Thursday, March 7, 2013

Theatre review: "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" performed by a road company

A traveling production of a show about a traveling production of a show has stopped off here for a few days. The vehicle is Priscilla Queen of the Desert  which, in case you don’t know, deals with three drag-clothed girl/guys in the epoynomus bus strutting their stuff and shaking their booties in the desert heat and heart of Australia’s Outback.

The non-stop, crazy, ditsy Tony –Award- winning costumes could knock your socks off, looking like a combination of Oz and Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade. That parade, FYI, used to only allow men to be in in dem golden slippers, with female impersonation a regular feature on Broad (yes) Street.

In this spectacle feathers, fake furs, falsies ,flashy fabric and sequin sequences shimmer taking center stage in what, ultimately, feels like innocent fun.  If the costume designs seem far out, that’s legit. Because the far-out three would have grotesque senses of glamour.

In this fantasy trip, the idea of innocence may come as a surprise; evidently a presumed controversy is part of the package. Raising the question, is it OK to be gay? Or OK to be different? Come out, come out wherever you and greet the old issue which fell from a star. What else is new in this day and age? We’ve got gay marriages. Gays in the military. Really, babe! Isn't this just another obvious titillation?

Such slight thought-provocation carries no weight. And who needs it? Just sit back and glom  non-stop movement, putting out there 25 pop songs from the last 30 years with disco seeming to most hold sway. The brassy stuff keeps on coming, sometimes rhythmically engaging, but most often sounding interchangeable. There’s a lot of lip-syncing, consistent with the idea that that’s all the girl/guys are capable of. Nonetheless, plenty of songs pay live dues.     

The show’s looks triumph over the music and lyrics, although it appears some sung words apply to the story. Steven Elliott and Allan Scott’s book doesn’t have much flesh. It also includes a bunch of gay-based, snappy lines which, fortunately, don’t get pushed hard.

Drag queen Tick (aka Mitzi) gets a request from his long-separated wife to see if he can put together a show back home in remote, famed tourist destination Alice Springs. He/she asks transsexual Bernadette, a veteran performer of such productions, to join him.  And they convince rather bitchy Adam (aka Felicia) to make it a threesome. Along their trip they encounter some slightly antagonistic locals (in other words, let’s not get too serious) and also meet an older, open-minded auto mechanic, Bob, who is drawn to Bernadette and vice versa. 

Since the story actually focuses on just these three girl/guys in what could be rather bleak conditions and surroundings, you’d think such a musical would be intimate and reflective. Nope. The stage is flooded with production numbers as if that entire continent is packed with nancy boys and wiggling women who've come along for the ride. How’d they get there? Do you care?  And what about the bus which dominates the stage? Give yourself some distance and take it as symbolic, even though it has no closets in which to store three busloads of clothes.

Scott Willis as Bernadette gives a great performance. He makes her totally feminine and graceful, with a touch of class, albeit faded, suggesting later Lauren Bacall, while never overdoing it. Wade McCollum’s Tick/Mitzi has simple sincerity but Bryan West’s version of Adam/Felicia seems mostly generic.

Although there’s supposed to be a message for youngsters that being gay is just being human, parents may want to steer clear of this journey due to profanity and sexual innuendo. Too bad; underneath the glitz something sweet can be found.

Priscilla Queen of The Desert continues through the evening of Sunday March 10th at Benedum Center, downtown. 412/456-4800  or



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