In the same way that the groom shouldn’t see the bride before the wedding, the audience probably shouldn’t see the drag queen before the show. It’s not about superstition — it’s about spectacle: neither woman should give away her charms so unceremoniously. That would lift the spell before it’s even been cast.
And yet, 11 minutes before the show is to begin at the Crown & Anchor, the house lights are still up, hardly a soul has grabbed a seat, and there’s Qya Cristál, right in front of her audience, setting the stage as they order their drinks, chat with one another, and, in the case of one couple who seem to be making a night of it, smooch.
Cristál is standing right next to these lucky two, but she scarcely seems to notice them. She’s busy. She disappears backstage, and then, just seconds later, reemerges, lugging a fan. She places the fan at the side of the stage, angles it, turns it on. She walks over to the microphone, where the fan blows her hair lightly. She looks gorgeous.
Right now, this public puttering seems odd, but soon enough her point becomes clear. Cristál’s show, Queen of the Night, is a little homier than your average drag show. It recalls Diana Ross’s “It’s My House,” a disco anthem about the domestic.
The stage is at the Wave Bar, which later will pulse with nightclub beats, but now feels like a den — the people in the chairs not so much audience members as guests at a fabulous little dinner party, Cristál not so much drag queen as gracious hostess.
If you show up to the party early, you will find her amid her last-minute preparations, making sure everything is just so.
Two taps on the microphone — it’s working — and she’s off the stage, the house lights are going down, everyone is taking their seats, and that couple has, thankfully, stopped their petting.
It’s dark now, and there’s the nostalgic sound of film rolling. Then, the projector beams footage of Martin Luther King Jr. from the March on Washington. A few seconds later, Cristál takes the stage, this time for real. Her dress, with sequins in the colors of the rainbow, gleams against the black-and-white film footage.
Then, the real spectacle: Cristál’s voice. She sings Sam Cooke’s 1964 “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Cooke wrote as a protest during the civil rights movement. Cristál slows the song down — her voice has range, and that range needs room. She sings some notes operatically high and others gutturally low. One of our lovebirds, so fixated on his beau earlier, focuses intently on Cristál. His jaw has dropped. The spell has been cast.
“It’s been a long/ A long time coming,” Cristál belts. Then, between lyrics, she quips: “Well, for me, only about 30 years.”
We learn about some of those years, from Cristál’s birth in Missouri to the present day in Provincetown. Each chapter of her life is encapsulated in a different musical genre. For Cristál’s childhood, there’s gospel music. She grew up Southern Baptist and sang in the choir every Sunday. For adolescence, there’s musical theater — obviously. For her move to Provincetown, there’s country music — oddly. Somehow it works. She replaces the chorus of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” with “P’town Woman.”
As Cristál sings, there’s a video on the screen of Carole Baskin, the villainess in a flower crown from Tiger King, riding in a convertible. The whole thing should be camp, but Cristál’s voice doesn’t settle for camp. Her voice turns everything to gold.
While a student at the Berklee College of Music, Cristál met Liza Lott, a Provincetown drag queen. She came to town for the first time in the summer of 2012. She’s been here since, juggling multiple jobs and up to six gigs a week, hustling to make it as a performer. Despite the grind, or maybe because of it, Cristál loves it here. “In Provincetown, I can do drag and be seen not as a clown, but as an artist,” she tells the audience.
At one point, Cristál departs from the chronological arc of the show, leaves the stage, and joins her audience to watch footage from the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. The names of Black people killed by police flash across the scene, one at a time and in rapid succession, compounding our recollections of loss.
Back on stage, Cristál sings Jill Scott’s 2007 “Hate on Me Hater,” a song about anti-Black racism, the chorus of which declares: “You cannot hate on me/ Because my mind is free.”
Those who buy tickets with the expectation of bacchanalia will be surprised by “Queen of the Night.” The show pushes drag beyond wigs and witticisms. This, perhaps, is what Cristál means about drag being an art in Provincetown, not artifice. Cristál’s performance stirs, moves, and maybe even transforms. And it’s Cristál’s first ticketed show. When she goes from hosting dinner parties to galas, who’s to say where she’ll take drag next.
The event: “Queen of the Night” with Qya Cristál
The time: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
The place: The Crown & Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: $35