A Royal Drag Show closes out ESMoA’s joyful tribute to the cosmopolitan Land of Oz

By Christina Campodonico

Non-binary drag queen Crystal Palace headlines ESMoA’s “Royal Drag Show,” set against “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia such as a 1985 replica of the ruby slippers from the film “Return to Oz” and Parker Brothers’ 1921 board game “The Wonderful Game of Oz.”
Photos courtesy of ESMoA

The Wizard of Oz would be impressed with the whimsical extravagance of El Segundo Museum of Art’s latest exhibition experience “Oz,” which fabulously exits El Segundo this weekend with two live shows and a party fit for a milestone birthday. The beloved Judy Garland film named after the Wizard himself turned 80 this year, and for that occasion ESMoA has pulled out all the stops.

A “yellow brick road” greets visitors like a mustard-colored red carpet at the entrance to ESMoA’s main gallery and wends itself through a colorful display of “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia, illustrations from the famed fantasyland book series invented by L. Frank Baum (including a rare first edition of volume one) and mural-sized reinterpretations of the Land of Oz painted by L.A. artists Aiseborn and Kopyeson. One is scarlet and depicts Dorothy dozing off in that infamous field of sleep-inducing poppies, though it’s not snow that rescues her as mythologized in the 1939 film, but a tiny white mouse — the Queen of the Field Mice from Baum’s original imagining of Oz. Another mural, coated in blues, shows the world of Munchkinland from the viewpoint of Glinda the Good Witch’s bubble. And the Emerald City stands tall in all its greenish glory at the back of the gallery with projections that add a sparkle, a splash of sunshine or a rainbow to this almost luminous lime façade.

This kaleidoscope of imagery will be the backdrop for Thursday’s “Queens & Kings: A Royal Drag Show,” which brings some of L.A.’s most dynamic drag personalities to the museum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for an Oz-inspired extravaganza and mocktail party geared toward those over 18.

“There’s beauty queens … there’s comedy queens. There’s like super bubblegum pop queens,” says ESMoA Director of Education Holly Crawford, the show’s co-organizer. Crawford’s assembled drag performers Die Anna, Ms. Whoopdeedoo, Porshaa Lejayy and Rubella Spreads with the help one of the night’s more high profile drag queens, Crystal Palace, for this special ode to Oz, which also doubles as a costume party.

“Crystal’s … just fabulousness,” Crawford adds.

As Crawford points out, the brilliant colors and “grandiosity” of Oz make it the perfect thematic partner for staging a drag show.

“Drag is all about showmanship and spectacle, and Oz is a spectacular spectacle. When you first meet the Wizard of Oz, he doesn’t present himself as this homely man from Nebraska. He presents himself as these different identities to our four main characters: Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion. … But at the end you find out that it’s all been smoke and mirrors, essentially.

“What I love most about drag is the spectacle, is creating this fantasy,” Crawford continues. “To borrow from RuPaul, ‘We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.’ … Drag is an art form and a performance in and of itself.”

Oz also shares a special connection with the LGBTQIA+ community, explains Crawford.

“Oz is a very important place. It’s a place where everybody is welcome. Nobody is judged for who they are. … In the story of ‘Oz,’ Dorothy lands there, and she meets lots of strange and queer characters, and they all become friends. … A place like Oz kind of lends itself to that [feeling of acceptance] — that is, this magical place where you can be whatever you want.”

That mission of acceptance and finding your voice — figuratively and literally — is at the core of the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, which also performs “Wizard of Oz”-inspired songs at ESMoA on the hour from 2 to 4:30 p.m Saturday. One of the first of its kind in the United States and inspired by an episode of the teen musical dramedy show “Glee,” TCLA is comprised of transgender, gender non-conforming, gender non-binary, gender fluid and intersex volunteer singers, who may have experienced voice dysphoria as part of their personal gender identity journeys or hormone replacement therapy.

“That’s part of our mission with our choruses: accepting who you are, where you are, with your voice,” says TCLA’s artistic director Abdullah Rahsheen Hall. “All of a sudden you go through this major change in your life — a major transition — no pun intended. And you know, you’re suddenly in a place where, ‘Who am I vocally?’ And TCLA offers a place to find that again.”

On Saturday, the group will perform their renditions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Ease on Down the Road” from musical “The Wiz,” and “One Short Day (in the Emerald City)” from the Broadway smash hit “Wicked,” helping to end ESMoA’s “Oz” experience like a grand musical finale — on a high note.

The world of Oz continues to share important life lessons for everyone, observes “Oz” co-curator and ESMoA Project Manager Barbara Boehm, especially through the character of Dorothy, who not only tells-it-like-it-is to the Cowardly Lion, but also shows bravery, open-mindedness and friendship to many.

“That’s what we want to teach our girls, our boys — to say, ‘Hey, be a good friend, show courage, speak up,’” Boehm says.

“Queens & Kings: A Royal Drag Show” happens from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 19) at ESMoA, 208 Main St., El Segundo. Oz-inspired attire and tipping the performers encouraged (bring small bills, kindness and respect.) 

The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles performs from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 21), the last day of the “Oz” experience. Admission to both events is free. Call (424) 277-1020 or visit esmoa.org.