BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL is Fabulous and Fierce
The high-energy and high heel-studded extravaganza tells the touching story of three friends who journey across Australia's Outback in a battered, old bus. Tick, a drag performer in Sydney, is journeying back to Alice Springs after a 6-year hiatus at the request of his wife to reunite with his 8-year-old son. Tick gathers his two best friends, Bernadette, a post-op transsexual and retired Les Girls performer, and Adam, an ostentatious and youthful drag performer, and tells them that the trip is a favor for his wife and that the trio have their own floor show at the casino. Along the way, the three friends discover more about themselves and life than they could imagine and warm the hearts of the audiences by standing up for each other and being true to themselves.
The touring production of PRISCILLA sparkles with all the glitz and glam of a high-octane drag show. The production glistens with well-placed sequins of humor and glitter covered lips. Stephan Elliott, with help from Alan Scott, has written the book. The duo has made the musical a little less nuanced and giddier than the film that inspired the play. Even with the changes in tone, they have expertly preserved the poignant heart. Coupled with skillful direction by Simon Philips, the key emotional moments of the plot are both genuine and deeply affecting. Whether the audience is crying from laughing so hard or has their eyes mist over from having their heartstrings tugged, there is no denying that PRISCILLA, complete with dance hall anthems and over-the-top wigs and costumes, is a powerful piece of theatre.
The production's strength comes from its phenomenal cast. Each of the three leads is sublime in their assigned roles. Wade McCollum's reserved Tick/Mitzi, Scott Willis' dry yet nurturing Bernadette, and Bryan West's recklessly spontaneous Adam/Felicia all astound the audience in their own way. Spouting hysterical quips, puns, and putdowns, dancing with precision in heels, platforms, and more, and singing and lip-synching with fascinating skill, each of these three men are true triple threats that abundantly entertain with ease. Of course, they don't go it alone. The Greek Chorus-like Divas, played and sung with tangible enthusiasm by Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West, indulge the audience with riveting vocal skills and larger-than-life stage presence on numbers like "It's Raining Men," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Shake Your Groove Thing," "MacArthur Park," and more. Joe Hart's Bob, a surprise romantic interest for Bernadette, is amazingly open-minded and fun. Christy Faber's sweet and understanding Marion, Tick's wife, is a true joy. Chelsea Zeno's Cynthia makes a hilarious R-rated splash with her popping and gimmicky rendition of "Pop Muzik." Babs Rubenstein's mulleted Shirley is humorous, especially as she comically gyrates without finesse or grace. Nik Alexzander's Miss Understanding is spirited and drolly interacts with the audience. He riotously called out people who arrived late. Shane Davis's Benji, Tick's son, was simply adorable. This kid is immaculately professional as well. Something went wrong with his microphone in the second act's climax and had to be turned off. He continued his performance without missing a beat, projecting to where the other microphones picked him up. Lastly, the rest of the ensemble performs with peppy vigor, keeping the audience engrossed in all of PRISCILLA's decadent glory.
The most spectacular design element in the show is Tim Chappel & Lizzy Gardiner's Tony Award winning Costume Design. Over 1000 flamboyant and dazzling wardrobe pieces make their way across the stage during the production. Every single one of the 500+ costumes are superb, eye-catching, and truly magnificent. My favorites include the recreation of the film's iconic flip-flop dress, the Gumby outfits, the Marie Antoinette gowns and accessories for the finale, and the costumes that are reminiscent of Australian wildlife. If the exceptional cast is not enough reason to buy a ticket, these sumptuously gaudy and extravagant costumes alone are well worth the price of admission.