BWW Reviews: PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT: Laughter and Heart
Beneath the rollicking good time (not to mention the sequined glitz and flashy feathers) of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical, is a story about the difficulties of living an authentic life when you don't fit into the social norm. In this case that norm is the hetero world of 1990s Australia where two gay men and one trans woman, drag queens all, team up to take a trip through the outback in order to perform at a casino owned by, of all people, the wife of one of the queens. Enter "Priscilla" a dilapidated bus that's a traveling dressing room and bar for the trio of performers. Road trip! Playing now through August 31 at the Orpheum Theatre, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is boy-sterous, outrageous, campy fun, but it also heartwarming and touching.
It's said that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels. Well, virtually the same thing can be said of drag queens Mitzi (Wade McCollum), Felicia (Brian West) and Bernadette (Scott Willis) and the rest of the cast of this phenomenal show. Choreographer Joshua Buscher provides rousing numbers done in death-defying high heels and stunning diva costumes (Designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner won Tony awards for their work) all set to a string of 70s and 80's chart-topping hits. From the moment "It's Raining Men" begins and three glam divas get lowered from the fly while down below them, buffed out and brawny men strip to almost nothing - you know it's going to be a fun night.
McCollum's Mitzi (aka Tick) is the ring-leader of the little group, tapping Madonna-loving Felicia (aka Adam) and aging, genteel Bernadette to join him for this gig. What he doesn't tell them is that the casino is owned by his wife, Marion (the lovely Christy Faber) - and that he has a son named Benji (shared role played by Shane Davis and Will B.). McCollum is a joy as the conflicted Tick. He wants so badly to see Benji, but he's afraid, not only his son's reaction, but also those of his friends. But in the touching number "I Say a Little Prayer for You," love wins out over fear and off they go on their road trip.
Along the way, they confront homophobia, get bested in a bar by a ping-pong popping mail-order-bride (Chelsea Zeno is hilarious as Cynthia), meet a big-hearted mechanic named Bob (the wonderful Joe Hart) and discover their life choices are a little easier when they're on the road together. The ensemble, led by divas Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West, along with Nik Alexzander as Miss Understanding is truly outstanding.
Big dance numbers, well-known hits and a smart book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott make this show a dazzler. But it's the trio's determination to keep showing their "true colors" and live authentic lives, no matter what the cost, that gives Priscilla Queen of the Desert it's heart.