“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has arrived to Las Vegas. Directors RuPaul and Jamal Sims, who also serves as the show’s choreographer, have taken all the audience-loving elements of the TV show to a live show right on the strip.
“It’s the audience, they want it,” RuPaul says when asked why this was the next step in the ever-expanding universe of the show. “The 21st century audiences want more bang for its buck.”
The show’s fandom is certainly one of the most passionate. When the Season 12 RuVeal (the word for the announcement of new cast members) was unveiled on Twitter, the livestream hit 1.1 million views in just under three hours. It’s the show that keeps giving and keeps growing. RuVeal views for Season 12 increased by +409.3% and trending peaked at #2 worldwide and #4 in the United States.
“They want the 360 experience, whether it’s meet and greets, or a record album, or DragCon,” RuPaul says. And that need is what the Vegas show grew out of.
RuPaul and Sims first met 26 years ago when RuPaul was performing at the Sahara Hotel. The two have worked together since, and together they, along with the production company World of Wonder, have shimmied and sashayed through their numerous projects.
Sims says, “This just feels like a continuation of the Sahara shows we did. It was just Ru, me and a dancer but it was still billed as big.”
There’s more than enough for audience engagement. There’s a clap-o-meter and “Ru instructs everybody on how to do the perfect bitch slap,” Sims says. He adds, “It’s a fun audience participation moment.”
RuPaul, who was obsessed with TV growing up, reveals the slap was taken from ‘80s soap operas. “We bring that to the audience so they get to experience it, with sound effects.”
RuPaul is happy to provide instructions on how to perfect that slap. “Both parties have to participate equally,” he stresses. “But you have to have distance between one another so that you don’t hit the person, and it looks like it has connected.”
He continues, “The slapper has to hold their hand above their shoulder long enough.” Holding it long enough, RuPaul and Sims say, helps to build the intensity and theatrics of it. “The person being slapped has to turn to the direction of the slap, snapback and put their hand where the impact would have been,” RuPaul explains.
Adds Sims, “If the hair moves, you know someone has been hit.”
The Vegas show features a mix of original numbers and classic tunes from Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. For Sims, choreographing this show was advantageous. He’d already worked with most of the Queens on the TV show, so he knew their dancing abilities.
Sims says he built dance numbers by looking at comfort levels and emphasized what moves the individuals are good at and do well with.
The Queens had some input in the dance numbers. Vanessa Vanjie “Miss Vanjie” Mateo makes a grand entrance sliding down a stripper pole. Sims says, “I asked her what she wanted to do, and she said, ‘I want to be naked.’”
When choreographing the group numbers, again it was about Sims keying into individual strengths. He staged numbers building from the weakest to the strongest dancers. Sims points out that the Queens always stepped up to the challenge. “They rise to the occasion because I surround them with the pit crew who are professional dancers.”
The show closes out with the grand finale of “Losing Is the New Winning,” a new song specifically written for the show. RuPaul, Tom Campbell and recording artist Leland penned the song, which has a disco feel to it. “That song was the easiest to choreograph,” Sims says.
The song, at its core, is about everyone being winners. RuPaul says the spirit of the song is the drag philosophy.
“Life has a lot of ups and downs, but it’s how you approach it that determines what your experience will be,” RuPaul says. He should know — he’s been in the business for over 38 years. “It was mostly failures and those failures got me here today.”
“The only things we take seriously are love, kindness, beauty and joy,” RuPaul says of the drag philosophy.
The show, RuPaul and Sims say, will have a rotating cast of “Drag Race” Queens. “It’s like ‘Chicago’ on Broadway,” RuPaul laughs. “Don’t be surprised if you see one of the Housewives in our cast.”