BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT Rolls Through Ogunquit
You're either on the bus or you're not on the bus, so the old saying goes. Currently, audiences at the Ogunquit Playhouse are willingly climbing onboard for a wild ride.
Based on a 1994 movie of the same name,"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," with book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, is about as flashy and flamboyant a vintage pop song-driven musical as could be imagined. Featuring literally hundreds of colorful costumes and headdresses, many reflecting Australian flora and fauna, and lots of high-energy song and dance numbers, this show aims to please. It's a fun show and has a warm heart.
The story concerns three performers, two drag and one transgender, who take off into the Outback in a recycled bus named Priscilla, encountering friendly, flaky and ferocious folks along the way. It's a voyage of discovery for all involved as the trio not only perform in various bars but face up to some personal challenges as well.
The essential purpose of the journey is for Tick (Mitzi) to meet up with his son, who's been in the custody of his ex-wife. Jarrod Emick takes that lead role and has his most effective dramatic moment when he sings, Elvis-style, "Always on My Mind' to the scene-stealing 6 year-old Tyler Wladis. "True Colors" is also a highlight, as Tick and his bus mates Bernadette and Adam (Felicia) suggest the pride of asserting their identities in a diverse world.
William Selby plays the transgender Bernadette, who finds romance in the person of a mechanic who's enlisted to fix the bus. Singing in an affected voice placed limitations but Selby successfully conveyed his character's emotional struggles and eventual peacefulness in the arms of the sturdy Bob (Mitch Poulos).
Matthew Marks' Adam is a light-hearted joker who aims much of his double-entendre wit at his pals but shows his emotional and physical vulnerabilities when he encounters leather-clad Aussie villains. Marks got to both sing and lip-synch in moments that featured some of the best integration of all the individual elements of music (directed by Michael McAssey), choreography (Gerry McIntyre), scenic design (Stanley A. Meyer and Jason M. Curtis), costume design (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner), lighting design (Richard Latta) and sound design (Don Hanna) in the show. He was "Hot Stuff."
Several in the very good supporting cast stood out at the matinee on August 14. Lisa Helmi Johanson, in a somewhat stereotypical role as the bar girl Cynthia, was a live wire in a raunchy "Pop Muzik" and also scored as one of the Divas with Coleen Sexton and Debra Walton. Darius Harper vamped it up winningly as his character asked the inevitable "What's Love Got to Do With It?"
Director David Ruttura has kept things moving (perhaps a little too much in one odd, sped-up sequence near the close) in a show which laces its lavish production with just enough dramatic content to make the good times seem hard-won and more precious (in a good way) for that.
Photo by Gary Ng.