Trevor Ashley: “Queen of the Moment”
At the risk of being asked to turn in my “gay card,” I must confess that I do not follow Drag Race or any of its offspring. I occasionally catch a random episode of one or another, or I’ll see a clip on Facebook or YouTube but that’s the extent of my involvement. So I came to Trevor Ashley, Australia’s entry in the self-importantly titled show Queen of the Universe (an amalgam of the original Drag Race and The Voice which could easily be called Drag World’s Got Talent) cold, with no expectations other than high praise from former Bistro Award winner Kim David Smith who sang the praises of his fellow Australian. Having seen Queen of the Moment, Ashley’s sensational new show at Green Room 42, I can only say that I am not surprised that he was a finalist and find it hard to believe that he didn’t win the whole damned thing.
Imagine, if you will, that Mae West and Shirley Bassey were to have a child—that would begin to capture the energy, the style, the talent (and the clothes and wig) that Ashley brings to the stage. Back home, he’s had a theatrical career, as well as achieving cabaret, club, and concert stardom, playing major roles in Hairspray (as Edna), Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Les Misérables among others. He brings that wealth of experience to bear in a constantly entertaining, surprising, electrifying performance with the spectacular assistance of music director Brian Nash playing and arranging. Nash is truly a one-man orchestra filling every need the singer may have. The result was a rip-roaring, raise-the-roof, side-splitting, dramatic, naughty-and-nice smash hit.
He opened with a nod to one of his inspirations, the aforementioned Ms. Bassey with her hit, “Get This Party Started” (Pink). His next number represented the Mae West side of the occasion with the dirty blues classic “Rough and Ready Man” (Alberta Hunter) in which he made the double entendres—single, with the raunchy panache of a 1930s nightclub star. For his audition for Priscilla, he rewrote the lyrics to the camp classic, “I’ve Never Been to Me” (Ron Miller, Kenneth Hirsch) made all the more current by the announcement earlier that day that Hugh Jackman, who was prominently featured in the new lyrics, had split with his wife. I caught many of the references but the Aussies in the house reveled in each and every obscenity-laced one. Showing that his remarkable voice could provide far more than rampant hilarity, he then offered a majestic take on Peter Allen’s “I Could Have Been a Sailor” done with his tongue definitely out of his cheek. But before starting he couldn’t resist announcing that the arrangement was inspired by Miriam Margolyes…instead of Maureen McGovern.
Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too” was brought together with her “Made You Look” for a club/ dance moment that showed off yet another side of Ashley’s talent. To change things up yet again, he then turned “The Rose” (Amanda McBroom) into an overwhelmingly emotional, anthemic hymn to his mother who had recently passed. Then came a full-on, three-song tribute to Dame Shirley that was a musical and comedic highlight of the evening, revealing a talent for satirical mimicry that rivaled his vocals. The songs were highlights from Ashley’s symphonic tour of Diamonds are for Trevor, starting with the deliriously excessive spectacle of “Diamonds are Forever.” In the violently choreographed “Big Spender” (Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields), the vocals took on a whisper of Eartha Kitt to enhance the Bassey sound. The tribute ended with a royal skewering of her 1970 hit recording of George Harrison’s “Something” that even duplicated that arrangement’s final demented descent into ’70s cheese. Ashley seemed to be attempting to sing without the use of consonants, which left the audience roaring with laughter.
Cementing his rightful place on the contemporary side of things, the singer then chose Kylie Minogue’s “Better the Devil You Know” (Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman) and owned it in a gorgeous moment in the show. Then it was back to his impressive impression talents with a volcanic performance of “River Deep, Mountain High” (Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich) in tribute to Tina Turner. An almost unbearably funny imagining of Liza Minnelli starring in Cats and singing “Memory” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn) was resurrected from his show, Liza’s Back…is Broken. It was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. In fact, on the way out I was approached by an audience member who wanted to thank me for the enjoyment he had gotten watching me enjoying the Liza number. I have never been complimented in that way, but I’ll take it, in tribute to the comedic genius of the performance, right down to Minnelli’s “Fosse hands” petting her whiskers.
A few of Ashley’s numbers in competition on Queen of the Universe were included and she closed with one of them, a thoughtful, powerhouse version of “Maybe This Time” (John Kander, Fred Ebb) but claimed as her own without a second of Liza in the performance. To the delight of the cheering crowd, there was a double encore beginning with “I Am What I Am” (Jerry Herman) without Shirley’s voice but with every ounce of her energy, passion and power. The final number, Tina Turner’s “The Best” (Mike Chapman, Holly Knight) was done without the impression and without the wig but with a relentless energy that was almost feral leading to an explosive send-off. After Queen of the Moment, a good argument could be made for Trevor Ashley to lay claim to both the song and the description. Whenever he returns (and he happily announced that he had just gotten his three-year work visa for the U.S. and the U.K.), he should not be missed!
Presented at The Green Room 42, 570 Tenth Ave., NYC, September 15, 2023.
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”