The camp and confident drag show North Side Story is as different in style from much of the stand-up I’ve seen this MICF as your club wear is from your old school uniform. Its irreverent streak and posture makes the show a memorable (if at times agreeably disorienting) night out.
So confident is the show in fact, that it isn’t going to waste too much precious dance time explaining itself, ok honey! North Side Story delivers the familiar drag show elements; fabulous costumes, lip-synching to music, and uninhibited dance-floor displays. However, a live music component was a welcome addition to the genre.
The show takes inspiration from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and I presume it was the 1961 film that provided much of the night’s soundtrack and dialogue. Although not so clear from the action, this transplanted version pits two northside gangs – the mostly blonde and uptight Heathers led by Miff (Christina Andrews) and the raven-haired and gyrating Boogers led by Bernadette (Polly Filla) – against each other in a turf war.
Taking its cue from Bernstein’s musical, the story’s key drama is the recasting of the tragic love of Romeo and Juliet into modern – and unashamedly queer – times. As Tony, diminutive Lala Barlow shows she’s got a voice even bigger than her super Mario brothers moustache. Tony’s scenes with Maria (the solidly build and bearded Lady Diamond, wringing comedy out of Maria’s girlishness) invert expected gender roles through some physical humour.
All supporting players have fun putting suggestive actions to some lyrics of numbers such as America, which might explain why the show was recommended for those 15 and up. It’s bawdy without being tasteless, well mostly, and even then this is offset by comedic shock value.
Whilst often amusing, the show’s best laughs arise when the characters add their own innovations to the musical. The crowd enjoyed a rumble between the gangs with highly novel weaponry. And, a scene where Maria is missing and Tony sings The most beautiful sound I ever heard, whilst the other players screech Maria shows the potential of this art-form for piss-taking. A dance floor mashup was also an inspired addition for getting the audience energised.
The design team deserve a special mention. Hair and makeup give each character their own personality. Costumes are a definite highlight, with paraded fetishes including red velvet, cyber goth, leopard print catsuit, and black suspender belt.
North Side Story is unpredictable and irreverent, with irrepressible performances earning raucous laughter. It is unfortunate that there were only two performances in the season – outside of Midsumma festival, such shows seem hard to find. If there is a return season, and you’re happy to not take drama too seriously, grab a ticket, get a couple of drinks in, and expect a wild party.
North Side Story
The Melba Spiegeltent, 35 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Performance: Thursday 16 April 2015 – 9.00pm
Season: 9 & 16 April 2015
For more information, visit: www.comedyfestival.com.au for details.
Image: courtesy of Geoffrey Masters
Review: Jason Whyte