PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, the musical(National Tour)
Music and lyrics by Various Artists
Book Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Based on Stephan Elliott's 1994 motion picture of the same name
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed by Simon Philips
Choreographed by Ross Coleman
Musical Direction by Brent Fredrick
Bus concept and Production Design by Brian Thomson
Lighting Design by Nick Schlieper and Jonathan Spencer
Costume Design by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner
Makeup Design by Cassie Hanlon
Sound Design by Jonathan Deans and Peter Fitzgerald
Based upon the original New Direction by David Hyslop
Choreography recreated by Joshua Buscher
Orchestrations by Stephen "Spud" Murphy and Charlie Hull
CAST (In order of appearance):
DIVAS – Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, Brit West
TICK (MITIZI) – Wade McCollum
MISS UNDERSTANDING – Nik Alexzander
MARION – Christy Faber
BENJI - Shane Davis, Will B.
FARRAH/YOUNG BERNADETTE – Travis Taber
BERNADETTE – Scott Willis
ADAM (FELICIA) – Bryan West
SHIRLEY – Babs Rubenstein
JIMMY – Taurean Everett
BOB – Joe Hart
CYNTHIA – Chelsea Zeno
FRANK – David Koch
Emily Afton, Nik Alexzander, John Capes, Andrew Chappelle, Alex Deleo, Taurean Everett, Christy Faber, Bre Jackson, Chris Klink, David Koch, Alex Ringler, Babs Rubenstein, Travis Taber, Brit West, Chelsea Zeno.
Reviewed Performance: 5/14/2013
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
They transform their male bodies by shaving and using padding, hose, boobs for queens (you need to see the TV show to get that reference!), tons of face paint, wigs of defying weight and height, massive jewels, and an array of gowns and costumes that would make the late Liberace look "subdued"!
As for theater, drag is not a current trend by any means. Going all the way back to the Elizabethan era (including Shakespeare) and all forms of theatre, the female roles were played by young men because women were not allowed on stage.
In the scripts were notations of "Dr.A.G.", meaning "Dressed As Girl", made on the sides of the pages during rehearsals, and is probably where the term "drag" originated. There has always been a profusion of plays and musicals in which men intentionally strutted on stage in drag. And in the same vein, there have been women who dressed as men on stage as well.
Charles Busch and the late Charles Ludlam made drag into an art form Off-Broadway with their plays. Both were pioneers in not just dressing up in women's clothes but also creating fully-fleshed real women. Even if it was for laughs, they were very committed to each role, playing them as a female, not just looking the part.
Harvey Fierstein wrote and starred in the history-making play, Torch Song Trilogy, a play about a drag queen and his quest for love, acceptance, and a child. I saw the original 1982 Broadway production at the Helen Hayes (called the Little Theater back then) starring Fierstein. For a gay play to be a hit was unheard of, especially since it debuted on Broadway when AIDS had reached the height of being known as The Black Plague. AIDS was taking the lives of so many who worked on Broadway.
Torch Song would play for an unheard of 1222 performances and won Tony Awards for both Best Play and Best Actor for Fierstein. Fierstein would earn his third Tony for writing the book for Herman's La Cage Aux Folles.
As for the most famous "female to male to drag queen" transformation, that would be the Broadway musical Victor/Victoria starring Julie Andrews.
For men as drag queens there is a plethora of musicals.
Broadway hits (and misses) that have men dolled up in drag finery include Hairspray, Taboo, Chicago, The Producers and The Rocky Horror Show. Past musicals include Sugar and, of course, the history making hit, Jerry Herman's La Cage Aux Folles.
While the majority of these musicals used drag to generate laughs, one musical uses it for dramatic, emotional power, Jonathan Larsen's rock/pop opera masterpiece, Rent and the role of the drag queen, Angel.
While it is not "full drag", even the Elton John musical Billy Elliot has a teen boy dressed as a girl, and the audience does not even blink. Instead they fall in love with the boy!
The Great White Way isn't the only place where drag musicals are being created. Past Off-Broadway hits include Pageant the musical and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Currently there are two musicals on Broadway battling it out for this year's Tony Award for Best Musical that both have men in drag. In one corner is the Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein musical Kinky Boots, and at the other corner is the West End import, Matilda. Also, in this past season was yet another new musical, only this time it was a teen in drag, the cheerleader musical Bring It On.
