Laurie Beechman Theatre – ongoing, every other Friday
“If you’re easily offended, please get the hell out of here right now,” Dallas Dubois tells the audience after the opening number of “Distorted Diznee,” a drag show that aims to take your favorite scenarios from classic Disney films and stage shows and stand them on their enchanted heads. Created and directed by Dubois, the show, with varying onstage personnel, has been playing off and on at the Laurie Beechman Theatre for more than a year. Currently it alternates on Friday nights with another entry in the franchise, “Distorted Broadway.”
Dubois greets the crowd with the kind of chummy intimacy that made Carol Burnett so endearing in the opening moments of her 1960s/70s television variety series. Though she’s attired in a girlish, polka-dotted frock, Dubois has a somewhat tomboyish quality—an odd drag twist that somehow works. She proves to be a dear clown, and during the course of the evening she turns up in several welcome guises, including a gastrointestinally distressed Belle from Beauty and the Beast and a manic, self-“medicated” Mary Poppins.
Prior to Dubois’s meet-and-greet, the evening’s other three performers—Holly Dae, Bootsie LeFaris, and Pixie Aventura—present a rather tame rendition of a couple of numbers from the 1997 animated film Hercules. This is an odd choice for an opening salvo, as Hercules is a decidedly lesser-known title in the Disney canon. The Hercules selections are lip-synched in straightforward fashion (none of the musical numbers in the show is sung live), and the choreography during the bit, though passable, is not especially inventive. I had thought this wouldn’t be just my bachelor uncle’s drag show, but maybe my hopes ran too high.
No worries. After Dubois’s welcoming chat, things pick up quickly. LeFaris shows up in a Chinese robe and dark-rimmed glasses to re-imagine Disney’s Mulan as a snippy Asian-American nail technician. Here we get touches of the sort of performance-art drag associated with figures like Lypsinka. For this brand of drag, a loud, jerky soundtrack samples all sorts of pop culture tidbits: dance-club tracks and snippets from movies, along with some apparently homemade sound bites. The Mulan routine may not be completely satisfying, but it turns the show in a more interesting direction.
Following the precedent set by the Mulan number, subsequent sequences feature slightly edgy race-oriented content. Wearing a slinky body suit with a fluorescent jungle print, Dubois plays a white actress portraying Broadway’s “Nubian princess,” Aida. We hear her inner monologue as she struggles for some sort of authenticity in the role: “Think Martha Graham! Think Alvin Ailey!” At one point she uses her stylish, slightly Nefertiti-esque hat as a bongo drum. Aventura plays Snow White in a later sketch, the soundtrack of which is filled with racially charged language. There’s a kind of fascinating grotesquerie in the Snow White segment that wasn’t even hinted at in the Hercules opening number (and that doesn’t occur again at quite the same pitch during the course of the show).
Each of the performers has one or two memorable solo spots. Dae flops around the stage floor like a dying sea bass as Ariel the Little Mermaid. Aventura performs an impressively vigorous belly dance as Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine. And LeFaris leaps to and fro athletically as a be-fringed Pocahontas channeling Tina Turner. Not surprisingly, some legendary Disney villainesses—Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty). Ursula (The Little Mermaid) and Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmations)—all take a turn in the evil-diva spotlight.
Much of the wit in “Distorted Diznee” is of the cudgel rather than the rapier sort, but on the night I saw the show, the audience was clearly having a grand time. Considerable thought has gone into the show’s trappings, from the soundscapes to the costuming. Might anyone truly be offended by the material? Not likely—unless you’re one of those people that think all drag is inherently misogynistic, in which case, why would you even attend? While Uncle Walt’s head may be spinning in its icebox somewhere, everyone else encountering “Distorted Diznee” is more apt to be Happy than Grumpy.
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.