PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT
By Gary Murray
Starring Wade McCullum, Scott Willis, Bryan West and Joe Hart
Book by Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott
Chorography by Ross Coleman
Directed by Simon Phillips
The jukebox musical has been around in various forms for ages. While some concentrate on a singular artist such as Billy Joel or ABBA, others are about a specific time such as Million Dollar Quartet. Priscilla Queen of the Desert takes the hits from the 1970s and 1980s and places them in the 1994 film story. It is a part of the Dallas Summer Musical series at Fair Park.
The plot is of Tick (Wade McCullum) a drag queen in Sydney who finds out that he has a son in the great Outback of Australia in Alice Springs. Tick’s wife needs an act for her casino and Tick’s son wants to meet his dad. Tick has never been around the boy but realizes he is incomplete without his family. Tick sings “I Sing a Little Prayer” to show this quandary.
Tick decides to put together a show with another drag queen Felicia (Bryan West) and a trans-sexual Bernadette (Scott Willis). They can perform together and he can see his son. Bernadette needs the distraction because she is getting over losing her husband.
Felicia is obsessed with Madonna. In one of the biggest moments of Act I belts out “Material Girl.” It is full of references to the videos of the iconic pop star.
Before one can say the word, it’s ‘road-trip’ time. Felicia buys a giant bus that he dubs Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The actual bus is on a giant axis which can be turned side to side. While one side is the outside of the vehicle, the other side is cut out where one can see inside the bus. Much of the exposition of the play happens in the carriage of this on-stage behemoth. It is covered with LED lights that can project scenes on the skin of the vehicle.
The story is of the transverse of three sophisticated men who confront very rural Outback individuals, people who are not as accepting of their lifestyles. This very long journey has these three men becoming more of a family, bonding over make-up and eyelashes. The trio makes a stop in Broken Hill and find out exactly how rough and rugged those individuals can be.
The most shocking number of this musical happens in Act II. The song is “Pop Muzik” and it is done by Cynthia (Chelsea Zeno) the Asian bride. She performs a show that even stuns the drag queens. It is hilarious and very off color and politically incorrect.
Perhaps the biggest moment in Priscilla is the belting of ‘McArthur Park’. While the set-up is obvious, the general effect is still a perfect moment that is as silly as it is touching. It is a winning performance done by Wade McCullum that takes the play to another level. He is a brilliant performer and singer who gets a chance to nail a comic moment which he does with a certain aplomb.
This is a jukebox musical, using popular tunes to drive the plot. There are such hits as “What’s Love Got to do with it?” “I Love the Nightlife,” “Shave Your Groove Thing” and “Hot Stuff.” While the tunes are familiar, that may be the problem with the play. Every time the singers break out into a song, it is just a subtle reminder that someone else has song that song so many times before on the radio. It would have been a stronger book with some original songs on the boards.
The bus becomes a character in the work, lighting up in neon pink and used as a moving background time and time again. Much like the car in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, the inanimate object becomes the major focus of the work.
The other aspect of the play that is amazing is the costumes. The play is filled with feathers and loud colors to the point that it hurts the eyes. The costumes that these drag queens wear are on part with one would see in the best of Las Vegas. It becomes a pageant of dye and shade.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is, simply put, the gayest musical I have ever seen (not that there is anything wrong with that). It wraps itself around the rainbow flag of drag queen-ism, strong and proud in sequins and feathers. The play is more about finding a place in the world and building your own family. Parts of it are brilliant and parts are offensive. It is a mixed bag of a play that is in no way, shape or form for kids.