Sasha Colby bares all at the Commodore

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      It’s the second-ever night of Sasha Colby’s Stripped tour, and the Commodore is packed. 

      Rows of folding chairs have sprouted over the dancefloor and are completely filled with patrons. People in big hair and even bigger heels stand in line at the bar. I spot Canada’s Drag Race winner Venus in the crowd, along with Enby 6 star Kara Juku and her drag daughter Margaux Rita. Even the people out of drag are covered in glitter. Someone has handmade a cosplay version of one of Colby’s looks. The atmosphere is electric.

      Colby is the current reigning champion of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 16, having been crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar last spring. But she was already famous far before then. Having won the prestigious Miss Continental drag pageant back in 2012 (on her fourth attempt), she’s been “your favourite drag queen’s favourite drag queen” for over a decade. 

      And when she appears on stage, it’s clear why. Lounging on a kilometre-long piece of fabric dragged by one of her two chiselled back-up dancers—accompanied by her recorded recitation of a divine drag cosmology—her presence is palpable. Even in a nude bodysuit, she’s every inch a goddess. The queen really said production value. 

      It feels almost minimizing to describe the opening numbers as lip syncs. Set to ’80s pop classics, Colby takes us through deeply personal moments: singing along to Whitney as a child in the shower, or being forced to conform to rigid, religious gender norms while “Like A Prayer” blasts. She wriggles in and out of costumes on stage, sometimes accompanied by a full glam squad, and the point becomes clear. This isn’t a regular yass-the-boots-down-hunty drag show; it’s performance art.

      Colby is one of the most famous trans drag queens in the world. She’s made a living from her precise performance chops since she was 18, navigating a world that loves her on stage but will discard her the moment she steps off it. 

      Standing on stage in just nude pasties and a thong, Colby’s subverting our expectations: not stripping as a tease, but as a literal peeling back of the layers. It challenges viewers to look past the fantasy and instead see her body for what it is. Trans people’s lives are heavily politicized; but take away all the adoration or abhorrence in the world, and she’s still a person. Still here. Still real.

      The show takes us through Colby’s life, from her childhood, her years as a choreographer, to her mainstream success. She takes to the mic just once, early on, to reminisce over the first time she saw drag—and sends her dancers into the crowd to pick out some locals for a contest, joking that she needs a break because she’s 40. Audience members become stand-ins for the show that changed her life—and the performers looped in include both Kara Juku and Naya Lee Colby (Sasha’s drag granddaughter).

      There’s also an extended performance from another Vancouver phenomenon, showgirl Madam Lola, who shows off some exceptional chairography. Flanked by fellow queens Addi Pose and Hazel, her sultry showcase fits perfectly into the night’s intimate, enchanting vibe. 

      Unfortunately, it’s hard to match the energy of such a polished, powerful production. From recreating the heartbreak and hope of her Miss Continental runs, to exploring the pressures of Hollywood, to showcasing her Native Hawaiian heritage in a beautiful hula, there’s almost no time to catch your breath. 

      The show gets into the heavy stuff, and Colby shows off her technical movement artistry. An interpretive dance number about gender dysphoria, soundtracked by a darkwave industrial spoken-word meditation on the colour blue, ends with Colby alone on stage. She pulls off her wig, sheds her clothes, and wipes off all her makeup under a harsh spotlight. Understandably, that marks the intermission. 

      Colby’s choreography chops certainly come in handy, too; intricate sequences involving handing-held lights serve as immaculate show pieces, illustrating both the draw and the drawbacks of the spotlight. Visibility, for trans people, means both liberation and danger: the pride of sharing our lives with the world, and the fear that it will invite violence. But stars don’t need anyone else’s light. Colby doesn’t just shine; she dazzles. The Commodore is at serious risk of structural damage from the concentrated presence of sheer mothering. 

      When she finally slinks off stage, in a celestial mirrored gown befitting an intergalactic goddess, it’s hard to imagine anyone else putting on a show quite like it. 

      It’s Sasha Colby’s galaxy. We’re just lucky enough to live in it.