Miss Richfield 1981: Thirty Years on the Throne

Miss Richfield 1981 lights it up at the Illusion Theater.

You’ve got to wonder what happened at the birthday party when Russ King first took on the persona of Miss Richfield 1981, a beauty queen from the town “where butter is a spice and gravy is a beverage.” Like those shamelessly gravy-drinking suburbanites, Miss Richfield doesn’t hold back and has some serious staying power. She has been performing since 1996, including over a decade at the Illusion Theater, and the generational composition of the audience may be a testament to the following Miss R has built up. (Who knew so many people over 50 would come out to see a drag show on a Sunday night?) No matter the age of the audience, though, Miss Richfield’s act was anything but stale. Although she recycles some of her bits from year to year, the show has not lost any of its cheer.

Part of the fun of the act is that no one escapes Miss Richfield’s satire. She pokes fun at gays, Jews, conservatives, Muslims, foreigners, Americans, lesbians, and people with big hair. But while some of her first-act humor is politically charged (with a song about gay marriage that particularly stands out), none of it is mean-spirited. The only thing you could fault her for might be that despite her campy and off-color humor, there is a surprising lack of shock value to the show’s message – Miss R’s political line (essentially, love and let love) will land comfortably with Twin Cities liberals. But it would probably be un-ladylike to push the envelope too far around the holidays, so Miss Richfield is all cheeky joy and naughty holiday spirit, right down to the hem of her scandalously short Christmas dress.

We don’t hear much about the holidays until the second act, when pianist Todd Emmanuel Price comes in to help Miss R with a Christmas sing-along, including familiar carols set to new lyrics or oddly well-fitting new tunes. By this point, the audience is totally on board – because, really, Miss Richfield doesn’t give us the option not to be. (Hint: if you’re afraid of audience participation, don’t sit in the front section, the front row of the back section, or… maybe grab some liquid courage in the lobby before the show just to be safe.) But even the Christmas caroling, which didn’t sparkle as much for me as some of the other segments, ended with a surprisingly heartfelt number involving a violin bow, a mallet and a handsaw.

Everyone has their own way to celebrate the holidays. Some prefer the Holidazzle, some watch sentimental movies on TV, and some sit at home resenting the need for unending Christmas spirit. Miss Richfield presents an alternative to all three options. With enough dazzle to light a parade, Miss Richfield’s infectious energy will beat the pants off “It’s a Wonderful Life” and get laughs out of even the biggest Christmas humbug.


Miss Richfield 1981: Thirty Years on the Throne
Written and performed by Russ King
Directed by Michael Robins
December 2-18
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave., 8th Floor, Minneapolis
Tickets $30-38
Box office: 612-339-4944 or www.illusiontheater.org
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