Celluloid has flickered on the silver screen such drag hits as Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, The Birdcage, To Wong Foo, The Crying Game, Ed Wood, Mrs. Doubtfire, Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, Breakfast on Pluto, Tyler Perry's Madea, and any of John Waters' cult films starring the great Divine. Do we include Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs? Just the thought of a basket and lotion makes my skin turn cold, so let's not!
Then there is the 1994 hit film, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. This Australian comedy-drama (with musical numbers) tells the story of two drag queens and a transse*ual who take a bus across the Australian outback to their new gig. Along the way secrets are revealed, love is found, and there is even a son involved!
For the film, the role of Bernadette was supposed to be played by Tony Curtis, who had dressed in drag for the film, Some Like It Hot. But he later declined the role. The producers then sought out Monty Python star John Cleese who also said no.
For the role of Tick, they originally cast Rupert Everett and for Adam, the production team cast Jason Donovan. But during the cast meeting at Cannes, Everett's diva behavior did not sit well with Donovan. Neither actor got along with each other and eventually both dropped out of the film project. However, Donovan would eventually play Tick in the West End production of the musical version. The producers also asked future Oscar winner Colin Firth but he too declined the role of Tick, which finally went to a then unknown Hugo Weaving. For Adam, it would be another unknown taking on the role, a muscled, hairless pretty boy named Guy Pierce.
When the producers went back to casting the role of Bernadette, they approached Tim Curry but he too passed on the role. It would be film star Terence Stamp finally accepting and tackling the most difficult role of the three leads. Bernadette is a transse*ual, not a drag queen. This made Stamp very anxious, taking on a role that was so challenging. But he did and the role earned him both Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Many felt he was robbed of an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor when the 1995 nominations were announced.
Years later all three leading men would go on to play famous villains. Stamp as General Zod in Superman II, Weaving as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, and Pierce as Aldrich Killian in the recent Iron Man 3.
The film version of Priscilla not only became a massive box office hit, it would win the 1995 Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. Gardiner made Oscar fashion history that night as well. She walked on stage to accept the statuette in a gown made completely of American Express Gold Cards!
The musical version of Priscilla had its birth in October 2006 in Sydney Australia, which was met with a successful run. It would transfer to Melbourne in 2007, New Zealand in 2008, then back to Sydney.
Priscilla placed her silver glittered heels at the West End in London in March 2009, co-produced by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company. The musical would close almost two years later in December 2011.
Priscilla crossed the oceans and parked her big pink bus at the Palace Theater on Broadway in March 2011. One of its American producers was none other than the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler. The musical would last on The Great White Way for 526 performances.
The musical received two Tony Award nominations, winning Best Costume Design for Chappel and Gardiner, the very same designers who won the Oscar for the film version's costumes.
Chappel and Gardiner, in fact, swept every award for Costume Design that year during the Broadway awards season. They not only won the Tony, but also the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk. In London they won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Costume Design for the show's West End run.
Now it has become a national tour that has pulled that sparkling bus into the parking lot at the Music Hall at Fair Park for its Dallas Summer Musicals stop.
Nothing and I mean NOTHING can prepare you for the jaw dropping, out of this world production design elements that are encased within this flashy, shimmering musical. Having a close seat for opening night allowed me to have a closer view at all the splendor of the sets, costumes and lighting, all of which completely overloaded my senses. I loved every single visual element that appeared on the Music Hall stage.
The one major difference between the tour and the Broadway production is that, in New York, the Sydney Harbor bridge set piece was covered in lights. For the tour, it is completely covered in glistening silver Mylar.
One element that is cut is the floating mirror ball that served as the sun or the moon above the bus. Brian Thomson's scenic design first contains a series of bold, painted backdrops. For the beginning of the show the top half of the stage is overtaken by that tinsel covered Sydney Harbor bridge, taking up the entire width of the Music hall stage! The bottom half is a multi-colored Mylar show curtain.
He then designed an endless array of set pieces that whisper in and out from the wings. Thomson must have a deliciously wicked sense of humor as many of these set pieces had visual jokes sprinkled within the designs itself. There is Tick's dressing room that has a desk, chair and phone covered in rhinestones! Then there's Bernadette's massive wicker chair clothed in leopard print with the back layered in black glitter. There is also Trumpet's coffin that you need to see for yourself - it is hysterical in design!
