Manila Luzon dishes on joining ‘DRAG: The Musical’ and being the ‘Filipino RuPaul’

Three of the gayest things on the planet: drag, musical theater, and Manila Luzon. Lucky for everyone, all three are coming together this March in Los Angeles in the newest production of DRAG: The Musical. The show follows two rival drag clubs fighting for dominance and features both Broadway actors, like New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre, and plenty of faces familiar to fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, including Alaska (who co-wrote the show), Jujubee, Jan Sport, and — for the first time — Manila Luzon.

It’s only the latest fabulous project for the drag legend, who’s graduated from reality TV contest to reality TV host with her own Filipino drag competition, Drag Den, which is now airing its second season on Amazon Prime Video. INTO caught up with Manila to learn why musical theater is near and dear to her heart, how she’s making a mark on the Filipino drag scene, and why Madonna is and always will be an icon.

Hi, Manila! I’m so excited to hear you’ll be in DRAG: The Musical in March. Can you tell me about your character, Popcorn Scampi?

My character is a songwriter and has a very optimistic view, trying to save their drag club and do whatever it takes. I think that being part of an ensemble cast like this is going to be a lot of fun, because that’s how drag shows are in real life: we’re all there to do our little part and entertain guests.

Speaking of the cast, are you excited to work with this mix of drag artists and Broadway actors?

I’m super excited, because I get to work with some of my Drag Race sisters like Alaska and Jujubee. And then Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block? That’s so exciting to have him be part of the show. I’ve been a fan of him since I was younger, too.

I was just about to ask if you were a New Kids on the Block fan.

Of course! Joey McIntyre as part of New Kids on the Block was part of pop culture in the early ‘90s, late ‘80s. And to this day, New Kids on the Block have had such an influence on boy bands of all kinds: NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, the Jonas Brothers, and BTS — all of them tie back to New Kids on the Block. So I think it’s really cool.

What’s your background with musical theater? Were you a fan of it before you started drag?

I am a drag queen and a homosexual man, so yes, I have always loved theater. I used to do plays when I was in high school and in college, and it’s something that I’ve always loved to do and something that I haven’t really pursued professionally since I’ve become a drag queen, since drag and theater are so closely related. 

I’m really excited to be part of this production, because drag is very much like you’re on your own. It’s a one-woman show. You come up with the songs you’re going to perform, you come up with your little choreography, you come up with your costumes you’re gonna wear, and you go on to a blank stage in a nightclub, and you create the fantasy all by yourself. So I’m really excited to be able to collaborate with other people, artists, musicians, and costume designers and put a whole show together. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and it’s something that I miss from my days of being in theater.

Why should fans come see DRAG: The Musical?

It hits all of the people that are fans of musical theater, because it’s a brand new show, and it’s an original show. This wasn’t an ‘80s movie that they just threw a soundtrack together on; this is an original show with an original story and an original idea. 

This is also something that is written by people in the community. I mean, Alaska is one of the co-writers! So if you love drag and you love musical theater, it’s gonna be a great opportunity to see some of your favorite drag queens singing live and getting to play parts, so anyone’s support would be so amazing and appreciated.

Beyond the stage, you’re also making your mark as a TV host with your show Drag Den, which features some of the best drag artists in the Philippines. Of course, you’re no stranger to reality TV. What’s it been like to transition from contestant to host?

Actually, sometimes I treat the challenges of hosting my own show as if it was a challenge on a reality show, because it’s not too different, to be honest. 

But ultimately, I think my biggest concern when hosting my show is to do a good job so that it provides legitimacy to the contestants on the show. I’ve been in their high-heeled shoes, and when I’m hosting Drag Den, I really want to make sure that I’m always thinking, like, “Is this comfortable for them? Are they feeling it? Do they know what they’re doing?”

I really want to take my experiences from being on reality TV and set up my contestants so that they’ll have something as amazing as what I’ve had. And hopefully their careers expand and grow as mine has, and the opportunities for them are just as great and grand as I’ve all the opportunities have come my way. 

Oh, I love to hear that!

It’s so cute! Because before, I’ve always been in a competition setting and thinking about how to advance myself and my career. And I’ve gotten to this point where it’s no longer fulfilling just to do that for myself. In fact, I’m really, really happy and proud. I call all of my contestants my daughters; they call me mother. I love it. I feel like the Filipino RuPaul. 

And the Drag Den contestants are so amazing. On social media, I saw one Drag Den queen fully dressed as a dinner table.

That’s Russia Fox! Y’all have to make sure you follow Russia Fox. She is everything. The stunts that she pulls — the last episode she had fireworks shooting out of her boobs. I was afraid my hair was gonna catch on fire! But she goes over the top. She’s quite amazing. Go check out Russia Fox for sure.

Russia Fox (Drag Den Season 2) slayed this reveal
byu/Individual-Bat-1170 inrupaulsdragrace

The perils of being a drag host! Meanwhile, stateside, I saw that you were just onstage with Madonna in your home state of Minnesota.

Oh, my god. That was a total dream. I’m such a huge fan of Madonna. I’ve always been. She’s been one of my biggest inspirations as an artist, as a drag queen, and just as a person in general. Especially as a queer person, I’ve just been a fan of hers for such a long time. So when her people reached out to my people and asked if I would go in my home state of Minnesota, I just could not wait. It was just like a total dream come true. If anyone reading this has an opportunity to go up on stage with Madonna, take it for sure.

Hot tip!

It is a hot tip! I’m just saying. It was a dream. It’s still sinking in that this happened to me. 

Do you have a favorite Madonna song?

Ooh. Well, now it’s “Vogue.” “Vogue” has always been one of my favorites to perform as a drag queen and now I was able to go up on stage during it. It’s also off her Dick Tracy-inspired album I’m Breathless, which I love because it also has that musical theater vibe to it. Yeah, “Vogue” for sure.

DRAG: The Musical runs March 15-30 at the Bourbon Room in Hollywood, and Drag Den streams on Wednesdays on Amazon Prime Video.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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