RuPaul was already the most famous drag queen in the world when he performed 25 years ago this month at the Sahara on the Strip. Jamal Sims was there.
“That was many moons ago, my second professional dance job ever,” says Sims, whose career as a choreographer, director and filmmaker has included the Academy Awards and a plethora of other TV performances, the Step Up movies and the recent live-action Aladdin film. “At that point I had never even seen a Vegas show, so I didn’t know what to expect. But Ru makes everything so comfortable and fun, so we just got up there and did it. Some of that stuff was spontaneous, and we just had a blast.”
These longtime collaborators are hoping you’ll have a blast at the new RuPaul’s Drag Race Live production opening in the former showroom home of Donny and Marie Osmond at the Flamingo next week. Sims is directing, the TV show’s World of Wonder company is producing, and while RuPaul might not be back on the Strip stage, the spirit of his creation will be on full, glamorous display.
“As the entertainment landscape in Las Vegas continues to evolve, we know that the next natural step is bringing a live version of one of the most popular shows on television to the Strip,” Kurt Melien, president of promoter Live Nation Las Vegas, said in a fall statement announcing the show. “An entertainer as iconic to pop culture as RuPaul combined with a property as legendary as Flamingo Las Vegas is the recipe for the perfect Vegas experience, and we know that audiences are in for a night they’ll never forget.”
Sims says assembling the Vegas version of Drag Race has been a speedy process, with an interactive experience that feels like a live episode of the popular TV competition as the objective.
“It definitely has the feel to it, but there are a lot of surprises,” Sims says. “I think that’s what’s fun about it, that now you get that opportunity to see what goes on during a taping of the show.”
The live show cast includes some queens who have appeared on the TV show. The opening cast includes Asia O’Hara, Derrick Barry, Kameron Michaels, Naomi Smalls, Vanessa “Vanjie” Matteo and Yvie Oddly.
“Even if we’ve worked with them on the [TV] show, these girls are working their butts off and preparing for something very special,” Sims says. “I can feel it in rehearsals. This is serious business, and they want to make Mama Ru proud. No one wants to be the one who drops the ball in this show. Everyone is coming with their A game and it’s really cool.”
Expect a fabulous revue packed with music, dance, comedy and fashion, plus plenty of homage to drag culture’s icons and inspirations. Las Vegas itself is one of those inspirations.
“Vegas is drag to me,” Sims says. “All the glamour and the glitz and the glitter, it’s all here, so it makes sense that this would feel like home for drag queens to perform. Even being at the Flamingo makes sense, like a natural place for this to happen.”
RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE LIVE Opens January 30. Tuesday & Thursday through Sunday, 9:30 p.m., $49-$250. Flamingo Showroom, 702-777-2782.