Priscilla: Queen of the Desert Review
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Rambunctious drag queens party their way inland on a gay-as-can-be roadtrip in a Pimp-My-Ride-caliber RV to small town Australia. Yes, this is Priscilla Queen of the Desert. A toe-tapping, eyeball gluing, tooth-chomping musical romp and the most surprising and flattering show yet in the KeyBank Broadway Series. Haven’t heard of Priscilla before? Good.
Mitzi “Tick” Mitosis (the supercharged and bald Wade McCollum) is a drag queen performer in Sydney. One night he finishes his routine (“It’s Raining Men”) and is encountered by his ex-wife Marion (the endearing Christy Faber), who separated from him out of respect for his homosexuality. She suggests he perform at her business in the rural outback town of Alice, Australia (“I Say a Little Prayer”), where he can meet their 8-year-old son, Benji. Tick eventually agrees and brings along the transsexual Bernadette (the seriously funky Scott Willis) and the hot young Felicia (the fit and fruity Bryan West) in a “budget Barbie campervan” which they call “Priscilla” (hence the title of the play). The group faces many triumphs and pitfalls, including getting their car vandalized by homophobes. The car is fixed by caring mechanic Bob (a sweet Joe Hart). Later in a local bar, Bernadette and Bob develop a romance, and Bernadette takes Bob on a ride to his hometown (“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”). The guys (gals?) finally reach Alice and perform “The Floor Show”. Afterwards, Tick meets his son (“Always on My Mind / We Belong”), and the show playfully refuses to end with an enduring finale (“Finally”).
Spectacularly, the show’s out-and-proud characters are perhaps more down to earth than you and I. The authentic acting makes Mitzi’s love for his son, Bernadette’s motherly (fatherly?) behavior, and Felicia’s wide-eyed grin all tug at the heartstrings and make it easy to empathize with the characters. The show also teaches us a moral lesson of tolerance and compassion for transsexual people, whose personal identity and sexual energy is as equally authentic as heterosexual people.
The singing is very impressive, and lifts the show to melodic heights along with the soaring orchestra. But the dancing is even better. The choreographed numbers exorcise the mind, with notably ample hip-rotation and pelvic-thrusting to show off the muscular men and voluptuous vixens who populate the stage during most of the sexually charged numbers.
The set gorgeously depicts the desert outback, with striking orange sunrises and scintillating blue sunsets. It also accommodates the RV, which rotates on the stage; one side the exterior, a visual equivalent of an electronic billboard, and the other side a decorated interior for the main characters to ride and socialize in.Similarly, Priscilla’s costumes are wonderfully extravagant. There are three Divas that float in the air dancing (a technical marvel) during musical numbers, and their large dress-ups never fail to shine and sparkle, but the real action is the main characters, who could be on stage wearing anything from a flip-flop dress to a Speedo.
You will leave the theater feeling paralyzingly aroused, uncontrollably smiling, ecstatically dancing, joyfully in tears and in a chronic state of clapping. While February might be the least attractive month to go out to see a show, Priscilla will make it well, well worth your while.
Priscilla was at Playhouse Square from Jan. 15 to 27. Upcoming tour dates can be found at priscillaontour.com.
(This review was previously published on the Playhouse Square web site.)