I couldn’t technically call Courtney Act’s cross-dressing style ‘drag’ for that term has kind of gone the way of, well, trashy now. You only need to view the latest lineup in RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 9) to see that some drag queens are looking more like car crashes these days then supermodels.
No, Courtney is a glamour queen. She’s the girl who indeed came third in season six of Drag Race, regularly critiqued for “relying on pretty”.
But the fact is Act doesn’t rely solely on pretty. In fact, in the talent department Courtney is somewhat of a triple threat. She sings brilliantly, gives good stand-up, and transforms from male to female wardrobe and gesture so well, she turns straight guys bi (at least in fantasy) and has straight girls begging for fashion and makeup tips.
If you didn’t see this girl on Drag Race, you may have caught her on Australian Idol, another talent show in which she scored the bronze ribbon (although in various episodes having achieved gold or silver).
I first caught Courtney performing in a nightclub in Sydney a decade and a half ago and knew even then as a baby queen that her performance warranted a bigger stage. The Perth Fringe World stage on which she performs this week may not be that much grander than that at Arq nightclub but Courtney’s act itself has evolved into something altogether bigger, bolder and brighter. It helps that she’s been performing her show The Girl From Oz in venues across the U.S., where audiences can often be broader and tougher, pushing an artist to perform that much better.
And so she returns to home turf, indeed sounding top-notch in vocals, coming across more confident in comical delivery, and looking, well, like a million dollars.
The Girl From Oz is not a tables-turned post-feminine bent on the musical that once starred Hugh Jackman, nor is it a tribute to Judy Garland in the film that made her most famous despite the pretty poster, although there is a connection to both somewhere in the show. Rather, this is a one-woman production that pays homage to the sheer breadth of musical talent that has escaped our shores, often overlooked and assumed to have been ‘made overseas’.
Courtney reminds us of the songwriting smarts of homegrown talent from Peter Allen to Sia, the chutzpah of Aussie artists such as Chrissie Amphlett and Kylie Minogue, while she also dusts off vintage gems from the likes of Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees and Air Supply.
Usually she’ll sing a song in its original lyrical structure, other times she’ll replace the words to make them even more, well, uniquely ‘Strayan’. One brilliant example of this is where she sings jocularly, to the tune of Men At Work’s Down Under, about some of our more, shall we say, strong-headed female characters – namely Gina Rinehart, Rose Hancock and Julie Bishop – and the love-hate relationship we have with these powerful women.
In sum, Courtney Act is one of the more respectable trans artists throwing light (more than shade) on the women who’ve inspired her (well, alright then, less Gina, more Kylie) as opposed to the sort of queen who’d prefer to make a mockery of the female form and potential. She is woman, hear her roar.
On that note, I’m surprised that classic Helen Reddy tune didn’t make the cut in this clever tribute to Australian musicology. Still, the variety of genres and the broad vocal range prove this artist holds just as much substance as she does style. Antonino Tati
‘Courtney Act: The Girl From Oz’ is on at Salon Perdu, Pleasure Garden, Northbridge until Sunday 19th February.
Tickets are available at www.fringeworld.com.au.