Thomson created these and other pieces to indicate the various stops the three gals take on their journey across the Australian outback. There were a couple of hiccups involving the moving tracks on the evening I attended. Early in the show, several signs that show the audience what town the bus is passing through move across the stage. But after the second one, they got stuck. The tech crew quickly moved onstage, took the piece off within seconds and the show went on.
Another terrific set piece is the transformation of the chrome-covered pinball machines in the casino, with mirror mushrooms on top of them. The cast dances around them, then turns them around and open up these pinball machines that magically become the dressing room closets for the three gals as they get ready before the big show! The divas and Felicia both have entrances from high above the fly rail, looking like Glinda from Wicked.
They have sequined, glitter-covered mini-sets for them to be strapped into. I won't tell what they are, you need to see them for yourself, except to say that each time they appear from the rafters in these finely detailed, elaborate mini-sets, the audience oohed and aahed!
Then there is Thomson's piece de resistance, the iconic bus. This behemoth set piece looks like an actual bus, with rotating tires that actually turn as they travel. The outer shell is covered in silver paint but when they paint it later on, the bus magically transforms before your eyes into vibrant pink. This is created by endless rows of LED lights that cover the entire bus. For the rest of the show, these lights convert into a skittle rainbow of pastel colors, creating various designs and pictures - we are talking visuals of balloons, rubber duckies, color bubbles, rainbows, and even a sunrise! I've never seen a set piece do this. It may not have read from the higher levels, but when the three ladies dip their paint brushes into the can of pink paint, the bristles on their brushes magically turn pink as well!
The inside of the bus is carved out to show us how our three gals decorate their home away from home. It looks like the living room Elton John, Peter Allen and Bob Mackie might have designed for themselves. Neon lime green shag carpet covers the floor and blinding blues the walls. On the right is a mini-bar complete with rhinestone-encrusted martini shaker and glasses. Trimming the bar are tiny mirror balls. There are three sparkling hanging window blinders with tropical themes painted on them. To complete the moving disco bus is LED lighting sprinkled throughout the interior. The bric-à-brac on the dashboard also has some great inside jokes if you look carefully.
And for those who know the film very well, yes, the humongous silver-sequined pump does appear on top of the bus! That is such an iconic image from the film, so to have it on stage, well all you can do is give it a loud applause when it appears, and Tuesday night's audience did just that!
Designers Nick Schlieper and Jonathan Spencer create a magical world with their gorgeous, sumptuous array of lighting. They slather the stage with lights that even meld out into the audience! The color palette alone is a dizzy parade of intense hues that saturate the stage with electrifying color and energy. There are colors in that lighting design palette that I don't think I've ever seen before. But this is Priscilla after all, so you better have lighting that would make all the divas onstage happy! And boy, do they ever!
Many musical numbers have not only a sea of colors, special gobos, and LEDs bathing the number but they also contain a laundry list of specific cues to constantly change within the number itself. The full curtain and a back wall are completely LED lighting, with an eye-popping effectiveness. The shapes and designs emanating from this LED back wall is mind blowing incredible!
Then there are the costumes designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner.
They were very wise in knowing that devoted fans of the film (like myself) would hope to see the magnificent designs they created for celluloid (and that won them the Oscar) come alive again on stage. And oh do they, and then some.
The costumes……..OH MY GOD! And I do mean OMG! Some Broadway musicals I have seen had costumes that had me drooling in my seat over all the glitz and glamour, such as the original Broadway productions of Dreamgirls, Wicked, La Cage Aux Folles and Aida. But nothing can prepare you for the costumes in Priscilla! The detail on each costume is artistry in cloth come to life - they clearly designed with their tongues permanently placed in their cheeks!
Chappel and Gardiner obviously possess a wild, zany, campy sense of humor, and it shows in abundance in their confection of costumes. These are not just costumes, many of them have an added layer of hysterical surprises designed within them that had the audience roaring in laughter and applauding wildly. I won't tell you here, I want you to be just as surprised as I was.
Sitting so close, you could see the exquisite detail of the sequins, rhinestones, beading and feathers, and the richness of the fabrics and materials used to create these masterpieces. And it's not just the principals that get to wear ostentatious creations. The ensemble also gets to wear grandiosely- designed costumes for scene after scene after scene! And each costume has its own specific wig, shoes and makeup design to complete the full effect.
