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BWW Reviews: Fabulous and Heartwarming, PRISCILLA Takes on Durham


Durham just got a whole lot more glittery! Now playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows three friends (who happen to be drag performers) on a journey across Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs in a Bus named Priscilla. That's the Australian equivalent of driving a bus from New York City to the middle of Kansas. Tick, whose drag name is Mitzi, gets a call from his wife letting him know that his six-year-old son wants to meet him. Anxious at the prospect of fatherhood, Tick convinces two of his friends to travel across the country to perform at the casino in Alice. The trio encounters all sorts of people on their trip - some of them wonderful and others very much the opposite - and learn a little about themselves and each other as well. Ultimately, amid all the amazing costumes and big dance numbers, Priscilla is about confronting the world with a sense of adventure and understanding that each person is fabulous in his or her own way.

When you go to a musical about drag performers, you're going to expect the numbers and the costumes to be fabulous - Priscilla delivers on both accounts. The big musical numbers are fantastic renditions of songs everyone loves, most of which are disco songs from the 70s. The performance quality is extremely high, as each member of the cast is bursting with song and dance chops. The entire ensemble keeps the incredible energy up throughout the entire show. They also happen to be a collection of some of the world's most attractive people, which certainly doesn't hurt their cause. The countless costumes earned the show a well-deserved Tony Award, and are unlike any costumes you're likely to see on Broadway or anywhere else. Who ever thought a dress made of flip-flops could be so chic?

In addition to the stellar ensemble, the three leads each provide a unique and wonderful element to the show. BRyan West is wonderfully suited to play Adam/Felicia and is spot-on with the character's youthful sass. Felicia's Madonna obsession is at the core of her persona, and not only is West the perfect "Material Girl," but the Madonna numbers bring an interestingly American element to the show (in other countries, the Madonna numbers weren't part of the show). West is able to hit Felicia's highs and lows from glitzy production numbers to a sobering reaction to an incident of hate-fueled violence. Scott Willis's Bernadette is funny, touching, and classy. Willis flourishes as the voice of nostalgia and wisdom in the trio. He has several meaningful and heartwarming moments with the other two, and with an unexpected romance. Wade McCollum's charm fills his performance as Tick/Mitzi. While nailing big-time musical numbers (especially "MacArthur Park"), McCollum expertly rides the fine line between drag queen sass and new-father nerves. He is a joy to watch, especially as his character comes to terms with being both Tick, the father, and Mitzi, the drag performer.

Despite some announced technical difficulties with the automated computer system which operates the bus (which should be up and running at other performances), the bus itself is a sight to behold. It certainly didn't seem like there was anything lacking while the system was down. How Priscilla even makes it from one city to the next is mind-boggling, and then it moves all over the stage and lights up in countless mesmerizing LED patterns. The bus is certainly worthy of its equally fabulous passengers, and even has its own choreography.

The combination of one fabulous bus, an amazing team of actors, great voices, hit songs, one-of-a-kind costume design, a story that will inspire, and a whole lot of glitter make Priscilla a show you won't want to miss. The glitz and glamour will hook you, and the show's heart will win you over.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert runs through May 5th. For tickets and more information, visit

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