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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 15 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 46
Royal flash - Musical version of Priscilla is majestic entertainment for the masses
Arts & Entertainment
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Royal flash - Musical version of Priscilla is majestic entertainment for the masses

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

PRISCILLA QUEEN
OF THE DESERT
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
Through November 17


Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a musical based on the film with a similar name. It's a 'jukebox' musical, meaning it uses pop hits instead of songs written exclusively for the show. The stage production takes most points of its cinematic predecessor (ping-pong balls and all) and puts it on stage in all of its glitz, glitter, and sequined costumes. Full of 1980s hit songs (but don't expect any ABBA), the show is pleasing with all its illusions.

The story involves Tick, aka Mitzi when he is in drag onstage, who is getting just a little tired of it all. On cue he receives a phone call from his former wife asking him to travel from Sydney across the continent to the center of Australia, to perform his drag act in a casino. It's the perfect excuse for him to finally meet his six-year-old son, Benjamin. Tick persuades his two rival friends Adam and Bernadette to join him on his cross-country trek. Adam is Felicia on stage, a self-centered sassy queen always on the lookout for a good time. Bernadette is a Transsexual and former Lés Girls performer, a group of female impersonators who entertained the troops of yesteryear. As they travel through the desert they come face-to-face with homophobia and Gay-bashing, but as with all 'buddy films,' they learn to rely on each other and the different meanings of relationships and family.

The Three Divas are an addition for the stage production and are played by Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West. A drag version of a Greek chorus singing popular music, they literally enter (and spend most of their time) descending from the ceiling, making one of the most fabulous entrances ever on stage. They proceed to belt out such great hits as 'It's Raining Men' and 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun.' An original addition, they are wonderful to watch as they sing backup from above and around the characters on stage.

Wade McCollum plays Tick/Mitzi and brings a different persona than that of his film predecessor. His voice is strong - almost too masculine to be believable as a drag queen - but it works well with his character, who is in emotional limbo. McCollum shows his fear and excitement at the prospect of meeting his child, and we easily take it in. In fact, we believe his struggle to accept being a father much more easily than we do his drag performances, but the kind of women they are impersonating aren't the stereotypical feminine archetypes. A drag queen is more than a man in a dress lip-syncing, and there's something missing from his character's persona.

Scott Willis plays Bernadette, the eldest of the bunch, with sharp and classy wit. Willis's character is, for all intents and purposes, a woman. His voice stays consistent and his movements are graceful. Bernadette is the emotion of the story, the 'mother hen' of the small group, and Willis lets that easily come through.

Bryan West plays Adam/Felicia, a young queen who is too good for his own self. He brings a sassy snap to his character with a snarky purr when making catty comments. Adam is a scene-stealer and West does his absolute best to strike the mark. His voice is easy on the ears and he especially shines when singing his solos, 'Material Girl' and 'Like a Prayer.'

CLOTHES MAKE THE QUEEN
The star of this show, without any doubt, is the costumes. They are what made Priscilla a smash to begin with when it first appeared on film, and again on stage winning many deserved accolades. They are outrageous, over-the-top, incredibly extravagant, and highly enjoyable. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner designed the costumes and they should definitely get a standing ovation for their efforts.

Priscilla the musical is not very different from the film version, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with the main exception of the music. While the movie brought ABBA back into high style, Mamma Mia was already a worldwide hit stage musical and movie when the stage version of Priscilla was being planned. In Australia and London, where the musical has its roots, the original productions were heavily influenced by the music of Kylie Minogue, but most Americans outside the Gay community aren't very familiar with her work. For the stage production, Priscilla uses the music of Madonna as the focus instead of ABBA, but doesn't overdo it. There is a good mixture of Cyndi Lauper, Donna Summer, and even Bob Denver along with the (film's) classics by Gloria Gaynor and Alicia Bridges.

The musical is fun, there's no doubt about it. There's enough flash, glitter, glitz, sparkle, and talent to entertain everyone. The extravagant costumes, pop songs, and lots of sequins easily overshadow the simple storyline, and we can forgive that. It's a giant drag show after all, so what's not to enjoy?

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is produced by Bette Midler and had its first performance on Broadway February 28, 2011. It ran for over a year and for more than 500 performances, and won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Musical (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner). It was based on the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, starring Terence Stamp as Bernadette, Hugo Weaving as Tick, and Guy Pearce as Adam. The movie won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Costume Design, which likewise honored Chappel and Gardiner.

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