If you know me, you know my addiction to glitter and glitz. The costume design here so overwhelmed me with its sparkling glitter and sequined finery that I am now writing this review from the Betty Ford Center break room. I had to admit myself after overdosing Tuesday night on the opulent and extravaganza costumes that Chappel and Gardiner have created for Priscilla!
I could tell you the hysterical laughs that await you but I won't. Well, one secret! As the show progressed I began to notice how well defined and detailed the makeup design matched the flamboyant array of colors within the costumes. The makeup designed by Cassie Harlon is glittered with pristine strokes and have full eyelashes. So how on earth are they able to do a full production number in elaborate, finely-detailed drag makeup and then BAM, in the very next scene, it is all gone? Well, if you look very closely, you can see they wear thin, skin tone masks that have all the glitter, rhinestones, eye shadows and lashes already on them! In one scene we see that they apply lipstick and then red glitter on their lips to complete the look. They have dozens of these masks created because they match the colors of the hundreds of costumes they wear!
I could write endless paragraphs of well-deserved praise about the costumes, wigs, and makeup. What they have designed for the cast to wear, well it would make RuPaul seethe in jealously that her design team did not dream them up for her to wear! All I will say is that once you see what Chappel and Gardiner have designed, you can clearly see why they swept every theater award and also the Oscar.
Please indulge me for a second as I give you some really fascinating fun facts about his tour:
*The famous flip-flop dress from the movie only cost $7.00. The same is reconstructed for the tour.
*There are OVER 500 costumes, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and over 200 hats and headdresses in the show.
*There are close to 65 wig changes alone, the fastest one being around 15 seconds.
*The makeup design features 9 different styles of lashes, and the longest pair measures 3.5" long.
*There are 269 costume changes per performance.
*130 makeup masks featuring 30 designs are worn by the cast.
*60 lipsticks, in 5 different shades are used each month.
*2 pounds of makeup glitter is used each month.
*300 wet wipes are used each night to remove makeup as the show goes on.
*60 ping pong balls are used each performance, that's around 500 a week.
I would love to see the show a second time just so that I could see what I missed the first time around in the design of its sets, costumes, and lighting. It is an ambitious, lavish, spectacularly- designed musical that will blow your bedazzled, bejeweled, sequined mind!
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does fall under the Jukebox musical genre umbrella. But this is a very unique jukebox musical in that it does not stick to one composer's catalogue of music like so many others in the past.
As with the film, Priscilla is a potpourri of classic disco, pop, techno and dance floor anthems we have danced our "groove thangs" to on many a night at clubs.
Many jukebox musicals just gasp for life on stage because the mediocre book is grasping at straws to take well known songs and make a logical story and credible characters. Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott's fantastical book shimmers like the sequins onstage in achieving the impossible within the jukebox musical genre. They have the advantage of choosing from a mammoth catalogue of songs, dance hits and pop classics in which to fit both the story and the characters.
You could literally feel the audience realize, in the first few lyrics, what song was coming up, resulting in them either laughing with gleeful enjoyment on how they fit that particular song into the story, or moved by the choice of ballad to make a dramatic point. All the songs selected are priceless gems that magically match both story and character development. Too many favorites to list here but I will say I did get choked up on how they used Cyndi Lauper's haunting ballad, "True Colors" to make a very raw, painful dramatic moment on stage so moving.
To re-create dance anthems and pop hits live on stage is a very daunting task. So, a gigantic BRAVO must go to the orchestra and Musical Director Brent Frederick. The moment the overture starts, they sublimely recreate the oh-so-familiar techno beats, drum-pounding and string-soaring orchestrations as they were first recorded in the studios. Oh, and I checked folks, there is a big ol' live orchestra in the pit!
Director Simon Philips and the late Choreographer Ross Coleman (who passed away in 2009) work like one mind in creating visually stunning staging, blocking, and resplendent choreography. There is not a drop of pace issue whatsoever. They keep everything and everyone moving with bursting energy. I commend Philips and Coleman for their blocking, staging and choreography around that mammoth bus, both inside and outside of it! Philips knows where to allow his cast to let go and relish in the campy humor. There is plenty of "all tea, all shade hunty" splattered on that stage within this eleganza cast, and Philips gives them the freedom to go for it, and they do! But when it comes to the intimate, dramatic moments, Philips also lovingly directs them to be honest and in the moment.
