my books, there are two types of drag queen. There’s your more common variety, who does it for show, to be spotted in bars that pepper Oxford Street, Sydney, often from midnight to dawn, by which time they might be found in the gutter behind bars like The Flinders and The Beresford. And then there’s your professional performer who lives to entertain, dresses up to get paid, and occasionally goes beyond the usual lip-synching routine to actually sing! It’s the latter category that the talent of Trevor Ashley falls into.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Ashley perform in several shows during various Mardi Gras festivals, and much of the public might have witnessed him in massive productions that have toured the country, including his role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, and a spot in Priscilla: The Musical.
But it’s when Ashley appears on stage solo that his talent truly shines and there is no diva he channels better than Liza Minnelli.
In Liza (On An E), Ashley blends the pomp and circumstance of Minnelli’s superstar persona and his own avid passion of singing. His voice, in fact, is so akin to that of Minnelli’s that you’d think there was a bit of surgery involved. Alas, it’s all real.
While the singing side of it is very much ‘one-man-show’, Ashley is accompanied by no less than seven orchestral players who fill in the fife and brass bits brilliantly. He does demand, however, that the lighting engineer keeps the spotlight securely on him and him only – as only an avid diva could.
Liza (On An E) traverses Minnelli’s discography, from her memorable hits from Cabaret, through standards such as New York, New York, to rare studio recordings, and even one of the gems she recorded with camp electronic duo, the Pet Shop Boys.
Ashley puts so much heart and soul in his performance that by the end of it you see the proverbial blood (Minnelli’s sangue boiling through his), sweat (running all down his face), and tears (what the performer’s mascara ends up looking like – purposely, of course).
And just when the audience is being blown away at how uncanny Ashley’s version of Liza is, he suddenly begins channelling the singer’s very mother – Judy Garland – to deliver a torchsong vocal that sends shivers down even the hardest of spines.
Although this production is part of the current Fringe World Festival on in Perth, it really deserves a position on a bigger stage, such is the quality of the performance. But audiences will agree that the intimate setting of the De Parel Spiegeltent is far more enjoyable than seeing this sequin cat-suited, pixie-haired performer from a distance. That said, it’s a must-see.
Liza (On An E) is on at the De Parel Spiegeltent, Perth Cultural Centre until Saturday 16th February, from 8.15pm each night. Tickets are $45 available through www.fringeworld.com.au.
Photography by John Macrae.