Every Las Vegas Strip show shut down last March, but only one documented the impact of the early days of the pandemic on television.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Live, which had just opened in January at the Flamingo Showroom, was barely settling into its production schedule when casinos and theaters started to close to fight the spread of the coronavirus. RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue, a VH1 series spinning off the wildly popular RuPaul’s Drag Race TV competition show, was filming the behind-the-scenes exploits of the Flamingo show and ended up capturing the stressful times for the cast and crew as everything ground to a halt.
“It was definitely disappointing, [especially] because we had all been touring prior to coming to Las Vegas and we were looking forward to doing the show and staying in one place, finding that consistency and leading a somewhat normal life,” says Asia O’Hara, who hosts the high-energy drag spectacular that will reopen on the Strip on August 5. “Just when we thought we were getting comfortable and could take a deep breath and enjoy the show and our lives, it was shut down and we all went back to our respective cities.”
For O’Hara, an entertainer whose career exploded after she placed fourth on the 10th season of the TV version of Drag Race, that meant a whole lot of time back home in Texas and a bit of a vacation from drag in general, at least in the early days of the pandemic.
“I really wanted to focus on other things I’ve had sort of sitting in the back of the closet for the past decade, to work on things I never had time to do and fall back in love with old hobbies,” she says. “Later in the summer I started doing the Drive N Drag tour, which was probably the hardest thing I’ve done, drag-wise, but it kept us working and out in front of people, and it made the year seem not as dismal. It gave us hope.”
Since returning to Las Vegas in July for rehearsals and preparation, O’Hara says she has developed a greater appreciation for working “inside an air-conditioned theater as opposed to a parking lot in Los Angeles at 4 p.m.” But above all, she’s ready to pick up where she left off with the show and a life in Vegas.
“I’m here with fresh eyes and an open mind and heart and looking forward to getting back into the show but also just seeing other things the entire state of Nevada has to offer,” she says.
As the host of Drag Race Live, O’Hara interacts with the audience more than her fellow queens—including Derrick Barry, Kameron Michaels, Yvie Oddly, Naomi Smalls and Vanessa “Vanjie” Matteo—get to. Directed by RuPaul and Jamal Sims and produced by the same World of Wonder team behind the TV show, the Strip stage show hit the ground running as an intriguing and exciting blend of the established Drag Race brand and over-the-top, Vegas-style showmanship. Its audience was even more diverse than you might expect, happily cheering along a booming celebration of music, fashion and drag culture.
“It’s a good mix and a healthy mix for us, because a lot of times we’re in front of our own fanbase that loves everything you do regardless of how good it is,” O’Hara says. “Here, we have that die-hard fanbase, and we have some people we have to win over. That takes work, and we only have a 90-minute show to do it.
“There’s definitely a learning curve but it’s a nice one that keeps you on your toes,” O’Hara continues. “It’s my job every night to bring these people into our world and show them just what Drag Race means to everyone.”
RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE LIVE Thursday-Monday, 9:30 p.m., $49-$122. Flamingo, 885-234-7469.
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