Concert Review: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World Tour’ at Symphony Hall

Acid Betty’s thrilling interpretation of Thriller. (Photos by Megan Volpert)

Everyone is fed up with the ridiculous ticket prices we pay to see legacy acts. $700 nose-bleed seats for Cher’s “final tour,” which has been going on since 2002? No more! This year, I’m resolved to get my very necessary dose of divas the old-fashioned way—by attending drag shows. Same songs, equally stunning looks. But not all drag shows are created equal, of course. There’s Friday night’s local gay bar versus Sunday afternoon’s big city brunch, and then there’s the legendary queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race making their way across the globe. Their Werq the World tour brought the house down at Atlanta Symphony Hall last night, and I scored tickets in Row D for a mere $50 each. That’s well within the Sunday Bloody Mary budget of most grownup fans of the show, but if you want to go biggest, the tour offers a $150 VIP package with tickets in the first few rows, plus a meet and greet with the queens before they perform.

Asia O’Hara draws down the lightening with her baton.

And lest we forget: it’s not only the grownups who love Drag Race—their kids do, too. The littlest kid I saw at the show was maybe 9, and he was definitely dressed to the nines. There was a small army of teenaged boys and girls, all popping the oversized but not overpriced $27 fans they bought at the merch table, all chaperoned by moms and dads who were very glad for such a glamorous night of family fun. One or two jokes about hookers and oral sex aside, Werq the World is a musical showcase that is basically appropriate for all ages. There is a loose plot that amounts to a sciencey, apocalyptic, interplanetary vibe, but really the whole show is a series of solo lip sync performances presided over by an emcee. The music for the show is of course a bunch of RuPaul’s own hits, plus many classics of house and club music from especially the late Nineties that will be nostalgic for a lot of the crowd.

Money X Change is pretty in pink.

The total effect of the program was aptly summarized by my wife as “Cirque Du So Gay.” There are some big, movable set pieces, plus very high-quality lighting and fog machine effects. It also snows soap bubbles at one point, and there’s a pop of confetti and streamers at another point. One queen disappears during a classic magic trick, another flies down from a swing on the ceiling, another appears to be fourteen feet tall. There is baton twirling, killer fashion, gorgeous wigs, and tons of laughs. If you have never seen the television show, the live show is still spectacular. If you love the general idea of drag queens, these specific queens are some of the absolute best examples of their profession right now. Werq the World offers a lot to enjoy, even if you’re not a RuPaul’s Drag Race superfan or even if you’ve never seen a single episode. And you can put down this review now, as the rest of it is for the superfans.

Naomi Smalls wear legs for days.

Okay, hunnies, the tastiest tea about this tour is that Asia O’Hara tops it from the bottom as a very fly emcee. So stop with the backsass about her sleeping butterflies on the Season 10 finale already! Girl has done serious volunteering with the ASPCA to atone for that sad little reveal, and it’s time we let her illustrious career shine again. Because let me remind you: this bold pageant queen from Houston came up at the same time as Alyssa Edwards and has won nearly as many titles. But Alyssa has yet to see the finals stage on the show despite two chances, and only Detox has won more mini-challenges than Asia, who is tied with Alaska at four mini wins. So shantay to Asia O’Hara, who stays for two reasons. One, as emcee, she is the only queen with space to speak and actually improvise. She may be weak in a Snatch Game, but when afforded the chance to be herself and not Beyonce, she brings a queen bee fierceness to bear on crowd control and big laughs. Asia went into a wild crowd and wrangled six audience volunteers for a quick drag competition that was truly epic. She brings not only big personality, but also, ahem, a big baton. Reminder: in high school she was in color guard and watching her serve it up at the end of the show with her very fancy digital baton effects was simply stunning. And yes, I said end of the show; Asia gets the last solo before the group performance finale because she is the most recent, highest ranked queen on the tour. And get used to it! Mama Ru has blessed Asia with spots in both the Drag Race Live! show in Vegas and the celebrity spin-off of Drag Race.

Plastique on a swing as it snows soap bubbles.

The other queens also brought it in their various ways. Naomi Smalls brought her legs. Plastique brought the fish. Acid Betty brought it right into the middle of the audience with a thrilling performance of “Thriller” that could not have been more Dia de los Muertos timely. Monet X Change brought pussycat wigs on pussycat wigs, and a hot minute of burlesque that proved she still has a few moves we haven’t seen. Yvie Oddly brought fifty shades of green face paint and all the screamy circus vibes her contortionism could serve, although Naomi reminded us she can go neck and neck with Evie in a backbend contest.

Kim Chi brought whatever is the opposite of try-hard. The beauty of Kim Chi has sometimes been stunningly original wardrobe, but more often it’s been a down-to-earth, D-I-Y vibe that reminds us that anybody who wants to do drag can do it. She’s a national treasure for Asian visibility, as well as a hero to gaybies in search of their first lewk precisely because she is more cute than fierce. For this show, she offered a wardrobe reveal for how she appeared to be fourteen feet tall, and then clomped around in her thick plats while the other ladies hit their heels—that’s only a read if you’re a pageant queen, but personally for me, Kim Chi telegraphing mere mortality through sensible footwear is legit inspirational.

Sweet attack of the fourteen foot tall Kim Chi.

Roll credits til next year, hunty. If you’re jonesing hard, go can catch Asia, Yvie, Naomi and Kim Chi in Vegas from January 2020 through the end of the summer. Or catch Asia, Monet, and Kim Chi on the celeb spinoff show on VH1 sometime in 2020. Or book a vacation! There are eight shows left across the South, followed by over a dozen international shows across Latin America, Australia and Asia. The Ru-niverse continues to expand, darlings! Pay homage. Or you can go back to paying $125 per month for an entire year on an installment plan to snag a seat a hundred yards from the stage for Cher’s winter tour (side-eye to its title: “Here We Go Again”).

Asia with audience members in the quick-drag competition. Congrats to winner Jamal Wright, third from left.

Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture. She is co-editor of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Philosophy, available for pre-order now.

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