WHAT: Bianca Del Rio, Not Today Satan Tour
WHEN: Fri. (Nov. 4), 8 p.m.
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts
MORE INFO: Visit Ticketmaster
When Roy Haylock’s alter-ego Bianca Del Rio stormed through season six of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she did so leaving a trail of withering one-liners behind her — not the least of which was the cautionary missive, “Not today, Satan!” It worked on so many levels as Haylock captured the title and has gone on to increasing fame and recognition.
So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Haylock’s “Queen of Mean” persona blows into town on a career high with her Not Today Satan Tour that his the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Friday (Nov. 4). The tour has cut across Europe, Australia and the United States over the course of 2016, with a Nov. 9 finale set for San Antonio.
It’s one of the few times Texas might be better place than Haylock’s hometown of New Orleans to end the tour; his theatrical film debut, “Hurricane Bianca,” which blew onto Amazon Prime in September, is set in Texas. And, as outsized as its locale, it’s surprisingly hilarious and affecting, and shouldn’t live under the admittedly out-sized shadow of Haylock’s cutting live performances.
Written and directed by Matt Kugelman, “Hurricane Bianca” tells the story of Richard Martinez (Haylock), a likeable but harried New York City high school science teacher looking for a better teaching situation and thinks he’s found it thanks to a program that lands him in a small Texas town. His homosexuality quickly exposed, Richard is fired, only to come back with a vengeance in the form of (you guessed it), Bianca Del Rio, who takes the school by storm, improves her students’ classroom performance, inspires a bullied gay student, reunites the football coach with an alienated sibling, and wins the Teacher of the Year award in the process. (To say these are spoiler alerts would be an insult to Kugelman’s script, which telegraphs every possible happy ending in the sweetest possible way.)
It’s a fairly conventional inspirational education story that basically puts a drag-queen, lightly satirical spin on such familiar works as “To Sir, With Love,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Dangerous Minds,” “Summer School” and “Up the Down Staircase.” But it should come as no coincidence that Kugelman and Haylock have chosen the trope as the setting for Bianca’s first movie comedy vehicle. After all, the teachers in these movies are all outsiders, fish out of water who learn to earn the trust of their students — many of whom are alienated themselves. The students of this particular high school are generally popular and snarky, but they’re uninspired academic under-achievers, and Bianca fights fire with a fire that Richard couldn’t muster in the few days he had in the classroom.
Where Richard easily let them roll over him, Bianca fires away the kind of digs that only a drag queen could summon:
“I know what we’re going to call you: White trash that won’t burn!”
“You’re the prettiest girl on the planet … of the apes!”
“Shut up! Your parents are siblings!”
Got a problem with the way she’s running things? “I’m fucking this cat. You just hold the legs!”
There’s definitely a tradeoff in Haylock’s departure from the stage to the screen. Bianca’s rapid-fire, caustic, voluble delivery needs a live setting, if for no other reason the way her insults tear from the speakers and bounce off the wall, and an audience that practically begs to be a target. So there’s an energy gap in her “Hurricane Bianca” performance that Kugelman has difficulty in filling. But what’s lost in energy, Haylock fills in with intimacy and charm, and this comes in unlikely moments. It gets particularly, surprisingly sweet when Bianca initially tries to fend off the football coach, Chuck (Denton Blane Everett), but then befriends him when he learns that he has been estranged from his gay brother — now a transgendered radio host, Karma Johnstone (Bianca Leigh).
“Hurricane Bianca” also provides a steady stream of familiar and often iconic faces in cameos roles once you get past the hilarious casting of Rachel Dratch as the lip-gloss-addicted assistant principal, Deborah Ward. From there we have fun appearances by stars such as Alan Cumming as a school administrator, RuPaul (sans drag) as a meteorologist and Margaret Cho as a wig-shop owner, and supporting appearances by gay, transgender and drag queen performers: Markus Kelle and a bunch of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumni including William Belli, Alyssa Edwards, Joslyn Fox and Shangela Laquifa Wadley. (There is even an appearance by New Orleans theater veteran Brooklyn Shaffer!)
But the most affecting performance comes from Bianca Leigh, arguably the hardest-working transgender actor (“Transamerica”) before Laverne Cox burst onto the scene in “Orange Is the New Black.” As Coach Chuck’s long-lost brother who’d left the family to transition to female, Karma is a believable character at a time when transgender issues have jumped to the foreground of discussion in American culture.
Kugelman deftly dances in and out of and around such issues, starting with Richard’s being legally fired for simply being gay — one of the many charms of Texas’ homophobic laws. More than a fun gay-movie indie romp, “Hurricane Bianca” comes off more as a cheeky but endearing parable about acceptance and tolerance. And as New Orleans will learn yet again on Friday night, if you mess with Roy Haylock, well, you had it coming.