Priscilla Queen of the Desert
The musical adaptation of "Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert" roared into Philadelphia this week, and what a triumph it is. Packed with more flamboyance and action than most shows can dream of having, it is that increasingly rare show that did not have one dull moment nor any weak links in the cast. From the first note to the last, the audience was fully engaged and cheering along with the colorful characters.
Despite my endless love for all things drag, I have been wary of this show based on my past distaste for musical theatre that incorporates pop hits into a storyline. The result is so often a scattered and trivial storyline set up to showcase unimaginative covers and bombast. Luckily, "Priscilla" found a way of bypassing all such dreary results by sticking with the stellar movie’s storyline while bedazzling it in a way that was fitting for a musical adaptation.
"Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert" is the tale of a roadtrip across Australia involving three drag queens on their way to a show, one of which is harboring a shocking secret motivation. Tick/Mitzi is the show’s protagonist, an appropriately grounded but fun loving queen feeling a bit beaten down by the lack of respect given to men in her profession.
Bernadette is an old-styled drag queen who recently lost a young lover and needs an escape from her grief. Adam/Felicia is the group’s flamboyant clown with a fresh take on drag and a habit of getting herself and those around her into trouble.
While the story remains tight and worth investing in, it is the musical numbers that steal most of the spotlight. Sporting gay anthems from different genres and time periods, "Priscilla" carefully and brilliantly used the music to accentuate scenes rather than dominate them.
To introduce Felicia, it made sense to create a stunningly huge version of "Material Girl" to highlight her shallow personality. After their bus breaks down and they need a morale boost, "I Will Survive" did just that. All of this was done with vocals to die for and thrilling dance routines.
Another showstopper is the endless cavalcade of costumes that these larger than life drag queens and the supporting cast don throughout. The relatively small cast uses up an impressive 500 costumes, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and over 200 hats and headdresses for the show, and it felt like it. With hilarious and stunning costumes such as huge cupcakes and paintbrushes, every reveal was jaw dropping and the show would not have been the same without that extra level of flamboyance.
While everyone in the cast was stellar and pitch perfect (shout out to the Divas!), enough cannot be said about the wildly entertaining central three actors. Wade McCollum as Tick worked tirelessly to keep up with Adam’s fun factor while remaining the central heart of the show. Scott Willis’ Bernadette was wise, tired and appropriately mournful for the tragedies the character suffered in her life. Rounding out the cast was Adam played by Bryan West as a constant bolt of energy and mischief to balance the often-heavier perspectives of Tick and Bernadette.
"Priscilla Queen Of The Desert" was a thrilling joy from beginning to end, ranking immediately as one of my favorite musicals I have had the pleasure of seeing. While it may not carry the gravitas or timeless original music that the truly great musicals have, the show is an effortlessly euphoric extravaganza packed with an endless stream of stimulation that left me absolutely buzzing as I walked out. As good a case as any that sometimes theatre audiences, much like girls, just want to have fun.
"Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert" runs through March 3 at the Academy of Music, 240 S Broad St. in Philadelphia, PA 19102. For tickets or information, call 215-893-1999 or visit www.academyofmusic.org/.