The opening moments of Fierce Queens establish suitably grand expectations, as the enchanting emcee Lady Saint Diva promises an “inspirational show” about “channelling your inner queen”. What follows is a remarkable display of the talent and dedication of a passionate troupe of performers who seem genuinely excited to share their craft.
In essence, Fierce Queens is a showcase of exciting burlesque-inspired group choreography by Sunshine Coast dance studio Burlesque L’amour, dazzling with bright and colourful costumes in a series of short and snappy routines that refuse to let up. The music and dances on display run through every conceivable genre and style, evoking in the same hour a smoky and sensual nightclub, the bright and gaudy French cabaret, or a hidden and covert speakeasy.
Microscopic routines soar the rowdy audience from one mood to another, never quite settling into an overarching theme or narrative. We never get to sit with an idea for long before it is snatched away, replaced again by a new costume, a new decade, another sudden snapshot from the troupe’s admittedly extensive repertoire. There are merits to this eclecticism, but without a grounded through line Fierce Queens sometimes fails to elevate the unquestionable talent of its dancers into something truly memorable, moment to moment.
The production clearly draws a lot of inspiration from the much-redeemed cult movie, Burlesque, if not simply a handful of musical numbers. The fact that Cher’s ‘Welcome to Burlesque’ is used as an opening number is no coincidence. Fierce Queens is intrinsically accessible and is designed to be unambiguously crowd pleasing. And in that sense, it is a massive success. There was hardly a moment where the audience members were not screaming their approval, cheers and whistles filling the intimate space.
However, the show struggles to fill its staggering two-hour runtime with fresh and compelling ideas, and the wonderfully creative performers run out of new ground to tread. Perhaps appropriately, very little is left to the imagination.
We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but the show shines where it pushes the boundaries of its established formula. When Fierce Queens gives you a reason to care about an individual routine as its own separate artwork, instead of simply a piece of a greater, flamboyant whole, you can’t help but pay attention. A lone chanteuse in a glittery dress grabbing a hold of the room with a beautiful rendition of ‘Naughty Nasty Boy’ as dimly lit dancers move slowly behind her. A creative medley of pop hits from Britney to Shakira, guided by a rotating cast of lead dancers with captivating character. These special moments shine, and not only make for compelling theatre, but emphasise the potential for further character work that better supports the lofty promise made by its introduction.
Thankfully, the two featured drag performers, Lady Saint Diva and Barbie Bangs, provide some much needed edge to the night’s entertainment. Their raunchy stylings sprinkle in some levity and embolden the audience to contribute their own voice to the show. Diva’s humour is tack-sharp, and Bangs proverbially backflips through a handful of side-splitting character skits with nary a word to be said.
The technical dance expertise of Burlesque L’amour and the charisma of their guests make up for an unfortunate lack of depth in this empowering and effective extravaganza that still manages to stick the landing. The performers are constantly and impossibly energetic, even into the third act, and the enthusiastic appreciation of the audience creates a night to remember. This feels like a huge milestone for a dance crew that has clearly been working on this material for years and is excited to get a chance to show off to a new audience. Further refinement of the storytelling and thematic underpinnings will only enhance future performances, as they discover new and exciting ways to present their talent.
No matter how you channel your inner Queen, these Fierce performers have set out to inspire and astound, and it is impossible to deny them your attention.
The reviewer attended the Saturday 15th May 2021 premiere performance at Arcana in Moorooka.