Review: Sutton Lee Seymour takes drag to another level

People like to describe what Sutton Lee Seymour does as “old school drag,” though the opening night of her two-night engagement at Farmers Alley Theatre this weekend indicates an homage to camp, to Broadway, to Disney princesses from a performer who’s so skilled at singing, dancing, character work, improvisation, and innovative (not to mention lightning-quick changes in) costumes, s/he clearly owns whatever stage s/he inhabits.

Friday night’s show opened with the iconic MGM music blaring and a drag queen in the most fabulous towering and sweeping pile of platinum french twisting curly wig and a shimmering black wrap pantsuit, singing, “Tits and tights and a kick ball change. Who's your daddy? Yes, it’s me!”

And she was off. What followed was two hours in two acts of raucous, bawdy fun. Seymour made fun of herself, made fun of straight people, made fun of lesbians and gays, made a mockery of Broadway and Hollywood and Disney with incredible athleticism, artistry, and grace, and did it all without truly offending anyone and in a way that made us feel good about being alive — even, ostensibly, the audience members she dragged on stage to do the hand jive to “My Heart Will Go On” during her five-minute performance of “Titanic” among other delightful and brilliant absurdities.

This is the gift of camp and old school drag. It’s irreverent without being mean, and it requires real performance skills beyond killer makeup and wigs and costumes. Sutton Lee Seymour, nee Prescott Seymour from Winnetka, Ill. who earned his BFA in musical theater from Western Michigan University and has made a name for himself as an award-winning drag artist in New York City, is the real deal.

Known for distilling entire Broadway musicals into five-minute performances, Seymour did “Wicked” with Kristin Chenoweth as a hand puppet (“scaled to size”) and “Chicago” as both Velma and Roxy as if split down the center — left side with black bob and black sequined short dress, and right side with curly blonde wig and white shimmering costume in addition to “Titanic” with an audience member and a bottle of water to help simulate the sinking ship. Seymour also offered a montage of Disney princesses, changing the lyrics of their songs for appropriate sass and sexual innuendo as deftly as she changed costumes — from Jasmine to Mulan to Ariel.

Seymour also brilliantly sang Ursula’s “Unfortunate Souls” from “Little Mermaid” “brought to you by a bevy of burnt-out booze bags” including Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Joan Rivers, Liza Minelli, Harvey Fierstein, Barbra Streisand. She brought many of them back in the second act to sing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls,” admitting that since she’s as “porcelain as a toilet bowl” the only way she could sing it was through impersonating them. Adding to the entourage of booze bags was Kermit the Frog, Eartha Kitt, Sean Connery, Maggie Smith, Mickey Mouse, Cyndi Lauper (whom he proved is entirely interchangeable with Bernadette Peters), and Katherine Hepburn.

The act is all Seymour, whip-smart, enormously talented — and sequenced seamlessly, with shameless double entendres galore, the vast majority of which aren’t fit to print, and well-worn jokes and one-liners that somehow feel new again coming out of Seymour’s mouth.

Under technical direction from Devin Miller with lights from Eric Perry and sound from Garrett Gagnon, the downtown Kalamazoo Farmers Alley theater with the leftover partial set from The Gilmore Festival’s Liberace provided a terrific venue for this top-notch one-person show.

Seymour knows how to work a crowd, especially one in Kalamazoo, the town where he acknowledges he found his tribe. The love is clearly mutual, and so much so that WMU will be bringing him back in the fall to star in Charles Busch’s “The Lady In Question.”

“Who says that drag is not an art?” Seymour asked shortly before ending the show with a brief rendition of a slightly twisted “Suddenly Seymour” from “Little Shop of Horrors.” Certainly, no one who saw Sutton Lee Seymour at Farmers Alley.

Sutton Lee Seymour: The Broad Way Tour
Farmers Alley Theatre
June 15-16