Draped in sequin-coated suits of armor and exploding with provocative, rollicking humor, three drag queens from Australia set out to conquer the Australian Outback. With every conceivable surface covered with colored lights and furry accessories, Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical has ended its run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood after an extensive North American tour, including more than 500 performances on Broadway. The show will next tour in Sweden, Italy, Ireland and the U.K.
This story of two drag queens and a transsexual on an unforgettable road trip combines the details of an everlasting friendship, love without barriers and laughs set to a number of famous karaoke songs. On top of the award-winning costumes and catchy tunes, the story recounts the everyday struggles of homosexual men.
Adapted from the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which was written and directed by Stephan Elliot and starred Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce, the musical incorporates elements of mainstream comedy and rich costumes to appeal to a wider audience. Where the film accentuated passive humor and the characters’ vulnerability, the theatrical performance emphasizes the flamboyance of the outlandish drag lifestyle that the characters follow.
Despite the outrageously exuberant costumes, the plot is relatively simple. The main character, Tick, a drag queen played by Wade McCollum, is convinced by his wife Marion (Christy Faber) to travel to a town in the middle of the Australian desert in order to perform on the stage of a local casino and finally meet his young son Benji (Will B.), who is unaware of his father’s unconventional lifestyle.
Faced with a pivotal decision and apprehensive about his future encounter with his son, Tick enlists the help of his two good friends, Felicia (Bryan West) and Bernadette (Scott Willis), who just so happen to be fiery rivals on the stage of glamour. Bernadette constantly reminisces about her young days as a headlining lip-syncher, and Felicia, an aspiring drag queen star with impetuous tendencies, decide to accompany Tick on a journey full of surprises and unexpected heart. The trio finds themselves running from old country hillbillies and violent homophobes, all while strutting in glittering 3-inch stilettos.
The music consists entirely of jukebox oldies, evocative of the 1980s disco days when Diana Ross rocked the crowd with classics such as “It’s Raining Men” and “I Will Survive.” With an earful of lyrics familiar to generations of listeners, the musical is a happily reminiscent memory of the striking art and expression once present in the world of underground disco.
Perhaps the most noticeable facet of the ostentatious performances are Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s Tony award-winning costumes. Aiming for the bigger and better, the designs for the musical consist of grand ensembles that illuminate the stage with sheer dimension and lavish imagination. From multi-layered cake gowns to a colorful assortment of dessert-inspired pieces, the Priscilla closet is a collection of clothing straight out of a tacky parade.
The show has its heart-rending moments, as well. As the trio embarks on their journey, they are unprepared for the dark world of intolerance outside their powdery, pink dressing rooms. Of the three, it is Felicia, in all her careless glory, who discovers that injustice is the road to expressing one’s true self. Similarly, Bernadette finds herself with an entirely new gender, and an entirely unexpected friend. These surprises aren’t terribly ill-fated, as they match nicely with the assertive and boisterous natures of the three main characters. All in all, the trio escapes these situations with their dignity and poise intact.
What Priscilla lacks in provoking emotion, it compensates in fabulous splendor, combining upbeat music, smooth choreography and a multi-talented army of actors that is bound to make the night worthwhile.
The musical is truly a celebration of acceptance and staying true to oneself.