Coleman's choreography is FIERCE! From the opening number of The Weather Girls' hit "It's Raining Men", every big number has such eye-popping, commanding, dazzling choreography that you would give it the "snaps in the air" seal of approval.
When I don my actor hat and do a musical, I know how exhausting costume changes can be. So right off the bat you have to give this cast a standing ovation for the never-ending parade of costume changes, including wigs and shoes, which goes on all night long. They do so many you begin to wonder just how many cast members are in the company. After a while you think that maybe the producers brought in the casting agent from a Cecil B. DeMille motion picture.
The ensemble in a word is…..FABULOUS! Talk about a fierce group of talented men and women. And let me tell you, they WERK it out! The men in the ensemble look like they stepped out of the covers of Men's Fitness or right from a photo shoot of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad.
They first come out looking like men but then transform into glamorous drag queens. And they all look exquisite as females, with gorgeous gams that would make Heidi Klum cover her legs and throw in the towel once she took a gander at the Priscilla ensemble men's muscular, well-toned long legs. The real females in the ensemble are delicious visions of beauty as well, but this is after a drag musical, so the men do stand out more.
The entire ensemble floods the music hall with pizzazz and endless energy all night long. During the full company numbers I observed closely how they reacted or approached the comedy and choreography. They approached it with stellar results. Throughout the evening, they achieved hearty laughs from the audience with their comedy. They actually make the leads match their incredibly high level of energy, comedy, and singing. The ensemble focuses on the comedy like sharp shooters, never once missing the target. I keep writing this over and over in reviews, in that an ensemble can make or break a show. Just because you are not the lead does not mean you are not being watched, because you are! The Priscilla ensemble adds layers of laughter all evening long. They sing with robust, sublime vocals. And they execute the choreography so perfectly, and in precise unison, that even Busby Berkley would say, "That was so perfect we needed only one take."
This awesome ensemble consists of Emily Afton, Nik Alexzander, John Capes, Andrew Chappelle, Alex Deleo, Taurean Everett, Christy Faber, Bre Jackson, Chris Klink, David Koch, Alex Ringler, Babs Rubenstein, Travis Taber, Brit West, and Chelsea Zeno.
Throughout the musical, Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West, named the Divas, appear from the rafters of the Music Hall. This trio floats in, at times, with just wires attached to their waists or on glittery, glitzy mini set pieces (but still harnessed to them). So for these three girls to sing song after song with these harnesses compressing their waist must be excruciating. You would think the contraptions would restrain their ability to hit big notes, belt to long sustaining ends, or do vocal riffs within the many songs they sing. They don't!
These three phenomenal (and physically beautiful) women channel their soprano pop vocals to bring back to life classic dance anthems by Donna Summer, Cyndi Lauper, Thelma Houston, Madonna, Alicia Bridges, and the Emotions. Add to that height-defying wigs and gorgeous costumes that must weigh a ton, and they still belt to the back of the theater and do choreography while high above the stage. These three girls achieve all of that with astonishing success!
Within the supporting cast there are superlative performances provided by both Joe Hart as Bob, the kind-hearted mechanic who becomes Bernadette's love interest, and Nik Alexzander as Miss Understanding, the mistress of ceremonies of the club where the drag queens first perform. The only problem with Alexzander's performance is that it is difficult to understand his dialogue. I didn't know if this is part of his characterization (for that is "her" name), or if he is trying to use an Aussie accent, but he needs to slow down a bit and really bite the diction. Alexzander does have the audience guffawing in their seats when she does Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It".
Babs Rubenstein is one butch mutha as Shirley, a drunken manly broad at the seedy bar in a small town called Broken Heel. Rubenstein does a hysterical version of "I Love the Nightlife", using her body to generate louder laughter from the audience.
Special recognition must also go to Travis Taber as Young Bernadette. Taber is a very tall, incredibly handsome, muscular fellow who magically transforms into the young, captivating blonde goddess that Bernadette once was during her "Le Girl" days. Taber is costumed gorgeously in various shades of yellows and golds, with massive fuchsia feathers and rhinestones galore. His execution of the choreography is bewitching to behold. Plus, anyone who sprinkles glitter as he (or "she") dances will easily earn high praise from me! Taber really is a standout in this cameo role.
