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You Can’t Stop the Beat: Nina West Makes Provincetown Debut

by Steve Desroches

It’s an unusual time to be a drag queen. Just ask Andrew Levitt, better known as Nina West, often dubbed the Queen of Kindness. After appearing on season eleven of RuPaul’s Drag Race and being crowned Miss Congeniality, Levitt became a fan favorite for leading with generosity of spirit and kindness in a show often full of shade and drama. In these divisive times where bullying and self-interest seem to reap the rewards, especially on reality television, Levitt’s good-natured personality and authenticity made him a cast standout, even earning a public shout-out from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What would normally follow such a star-turning performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race is not just a national, but an international tour showing the world your talents, live. But the pandemic put the kibosh on that for over a year. As the world began to reopen, so, too, did opportunities for Levitt, one fulfilling a long-time dream when he was cast as Edna Turnblad in the national touring production of the musical Hairspray. Stepping into the heels made famous by Divine, and then Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway show, was a dream come true, even if as a child growing up in conservative, rural Ohio, Levitt didn’t see the full significance of Edna.

“I had no idea when I was 10 years old that Tracy’s mother was a man; I had no clue,” says Levitt from Cincinnati where the national tour is currently playing. “It was years later I found out it was played by a gay man. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to not mess it up. I love how subversive the character is. Edna really goes through the biggest transformation in the story. The message is so important. The power of the show still exists. And then to give respect to Divine and Harvey Fierstein and John Waters, well, that’s a lot of queer pressure! But it’s been the greatest joy of my career!”

Touring the country with a show set in the early 1960s that is all about civil rights, equality, and justice is particularly salient in modern-day America, notes Levitt, as are the queer undertones of having a gay man cast in the role of Edna. It’s a message Levitt is thrilled to be able to help spread throughout the country as they play dates in places like Paducah, Kentucky; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Tempe, Arizona, as well as big cities like Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta. As racism, homophobia, and transphobia have once again become Republican tools to win elections, as well as the recent assault on women’s rights with the removal of the right to an abortion, and in turn privacy when making the most personal of decisions, Levitt sees his platform as a powerful tool to combat hate and ignorance. And he’s seen both up close and personal.

With his cheerful demeanor and commitment to creating a better world, Levitt often performs as Nina West for children at events for LGBT families, or drag queen story hours, as well as on the children’s network Nickelodeon for an advertisement explaining the meaning of Pride. He thinks what a difference having positive and supportive voices for LGBTQ rights when he was a child in the 1980s and 1990s would have made, so he wants to be what was missing in his life. The backlash to his positivity has been swift and frightening. Right-wing Christians flooded Nickelodeon with complaints and threats. Then came direct online attacks on Levitt, including posting his home address in Columbus, Ohio. Soon after, vandals placed signs on his lawn stating “Pedophile” and “A Groomer Lives Here.” And one night, while doing a live show online with writer and talk radio host Frank DeCaro on drag queen history, several people banged on his windows and doors shouting homophobic slurs. This all happened within the context of the Proud Boys physically interrupting drag queen story hours in Sparks, Nevada, McKinney, Texas, and Alameda County, California, as well as the Texas and Florida legislatures introducing legislation to make such events criminal. The increase in such intimidation tactics has clearly increased since the Republican Party has renewed homophobic rhetoric, says Levitt.

“I’ve seen this before,” says Levitt. “As we all know with the rise of Trumpism and MAGAism is that it’s given a very small minority the feeling that they have all this power. We’re all living with it right now. I think that it’s just the beginning. We need to remember as LGBTQ people who we are and the power we have. How do we celebrate our community that we have? A true expression of self is a powerful tool. We need to focus and take a stand.”

Part of that action is to support the LGBTQ community from within and create positive and powerful energy through performance. That’s why Levitt is so excited to make his Provincetown debut this Bear Week with Bear Trap. And while yes he is known for his age-appropriate children’s shows and being a sweetheart, this is most definitely an adults-only affair. People may be surprised just how edgy he can be. This show, sponsored by the Provincetown Business Guild, is meant to be both entertaining and invigorating for a very difficult time in America, particularly for LGBTQ people. Don’t for a minute mistake Levitt’s kindness for weakness.

“I think when people engage with me they think, ‘Is this a f—king act? Is this for real? She’s a drag queen. It can’t be real,’” says Levitt. “I get it. There’s insult queens like Bianca Del Rio, who I adore, and who in real life is one of the kindest and sweetest people I know. What can I say? I am who I am. Am I always kind? Do I always do the right thing? Of course not. I make mistakes. I can lose my patience. And I’m really angry with the state of our country right now. My kindness can also make people think I can’t also stand up to bullies and bigots. Telling a bully to go f—k themselves is an act of kindness as far as I’m concerned.”

Nina West presents Bear Trap at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., Thursday, July 14 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets ($45-$125) are available in advance at and at the door if not sold out. For more information call 508.487.2313.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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