BWW Review: Ottawa's Orpheus Theatre Delivers Hits, Comedy and, Oh, So Much Camp with PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL
Priscilla: Queen of the Desert the Musical was adapted from the 1994 Academy-award winning Australian film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The 2006 musical version also originated Down Under and was slightly changed for American audiences when it first hit the Great White Way in 2011. Orpheus' production is a hybrid of the two, comprising a diverse mix of 70s and 80s hits that will be instantly recognizable to most audience members.
The story involves two drag queens, Tick/Mitzi (Andy Allen-McCarthy) and Adam/Felicia (DJ Eyamie), and a transgender woman, Bernadette (Shaun Toohey), on an adventurous road trip across the Australian outback in a camper-van, in order to perform at a casino resort run by Tick's wife, Marion (Andréa Black). Along the way, they meet a cast of characters, some friendly and some not so much, and the trio manage to get themselves into and out of scrapes through song and dance.
Co-directors Toohey and Eyamie, who also star in the production, do not shy away from showing the discrimination and hatred that Tick, Adam, and Bernadette encounter on the road. Some scenes are almost difficult to watch, especially with the knowledge that these type of hate crimes are still perpetuated today. Ultimately, love and the power of friendship conquer all, and the overall message is a positive one.
The three main characters are complemented by three "Divas" (Sophie Rochat, Donna St-Jean, and Stefania Wheelhouse), who supply leading vocals for songs that are lip synced by Mitzi, Felicia, and Bernadette, as well as back-up vocals to the songs sung by Allen-McCarthy, Eyamie, and Toohey). All six singers are impressive; this is truly a first-class Orpheus production on the vocal front. Having the Divas perform above the drag queens as they lip sync is a particularly clever way to set the scene so that the audience can appreciate everyone's performance. Of particular note was Eyamie's lip syncing capabilities during "Sempre Libera"; it received a well-deserved round of applause from the audience.
Alex Sinha's (Cynthia) rendition of "Pop Muzik" was utterly hilarious. Lawrence Evenchick (Bob) and Declan Cassidy (Benji) also deserve praise for excellent performances.
The costumes, designed by Guylaine Roy and Mélanie Evans, are highly memorable. Roy and Evans even managed to recreate the thong dress featured in the film (side note: I learned from my Australian cousin that "thong" is the Aussie word for North American "flip flops"). The headdresses are absolutely sensational and - incredibly - stayed put though all the dancing (a good thing, because a toppled headdress may have caused serious injury).
The choreography, under the helm of first-time Orpheus choreographer, Morgan Coughlan, is loads of fun and is at its best with the ensemble numbers, especially "Thank God I'm a Country Boy". Eyamie (Felicia) and Bebe Brunjes' (Miss Understanding) dancing skills are unbelievable: their ability to dance in high heels was enough to make me green with envy. And speaking of green, the choreography and costumes for the "MacArthur Park" number was one of the most ridiculous things I have seen since The Book of Mormon - and I mean that in the absolute best way possible.
Enough said. With its fun score, campy outfits, incredible vocal talent, and positive message - honestly, what more can anyone ask for? Priscilla is on stage until June 9th at Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe. For more information or to buy tickets, go to https://www.orpheus-theatre.ca/priscilla.