Review: Larry Owens Live

Outstanding songs, impressions and storytelling with a real vulnerable edge

comedy review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Larry Owens
Photo by Callum Walker Hutchinson
Published 10 Aug 2023

It’s 2017 and Larry Owens is searching for his big break. Despite his clear enthusiasm and buckets of talent, he is dejected by a patronising agent that sends emails where he is tokenized and boxed into a particular lane. Unable to consolidate the varying dichotomies at play when it comes to his identity, he sings that he is “too gay for Black people” and “too Black for white people”.

Larry Owens Live is not about the glamour of reaching a professional milestone; rather it’s a show that underlines that feeling of never quite being enough. The staging is simple – only two stools take up space, with one of them used to hold a Telfar Mary Poppins-esque bag of wigs. Instead, Owens’ musicality and charisma takes centre stage, with vocals that reverberate dynamically around the room. We’re treated to his songs written for Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X, impressions of Oprah, Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong'o for an SNL audition, and a very dramatic reading of the theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But it’s not all catchy tunes, fun dancing and uninterrupted hilarity.

Anyone that closely follows news of Broadway smash hits and Tony Award-winners may already be familiar with Owens. As the original Usher in the Off-Broadway run of meta-musical A Strange Loop, he was widely praised for his powerful and comedic performance of the sensitive Black, queer writer. Set before this period, Owens' Fringe debut gives an insight into carving out your own path. Along with his impressive musical comedy, he gives us vulnerability and raw emotion, underlining what it means to be a Black gay man in the entertainment industry, as well as in the wider world.