“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is so over the top, that calling it over the top seems like a completely lame understatement. This musical celebration of transgendered cross-dressing flamboyance is a production of sheer exuberance. It’s a little raunchy and a lot bawdy, which makes it appropriate only for the most mature and worldly teens (and adults).
From the first song—“It’s Raining Men” which ends only when the gorgeously buff boys in the chorus have stripped to their skivvies–the opening night crowd for the touring production of Broadway in Chicago at the Auditorium Theater couldn’t have been more appreciative. Their enthusiasm was contagious and seemed to fuel the performers, who further fueled the audience, resulting in a feel-good symbiosis that made the whole experience that much more fun.
Drag Queens on a Mission
The story line follows three drag queens who set out on a cross-country bus ride through the Australian outback on their way to perform in Alice Springs, home of Tick/Mitzi’s wife (Tick is played by the bald and beautiful Wade McCollum) and the 6-year-old son whom he has never met. He drags along the much younger Adam/Felicia (played by the equally beautiful but not bald Bryan West) and the middle-aged transsexual Bernadette (played elegantly by Scott Willis) . Along the way, they encounter bigotry (including a little gay bashing and the F-word painted on the side of the bus) as well as kindness, and sing a whole bunch of great songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s, helped along by a trio of divas (the incredibly talented Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West) who periodically float onto the scene.
But the real stars of this show are the costumes created by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (who won an academy award for the costumes they created for the 1994 film version of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”). From the ridiculous drag outfits sported by Mitzi and Felicia to the pink paintbrushes that adorn the chorus at one point, this show is a feast for the eyes. If the neon pink touring bus (nicknamed Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) wasn’t enough, the costumes, from the plumed headdresses to the platform shoes to the phallic cupcakes, will keep teenage eyes focused on the stage.
All that and a nice, tidy Hollywood ending that includes a heart-warming scene when the 6-year-old hugs the dad he’s just met and the drag queens announce plans to stick around and be a family to the boy and one another. What’s not to like?
The show runs in Chicago for only two weeks, closing March 31, when the touring company moves on to Miami and beyond. For the full schedule, click here.
Cindy Richards is the mom of two terrific travel- and theater-loving teens. Follow her on Twitter @CindyRichards.