A scene-stealing performance is turned in by Chelsea Zeno as Cynthia, Bob's Asian mail order bride. Just the scene of her serving pink lemonade will alone have you howling in laughter! Now, if you have seen the film version, then you know what Cynthia's…um…"talent" is when she was a performer. I completely forgot about her character until she appeared and I immediately thought, "Will she actually do what was done in the film?" OMG…She does! From her thick Asian accent, to her physical comedy attack on her hapless husband Bob, Zeno had my stomach hurting from laughing so hard. Her solo number was "Pop Muzik"; the 1979 hit song by M. Look at that title again and think of what she did in the film. Her choreography and comedic attack within this classic dance hit to fit her "talent" will make you cross your legs for fear of tinkling in your seat for laughing so hard.
A fair warning for parents - this is not a scene for kids or people who are not fans of adult humor. But for the rest of us, it is a hilarious scene all thanks to Zeno's comedic brilliance. She turned Tuesday night's audience into a puddle of cheers and laughter.
To step into the iconic high heels of Stamp, Pierce, and Weaving who created the trio of leads in the film version is a very difficult mountain to climb. Those who so love the film want that same caliber of talent that is on celluloid to also match on the stage boards.
Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, and Bryan West thankfully provide a tour de force trio that wipe the film performances' slate clean and create their own glittery characterizations.
Bryan West portrays Adam/Felicia (the Guy Pierce role), the beefcake pretty boy who has a rich mommy and an almost fanatic devotion to Madonna. In the film it was Abba's music that Adam worshipped, but we already have Mamma Mia the musical. In a very smart move on the book writers' part, they instead went for the true gay icon, the material girl Madge. West has a physique that makes you regret you ever ate a piece of cake. And damn him for having incredible muscled legs as well! He does, though, actually transform into an enchanting, sultry, and alluring woman. I say again…..damn him! LOL.
West has the perfect tenor/pop vocals to sell those Madonna numbers with superior success. West's character is the one of the three that has a personality trait that lives on a 24/7 nonstop, always "on". Adam/Felicia is very over the top, campy, trashy, and bitchy. This beoytche throws so much "shade" and reads the other two that you know they want to shout, "The library is CLOSED!" West relishes in these character traits and hits the comedic bull's eye with each zinger and "read".
West also has great fun recreating the iconic scene of lip synching "Sempre Libera", which is Violetta's aura at the end of Act I of Verdi's beloved opera, La Traviata. This is done on top of the bus in motion, and on top of that bus is a massive silver bejeweled pump and a never ending sea of cascading silver lamé flowing behind her. West lip synchs with grand opera diva gestures that are too, too damn funny! West gives a sizzling, comedic firecracker of a performance in this role.
As Bernadette, Scott Willis has a more complex challenge than the other two, as he is not a drag queen, but a transe*ual. So the audience needs to believe he is a real she. Willis achieves the extremely difficult challenge with soaring triumph. His delicate facial features, his walk, mannerisms and voice are all woman. You honestly do not think a male is portraying the role. Willis has some of the best (and a couple of the most quoted from the film) comedic zingers and one liners of the night. He goes full throttle, achieving the best laughs he can wring out of those lines.
His facial expressions and takes to the audience are priceless gems of non-stop laughter. But Willis also shows a deeply compassionate and sympatric heart when he begins to sing "True Colors". Willis and Joe Hart as Bob have really touching chemistry as a couple falling in love. You can feel the audience swoon with joy when they see their affection for each other bloom on stage. Willis delivers an unrivaled performance as Bernadette.
But it is the performance of Wade McCollum as Tick/Mitzi that truly and sincerely steals not only the show, but also the hearts of the audience as the curtain comes down. I had the great luck to review McCollum two years ago when he portrayed the Master of Ceremonies in the critically acclaimed production of Cabaret at the Dallas Theater Center. His performance earned him a well-deserved COLUMN Award nomination for Best Actor in A Musical.**
McCollum portrays Tick, a gay man who has a wife running a casino in Alice Springs, Australia, but who has also fathered a son he has not seen in seven years. Tick also is a drag queen named Mitzi. His wife has offered him a job, performing at her casino, but also to now become a major part in their child's life. McCollum has the tour de force talents that allow him to go from a glamorous drag queen to just a normal gay man and a caring father. He displays all these characteristics with equal, transcendent success.
