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Photo courtesy Calgary Fringe Festival and Steven Morton

Calgary Fringe Festival 2021: Drag Me to the Opera

By Rachneet Randhawa, August 24 2021—

Drag Me to the Opera was a fantastical bonanza of musical theatre, kicking off the Gauntlet’s “Binge of the Fringe.” The performance starred Steven Morton as Aida Cupcake, who explains the woes and wisdom of his coming-of-age story and how he ended up as a young tenor at the Fringe in a dress. It was nominated twice and won a CAT award from the Calgary Community Theatre.

The story follows the biography of Morton played through his drag alias outlining his career as a budding singer in the theatre opera including the adversity and struggles he faced to become successful and see his name in shining lights. Morton is not only a fabulous drag performer, he is also a classically-trained opera singer. The entirety of the play itself is divided into operettas — or short song sequences.

For each operetta, Aida Cupcake would throw on a new wig and don a new role or character. The play began with a traditional opera song performance and then moved onto songs for different themes like forbidden lovers, death and depression, becoming a man, emerging resilient and finished off with a random pirate song. 

Morton began his journey as a throwback to 2008 in Germany. This is a pivotal and exciting moment for his opera and singing career. Morton describes how there was such glee and enthusiasm in the air as making it to that point was a milestone for him. 

However, the play starts with the climax of the plot, so Morton retraces his steps to his past. We then travel back to 2003 in Calgary, Alberta where Morton was in university studying business and picking up bartending shifts at night so that not only could he support himself, but see free shows and cool musicians.

He was, however, unhappy. He wasn’t entirely sure where his career was headed but knew that something unnerving was going on deep inside of him and so decided it was time to take action and make a change. Morton found a voice coach and took singing lessons and then chose to enter a diploma program in music leaving business studies behind. 

We then flash forward to 2006 a few years later in Vernon, B.C., where Morton was performing at an arts festival. He continued his studies in music and theatre and it was here that he had his first big break starring in Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Morton was absolutely ecstatic.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst when the bad news broke that summer that his father passed away due to an infection he had after heart surgery. It was traumatic for him and he became conflicted on what direction his life was headed in. Morton almost withdrew completely from college that year due to difficult circumstances and wanting to support his mother. 

We then flash forward again, back to 2008 in Germany in which the play originally began. Morton had gone to mock tryouts performing in front of a panel of professional judges who ended up ridiculing his subpar performance and claimed that he wasn’t a good singer let alone had a shot at a career in opera singing.

Instead, they offered Morton an alternative role as a play director’s assistant including being a stagehand, but Morton refused. His heart was set on becoming an operetta singer despite being rejected. After coming back home to Calgary he fell into a slump and gave up singing for a while because he felt discouraged. As he took off his dress and wiped off his dramatic makeup, he sang a melancholy song. This was the climax of the plot as the actor’s inner struggles with self-doubt had settled in. 

A year later in 2009, Morton received a callback to come to Lethbridge as an ensemble offered him work in a play which was his comeback role. He once again attempted to take vocal lessons to brush up on the rougher edges in his voice and to regain his confidence.

From here, Morton launches into the sky and beyond. A handful of years later in 2015, Morton claims that his voice reached its pinnacle quality and became the best tuned that it could ever become. It was the generic type of a biographical retelling of someone’s journey in monologue fashion — what made it so unique was Ms. Cupcake’s buoyant personality, jubilant flair and symphonic voice that vibrated endlessly. The combination of drag and live opera is the ideal collaboration of the dramatic arts. Its palette showcases a little bit of everything — music, singing, theatre, so much sassiness, comedy and laughter. 

I for one found Drag Me to the Opera to be the highlight of the Fringe Festival this year as it expresses both the potential of the dramatic arts and gives us a coming-of-age story with a valuable lesson. Your support of the local arts community and your investment in attending one of the many spectacular performances is worthwhile and adds some sophistication to your repertoire even if you’re not a theatre geek.

Be sure to check out the on-demand performances that are available until August 28.

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