To Wong Foo The Musical

"Far from a drag; another Hope Mill hit!"

Originally written for the stage in 1995, Douglas Carter Beane’s 1995 film ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar’ opened at the box office to mixed reviews from critics. Since then, it has become a cult classic and has officially (and finally!) been given the musical theatre treatment at a time when it is needed the most. 

The well-trodden plot follows three drag queens: Vida Boheme (Peter Caulfield), Noxeema Jackson (Gregory Haney) and Chi Chi Rodriguez (Pablo Goméz Jones). Upon an unexpected journey to Hollywood, they find themselves stranded in Middle America with nothing but a broken-down Cadillac, their suitcases and a trunk full of attitude to help them along their way. Though set in the 90s, the themes presented in this production echo the reality of the world in which we live today- a key reason for Beane feeling that now was the right time for a revival in the first place. The irony that drag bans in North America hindered initial try outs for this show isn’t lost on the audience and, from the beginning, the script lays down the law on acceptance and rights - its tongue firmly in its cheek but its intention loud and clear. It really is a love letter to the art of drag and everybody who just wants to be accepted.

This being said, the book wasn’t without its flaws. At times, pacing was problematic with some scenes meandering slowly and, ultimately, running out of steam. We were left at the end of Act One feeling that a satisfying conclusion may be too far out of reach. As a result of this, there were key, turning point moments in the second act which felt somewhat overstuffed and rushed. Though we did leave with a surprising sense of satisfaction and a shimmy in our shirts, I can’t help but wonder how much more punch this could have had had there been more time given to nurture the more tender moments in the show.

Set Design by Katie Lias was simple but functional and worked hand in hand with Video Design by Dan Light to transport the audience seamlessly and cohesively from scene to scene. Costumes (by Gregory Gale) were fabulous and hit the lights perfectly, whilst Makeup Design from Andrew Sotomayor complimented Gale’s creations beautifully. 

The cast worked their heels off. Caulfield and Jackson’s comic timing was so on point, I hurt from laughing on numerous occasions! Witty, physical and powerful, their portrayals of Vida and Noxeema were true highlights of the evening. In a supporting role, Carolyn Maitland’s gorgeous vocals warmed up the stage and her portrayal of Carol Ann brought a surprising emotional edge to the evening’s proceedings. Samantha Bingley (playing Rose of Shannon) had our sides splitting and her voice was a powerhouse, adding further to the already dynamic display of the ensemble. 

Whilst it may not have had the most memorable score of all time, nor the most exciting book to deliver, I couldn’t help but fall in love with To Wong Foo and all that it stands for. A sheer celebration of diversity, acceptance and the age-old lesson of ‘not judging a book by its cover’, far from a drag; this really ought to be another Hope Mill hit!

This show was reviewed on the 26th October 2023.  To Wong Foo The Musical runs at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 17th December 2023.  Tickets available here: To Wong Foo The Musical – Hope Mill Theatre

Review written by Lee Gregory

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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