BY SCOTT STIFFLER | If life were a library with a room reserved for drag queens whose backstory didn’t have enough conflict, trauma, or excess to merit a Lifetime channel movie pitch meeting, three things are certain: One, it would be a very small room. Two, the reads would be real snoozers. And three, Tina Burner would not be among its occupants, because the girl has lived.
Best known for her time as a Season 13 contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, there are vast swaths of Burner’s life that most of us aren’t privy to. True, the many contestants on RPDR doesn’t exactly allow us to deep dive into every nook and cranny of their backstories. As such, Tina echoes a familiar refrain from alums when in-depth, drag queen-loving Chelsea Community News asked Tina Burner why she created the autobiographical stand-up cabaret solo show she’ll be touring with nationally after its one-shot at Manhattan’s The Q on Tuesday, November 9, at 7pm. (We left out the details in that last sentence, as the sharp and savvy Burner is well aware of her schedule).
“When you’re on a show like that,” she notes, of RPDR, there are only certain stories that are shown there are only certain stories that are shown. So they make their own judgments based on what they see. I wanted to make sure I got a chance to tell mu side of the story.
Burner’s not bitter. She understands the show’s narrative sprit toward the crowning of a new queen, as well as its much-discussed (among alums) use of creative editing to heighten, sometimes manufacture, a villain narrative. But the only thing whose sting lingers is having placed so poorly in a challenge she very well might have walked away from as the victor. Tina tells the tale herself, in the below excerpt form the press release for her November 9 show:
“While on the show, I had the honor of playing the EmShee in the Rusical, a character based on the Emcee from Cabaret,” Tina Burner recalls. “I placed in the bottom three for my performance but it was the first time where the viewers really rallied behind me. It reminded me how performing live is my passion and how I needed to get back to my roots because in the words of Sally Bowles, ‘Maybe this time, I’ll win.’ ”
The title of Burner’s show invokes the refrain in the bittersweet song of from the musical Chicago (titled Maybe I’ll Win.) Burner’s show title adds the word “Live” to the tail end, so back off, litigious Kander and Ebb estate lawyers! In any event, in the downbeat showstopper from Chicago, a perennial also-ran reasons she’s due for a victory, after a relentless string of losses. Other songs in the set list cooked up by Tina include What I Did for Love (from A Chorus Line), I Am What I Am (from La Cage Aux Faux) and Rose’s Turn (from Gypsy).
Yikes. You don’t create a set list like that after a lifetime of rainbows and bro hugs. On paper, it’s a litany of torch songs for the traumatized. In practice, however, it’s hopeful and empowering. There’s a method to Tina Burner’s madness, and it works. Burner turns these much-interpreted classics on their head, to make them serve her own story—a musical coda to the tale just told, in sometimes dry, often-bawdy stand-up comedy style. By doing so, the songs either reinforce, subvert, or smartly recontextualize how they functioned in the original source musical. No accident, either, that they’re mostly songs originally sung by women, and demonstrative of why so many men who earn a living putting on heels, dresses and wigs chose that as the means to express their own hopes, doubts, and defiance. It’s only a minor spoiler that Tina talks so much about more than a few bumpy roads with her mom, only to have them end up as contemporary besties. (One suspects they’re more Thelma and Louise than Lucy and Ethel).
The other parental unit won’t be palling around, however. Tina’s father, with whom the gay-but-not-yet-a-drag-queen teenager had much conflict, manages to retain and claim that dynamic while providing an unusual tale of reckoning on dad’s deathbed and at the memorial service.
And that’s just the scratched surface. Suffice it to say there are tears from the performer, and perhaps there will be some from you. Both will have been earned. Yours, from the autobiographical cabaret genre’s best friend—earned empathy; And Tina’s tears, from a deep and deeply sincere place of “wisdom born of pain,” as the old song lyric went (and still does!). Burner won’t be belting out Helen Reddy’s I am Woman in this show—but if she did, you’d believe her. If only there were a reality show that rewarded the best warts and all journey. Ah, well. If that were the case, they’d be no Maybe This Time Live—and that would be a shame.
Tina Burner’s “Maybe This Time Live” is performed for one show only, Tuesday, November 9, 7pm at The Q (795 Eighth Ave.). For tickets and more info, visit www.tinaburner.eventbrite.com. The Q NYC is a fully-vaccinated venue, including staff, performers, and patrons alike. Proof of vaccination ClearPass and Excelsior passes will be checked at the door. No exceptions.
IF YOU MISSED TINA’S SHOW IN NYC, see the tail end of this nice piece of work from BroadwayWorld.com, which contains info on other cities that are part of her national tour.
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