Rusicals have been a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” institution since Season 6 and something audiences look forward to each season. Executive producer Tom Campbell credits fellow producers John Polly and Michael Seligman for coming up with this year’s “Wigloose: The Rusical.” Says Campbell, “They said ‘Wigloose,’ like ‘Footloose,’ and it writes itself.”
The maxi challenge puts the queens’ performing skills to the test, through song, dance and acting, as they tell a musical story. Previous challenges have included “Moulin Ru: The Rusical,” Madonna, Cher and even Donald Trump’s presidency. The idea is that audiences already know the story of the Rusical and condense that into a production that’s less than 12 minutes long.
Season 15’s Rusical, “Wigloose,” is set in the small town of West Bumtuck, where drag has been outlawed, and is a parody of the 1984 film “Footloose” starring Kevin Bacon.
In cracking the song lyrics, singer and songwriter Brett “Leland” McLaughlin’s job is to make sure that in any Rusical there is fairness among the songs. He says, “It’s about allowing every queen to steal the show and rise to the occasion. The musical comes together by me pretending that I am on stage and act this out. I want to see how it feels when a queen delivers a lyric.”
Leland says he often takes a few days at the piano working out the music, but his challenge, aside from ensuring each queen gets their spotlight, is condensing the song’s length. “If we didn’t, it would be a 35-minute version.” He navigates that by “the idea of not getting too attached to anything because it might be cut out. But also knowing the finished one-minute version is exactly how it’s supposed to be and it flows.” He adds, “If it was up to me, and we would have a long musical.”
Comedy is everything when putting together a Rusical, and Leland he draws that by playing into the queens and their personalities. “Comedic timing is everything. We can infuse our Rusical with moments that allow the viewer to laugh or move them, that’s the balance I wanted to achieve,” he says.
In some musical numbers, the queens will perform their vocals, but for “Wigloose,” Leland was tasked with vocal matching for the queens to lipsync along to. He explains, “I tried to find vocal tonality. With Selina Es Titties, the vocal she was lip-syncing to was a Southern hick vocal. It’s fun to match these voices that they would normally not be able to pull off so it brings a whole new side to the character.”
For choreography, Miguel Zarate puts it all together. But ultimately comes down to two factors, working long hours and the queens.
Says Campbell, “Brett will be working all day, the music will come in after we’re done shooting a show, and we’ll be there until midnight fixing things and getting it done. It all comes down to the queens who often will have a day rehearsal and they’re given the material, they listen to it, they’re working with Miguel, but it’s the queen who bring everything and make everything special.”
When “Wigloose the Rusical” was initially conceived as an idea. Leland says, the all-dancing, all-prancing number was ahead of its time “by taking many fictional steps back into a world that we never imagined.”
In the short time it took to bring “Wigloose” to life, the U.S. saw a surge of anti-drag and anti-trans bills being passed legislatively and continued hate crimes against the community. Adds Campbell, “When it all came together, we realized how timely it was, and it was so beautiful and important.” He adds, “I don’t take it for granted and I’m not trying to be a scaredy cat.” He says, “Sometimes people say ‘Oh, there’s too much drag race or enough already. It’s like no, our existence could be put out like that.”
Watch “Wigloose: The Rusical” below.