McCollum will surprise many who saw him in DTC's Cabaret as to what a splendid comedic actor he is. He uses his facial expressions and body to create some of the most memorable laughs of the night. His comedic timing, pace, and delivery is as sharp as his stiletto heels. There are many scenes in which McCollum knows exactly where to place the right comedic tone, button, or moment. He had the audience rolling the aisles. This actor also has the rare gift of the perfect ad-lib. During the evening's performance, he had a phone conversation with his wife Marion (who is on far stage left). Her body mic started to pop, fizz, and go out. McCollum took one delicious comedic beat and said into his phone, "Marion, you're breaking up. I can't hear you." The audience LOST IT! McCollum was met with a thunderous roar of laughter and applause. A tech crew member came in from the wings and handed a hand held mic to Marion (Christy Fabor). That's when McCollum (still facing out towards the audience) said, "Can you hear me now?" We as the audience ate it up! That's the work of a comedic genius on stage folks!
With his very muscular chiseled body and tall stature, he commands the stage each time he steps onto it. He can metamorphose from a gym-toned man into a statuesque, foxy, tantalizing vixen. McCollum has a hypnotic, powerful stage presence that cannot be described. He draws you into his characterization and subtext like a magnet. This extremely talented actor possesses a baritone voice that fits his characterization like a long satin sleeve glove. McCollum also gets to sing one of the most memorable musical numbers of the night, the Donna Summer dance classic, "MacArthur Park". If you know the bizarre lyrics well you can clearly see McCollum savor every lyric, verse and staging of that number.
When it comes to some of the dramatic scenes or moments, McCollum, like a true chameleon, completely changes his voice, subtext and emotion to fit the scene. Observe his devastation over what was done to the bus when they return from the seedy bar. His artistic approach to the lyrics of "True Colors" will put a lump in your throat. The scenes with his young son are sweetly touching to watch as they unfold on stage.
With the dazzling pizzazz of sets, lights and costumes swirling all around Wade McCollum, it is actually his performance that truly steals the show.
I am commanding my readers that you MUST (and I do state that with capital letters) go to the Music Hall and see this national tour of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and here's why:
Down the road, this show will be available for local theaters to produce, and they will. But I sincerely doubt they will have the budget to recreate the jaw dropping, mouthwatering glitz, glitter, sequins, ostrich plumes, detailed beading, and rhinestones necessary for the hundreds of costumes; to build a massive, movable, rotating bus that has endless rows of LED lighting, or design the hundreds of shoes, wigs and makeup that this show demands. That's not even counting all that extravagant lighting and incredible sets to make this musical show its true magic. Add to that, they will need a live, sleek sounding orchestra that can re-create all those classic dance anthems and pop songs with just the right sounds like they stepped off the vinyl record or CD.
This will be a VERY expensive musical to produce on a local stage. So I guarantee there will be major edits and cuts regarding all those elements.
I think it is very fair in saying you will not see Priscilla done like this again on this grand, epic and very expensive scale in regards to its production values. You will deeply regret not seeing this glittery musical in all its original glory.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is not trying to elevate the art form of musical theater. It is there to make you laugh and completely lose yourself in the exquisite world they have created onstage. There is a strong message underneath all that glitter, in that we all just want to be accepted and loved as who we are. That we all want a family. And that we need friends around us to make our lives fulfilled. I think that's a very powerful message indeed.
I completely fell in love with this musical and its cast. The design elements alone left me with my senses overloaded in all its smashing glory. But then there's the great music, the riveting choreography and direction. And of course the phenomenal cast! For two plus hours I could not stop smiling, sitting there in the dark. My face ached afterwards because I could not stop smiling and laughing all night long. You will leave the theater with the biggest grin on your face and your heart full of gooey warmth of happiness after you see this sumptuous, transcendent production!
Hitch a ride on the Priscilla bus and join Mitzi, Bernadette, and Felicia on their journey.........just avoid the ping pong balls!
Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 1st Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210
Limited run through May 26th
*Note – this production has adult themes and may not be appropriate for younger children. Please contact Dallas Summer Musicals for their opinion.
Tickets are priced from $15.00 - $95.00.
For information on the production and to purchase tickets, go to www.dallassummermusical.org. The site will connect you with Ticketmaster. You may also call the DSM box office at 214-691-722 or go to The Box Office at 5959 Preston Royal Shopping Center in Dallas.
Finally, you may go to www.ticketmaster.com. For groups of 15 or more, call 214-426-GROUP (4768).
**Editor's note: THE COLUMN Awards honors excellence in theater within the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which will celebrate its 15th year in 2014