Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show.Curtis Brown/Handout

In the good news for live stages department, one performing art that is unquestionably thriving right now in Canada is drag – especially any drag show connected in any way to television’s RuPaul’s Drag Race and its legion of spin-offs.

The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show, for instance, passed through over the weekend selling out Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Ottawa’s Algonquin Commons Theatre and Montreal’s Olympia.

This seasonal show stars Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme, a pair of “comedy queens” who first became famous outside their local drag scene in Seattle by competing for laughs and on the runway on the original RuPaul-hosted reality series and then again on its All Stars incarnation.

I went to check out the Toronto stop on Friday more as a fan than a critic. I got sucked into Drag Race at the start of the pandemic when my evenings were suddenly very free – and found its mix of lip-synching, pageantry and over-the-top comedy filled a theatrical hole for me while stages were shuttered.

A couple of connoisseurs of the feel-good franchise suggested I begin with Season 5 – and I pass on that good advice to any uninitiated person reading this. That 2013 edition was the first to feature Jinkx – and I, like so many viewers, was quickly won over by the redhead’s loopy sense of humour and dry wit, and was particularly amused by her fabulously funny impersonations of the likes of Edith Bouvier Beale on Drag Race’s Snatch Game segment. (This is a spoof of Match Game that is the highlight of each Drag Race season, except Season 14 when everyone bombed.)

I was curious how Jinkx’s on-screen charisma would translate to a live stage – especially as she’s about to make her Broadway debut as Matron (Mama) Morton in Chicago for an eight-week run starting Jan.16 – and was not disappointed.

The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show wasn’t the Christmas-themed cabaret act that I went in expecting – so no impersonations or lip-synching for that matter. Instead, it was very much a classic Christmas pantomime starring these two characters. (The individuals behind the titular drag personae are Jerick Hoffer and Benjamin H. Putnam, respectively.)

The self-referential script mashed up A Christmas Carol with the current craze for multiverse stories – Jinkx and DeLa travelled through time on the hunt for some MacGuffin while performing parodies of popular songs from different eras, such as Stayin’ Alive (the 1970s) and Running Up That Hill (er, the 2020s) with a group of six excellent backup dancers. It was a lark – and the only thing that bugged me about it was the rock-concert level of the sound at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. (I didn’t think I’d need to bring earplugs to a drag show but wish I had.)

Canada’s importance as an international market for Drag Race is evident by just how many local spinoffs highlighting Canadian queens there have been. Three seasons of Canada’s Drag Race have aired so far, with a fourth one in the works, and then there’s Canada’s Drag Race: Canada vs. the World, which is adding episodes weekly on Crave and has featured a guest appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Trudeau’s no dummy when it comes to making pop culture cameos; he knows this franchise is big.)

On stage, meanwhile, it feels like there’s a different international Drag Race star (or a clutch of them together) performing in this country’s major cities every month.

The official Werq the World Tour (produced by Voss Events), featuring the most recent season’s contestants, held 14 shows in Canada in 2022, including two-night stands in both Toronto and Montreal at Meridian Hall (3,191 seats) and Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (2,982 seats), respectively. Five years ago, this same tour played the smaller Danforth Music Hall and Théâtre Telus in those cities for a single night each, so I’m guessing other folks binged the series during the pandemic, too.

Then, there are those RuPaul veterans passing through who are producing their own live shows like BenDeLaCreme, the congenial force behind the holiday show with Jinkx, which has two more Canadian dates at the end of December in Calgary and Vancouver (and has a pay livestream tonight).

Another prominent pair of sisters crossing the border to Canada soon are Bob the Drag Queen and Monét X Change, whose The Sibling Rivalry Tour, based on their podcast of the same name, hits Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto in 2023.

Open this photo in gallery:

The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show passed through over the weekend selling out Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Ottawa’s Algonquin Commons Theatre and Montreal’s Olympia.Curtis Brown/Handout

That this rise in commercial popularity in drag has occurred despite dangerous rhetoric about the art form increasing online from homophobic and transphobic agitators is heartening.

Jinkx noted during the curtain call in Toronto on Friday that it meant a lot, in particular, for an audience to pack out a 1,000-plus-seat venue for a drag show in the wake the devastating shooting at a queer bar in Colorado.

What’s opening this week (and opened last week) on stages across the country

  • The Jungle Book, a brand-new family show based on the books of Rudyard Kipling, opens at Alberta Theatre Projects tonight (and runs to Dec. 31). This version is adapted and directed by Rohit Chokhani, the Calgary company’s new artistic and executive director.
  • The Innocence of Trees, a play by Eugene Stickland about painter Agnes Martin, is on in Edmonton until Dec.11; it has kicked off Theatre Network’s first full season at the new Roxy Theatre. (The old Roxy burnt down in 2015.)
  • Elf: The Musical, based on the Will Ferrell Christmas movie with a book co-written by The Drowsy Chaperone’s Bob Martin, has opened at two Canadian regional theatres. Jeremy Webb’s production is on at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax to Jan. 8, and Dennis Garnhum’s production is on at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. until Dec. 31.
  • The Three Musketeers is on stage through Dec. 17 at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. Rodrigo Beilfuss, Emilio Vieira and Darren Martens are playing Athos, Porthos and Aramis, respectively, with Melissa Langdon as d’Artagnan.
  • I’ve already reviewed several shows that opened last week (Little Dickens at Canadian Stage, Snow White at Young People’s Theatre and Red Velvet at Crow’s Theatre). Two other Toronto shows of note that hit the stage then are The Birds, a new thriller inspired by the Daphne du Maurier short story and Alfred Hitchcock film, produced by ByGone Theatre at Hart House (to Dec. 10); and Broken Shapes, a show about a young woman grieving her architect father co-created by Toronto-based theatre maker Rimah Jabr and Brussels-based visual artist Dareen Abbas, is on at the Theatre Centre (till Dec. 4).

What The Globe and Mail is reviewing this week

Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical has hit the Royal Alexandra Theatre for the holidays courtesy of Mirvish Productions (on to Jan. 15). Brad Wheeler wrote about this British import based around Cornish sea songs – and I’ll be there to review on Thursday evening.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe