REVIEW: Werkin’ 5 to 9 by HollyPop and Brenda Bressed - Melbourne Fringe

Backstage. Saturday night. Their regular weekly gig. Holly and Brenda are doing well – bringing joy everywhere they sing and dance – but the cost of living is getting them down. What is a Drag Queen to do? How can they balance their creativity with the need to make a living? Or can they turn their dreams of making drag into a career into reality?

This cabaret-cum-jukebox musical takes us from call centres to dog walking to café culture, painting the age-old dilemma of work/art balance in neon-bright colours, perfect lipstick and the largest eyelashes you’ve ever seen.

With help from their Fairy Drag mother (the two queens taking turns, because the show can only afford the two of them), Holly and Brenda learn to believe in themselves and put all their drag skills to good use.

But being the show it is, though Holly is no “Beauty School Dropout” for all intents and purposes she absolutely is, just so she can sing that song from Grease. The girls work together in a café, which brings on “The Worst Pies in London” from Sweeney Todd and “Opening Up” from Waitress. It’s that kind of camp, chaotic show.

The song list is a real joy and the queens' singing and choreography is top notch. Transitions between songs could use a little streamlining, though some of that comes down to missed sound and lighting cues on the night I saw the show. Holly and Brenda are pros at improv, so the rough edges were a good source of humour – and their crowd work is fun. Though audience interaction always depends on audience reaction, the night I saw it, the guy who was pulled up on stage really got into his makeover.

There’s some political commentary thrown in about drag story-time and “groomers” but I think the only dramatic moment that really worked was Brenda’s run-in with her boss, Mr Arnstein, before she bursts into “Don’t Rain on My Parade”.

Brenda and Holly learn some lessons along the way and the audience has a huge amount of fun throughout. And if the queens do want to continue to make a living in drag, making a musical for themselves to tour is a great way to do it. Lots of fun and so much heart.

Werkin' 5 to 9 is on at the Melbourne Fringe Festival until October 8th.