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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue captures the stress and exhilaration of “Opening Night”

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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Tech week is a stressful time for any production. Throw in the Vegas setting, high profile branding, and intense scrutiny the Drag Race fandom brings, and of course the queens are a bit on edge heading into their final days of rehearsal. Adding cameras and a docusoap setup feeds this—the audience isn’t tuning in to watch a bunch of professionals with healthy work-life balance do their jobs well—and the result is messy but ultimately satisfying, as the queens come together in time for opening night.

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The episode picks up where “Baby, We Made It!” left off, with the queens out on the Flamingo floor in drag and Derrick’s boyfriend Mack—make that Nebraska, as she shows up in drag—dropping by to join them. Derrick wants to foster a positive relationship between Nebraska and the queens in the show and inviting her to a cast-only hang may seem like a natural way to do that. However the interpersonal dynamics of any workplace pulling the kind of hours these queens are working right now are bound to be complicated. Adding anyone new to the equation, even someone’s partner, can upset the balance and cause unnecessary drama, as happens here.

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Nebraska starts things off on a good foot, apologizing to Naomi for her comments at Derrick’s party. Naomi and Nebraska even try to establish a détente, agreeing that what they have in common is supporting Derrick. Derrick should take this as the win it is, but she pushes back, wanting them to be friends, rather than the cordial acquaintances they actually are. The conversation quickly deteriorates and Asia jumps in, irritated at Nebraska for crashing what had been a relaxing evening. Asia may have come in hot, but she is absolutely right that there is a big difference between hanging out with one’s colleagues after work and being coerced into socializing with their partners. As Yvie says, the last thing they need as a cast is more stress.

The next day, Derrick, Mack, and Nick reflect on the tensions in the group and Derrick ties the friction in her work family to that of her biological family. Despite being close with her mom as a kid, Derrick’s mom and stepdad pulled away after Derrick appeared on Drag Race, becoming more religious and conservative, to the point that Derrick’s stepdad started texting her anti-gay Bible quotes. After getting shut out by her mom, Derrick posted the texts online, hoping to show younger fans that this kind of hateful rhetoric is not acceptable, even from family. That further widened the divide with her mom and they haven’t spoken in five years. Nick encourages Derrick to reach back out. She wants her mom to see the show, and even if her mom doesn’t respond, at least she’ll know she tried. Mack agrees, but whether Derrick will follow their advice will have to wait for another episode.

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Back at the theater, the queens prep for their final rehearsal. Asia is anxious and stressed, tension seeping from every pore as the other queens try to center themselves. Before rehearsal, RuPaul attempts a bit of a pep talk and upon sensing the friction between the group, helps them clear the air. Asia is absolutely right; they should be embarrassed that their personal squabbles are affecting their work. Fortunately for them, Ru sees that the best solution is not a lecture on professionalism, though it would be warranted, but is instead using comedy as a relief valve. Opting for Mama Ru over Mean Miss Charles, RuPaul helps them laugh off and release the tension, at least for now.

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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Which is good, because there’s plenty of tension to be had just around the performance. If all these mistakes are truly from the last rehearsal, and not edited together from earlier in the process, they are in trouble. The cast looks exhausted, but they have more work to do, so they pick themselves up and go through it all again. The next day, Yvie reflects on where she’s at. She’s pushing her body hard for the show and based on her previous experience, this opens her up to accidents and injury. She needs to be careful. Yvie calls her boyfriend Doug for a little moral support and the two catch up. RuPaul still wants Yvie to go to the doctor, but she’s not ready yet. First they all need to get through opening night.

Asia is still on edge and Kameron is nervous about her salsa number—the glimpses of it so far have been rough. Vanjie and Derrick at least seem more relaxed, talking about family as they paint. Vanjie is very close to her mom, the way that Derrick seems to have been growing up, so she can understand the pain Derrick feels not being able to share this new success with her mom. Vanjie being Vanjie, she manages to bring the conversation around just as it gets too heavy, getting Derrick laughing and bringing up the mood. Before long, it’s time for the pre-show power circle. RuPaul brings the queens together for a quick prayer and moment of togetherness. Or almost togetherness, as Naomi isn’t there yet. She makes it just in time to join the other queens on the red carpet, looking gorgeous, but they’re understandably frustrated.

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After the red carpet, the queens get set for the show. The episode does a good job building energy and taking viewers through the performance. Kameron’s talking heads are particularly strong, putting fans in her headspace. The combination of excitement, relief, and pride in her voice as she talks about nailing her salsa will feel familiar to anyone who’s pulled through in a similarly clutch situation, and the bubbling energy of the opening night crowd with the action shots as the queens scramble behind the scenes makes for entertaining, compelling TV. The whole cast and directors Jamal Sims and RuPaul are riding high after the show. It’s time for the after party! As Vanjie says, “Work hard, play hard,” and the celebration carries the episode out. Critiques, notes, and dreaded critic reviews will come next episode, but for now, they get to take a moment and breathe. One performance down, three months’ worth to go.

Stray observations

  • The end of the episode does a great job capturing the exhilaration of a successful opening night. When everything comes together, it can be a truly wonderful experience.
  • While Derrick is comfortable and open talking about her family, Nick and especially Mack are much stiffer on camera. Hopefully they’ll get more comfortable with the show’s staged—but ideally still earnest—emotional scenes.
  • Derrick seems friendly and all, and who hasn’t tried to merge disparate friend groups at some point. But your coworkers don’t need to be your friends and they certainly don’t need to be your partner’s friend. It can be tempting to look for deep, meaningful connections in the workplace, but it’s important to have boundaries and remain professional.
  • Vanjie reclaims her status as queen of the talking heads when she compares Nebraska joining them at the casino to Titanic, with Nebraska as the iceberg.
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