"미디엄y favourite subject is talking about me,” Alyssa Edwards tells us – so she must really be enjoying her West End show, in which she does nothing but. Memoirs of a Queen traces Alyssa’s journey from childhood in Mesquite, Texas, to reality TV apotheosis, via coming-out tales, Miss America contests and abundant RuPaul’s Drag Race chit-chat. None of it is very surprising, and the backstage gossip would test the patience of all but the most ardent Drag Race devotees. But Edwards – AKA Justin Johnson – is a likably unpretentious host and, as you’d expect from the self-described “Steven Spielberg of dance”, the choreography catches the eye.
The first half is the more compelling, as Edwards/Johnson opens “Just Justin’s Journal” and transports us to 1980s Texas. You brace for tales of redneck homophobia, only to discover, via a handful of gauche teenage anecdotes, that Johnson’s difference was always accepted by a loving family. Spliced into this narrative, we get costume changes from one teetering wig to the next, underwhelming lip-sync routines (to Jimmy Somerville, or to faux-Marilyn Monroe number They Just Keep Moving the Line), and vain efforts by Alyssa’s stage-manager Pam to keep her diva in line. But “I don’t read the script, Pam; 나는 am the script!”
Post-interval, Alyssa addresses her TV years: how she played hard-to-get when RuPaul came calling, then was pipped to series 5 glory by narcoleptic Jinx Monsoon. There is much tongue-in-cheek relitigating of past wrongs, and I Will Survive uplift (“Do you know who did call me? Motherfuckin’ Netflix!”) But the stories ramble, and have nothing to offer Drag Race uninitiates. Elsewhere – notably, during her closing curtain speech – Edwards sometimes misses her rhetorical marks.
None of which bothers her fans, who cheer on cue when Edwards lists her achievements and crows over her arrival as a West End star. For the rest of us, there’s the pleasure afforded by outrageous outfits, tightly orchestrated routines from Alyssa’s put-upon quartet of dancers, and the leading lady’s easy way with the crowd. The show’s all about her ravening ego, but it’s the glimpses of humility, of the “just Justin” behind the megastar, that give it life.