Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the theatre production we all need right now. It’s jubilant fun, with colourful costumes and catchy tunes. It’s a perfect balance of a feel good narrative with a deeper exploration of current issues. It’s a musical treat and should not be missed.
This production is based on the 1994 film of the same title which is based on the book by Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott. It tells of a drag queen, who is invited by his wife to perform at a resort in the desert of the Australian Outback. She also wants him to finally meet his 6 year old son. Tick (Clint Butler) rounds up two other friends along for the ride, Bernadette (Patrick Brown), a transgender woman who once was a star performer and Adam (Jesse Weafer), a young, loud and proud drag queen. Together they travel across the desert in Priscilla, a bus decorated with pride flags. Along the way, they break down and are saved by Bob’s (Paul Cowling) auto mechanic skills and meet both friends and foes on their journey.
The narrative is dependent on the three main artists being able to carry their roles. Patrick Brown’s Bernadette is solid and steady. Brown is wise and delivers lines with punch and has impeccable comic timing. Butler strikes a balance between flamboyant and reserved as Mitzi/Tick, displaying the middle temperament between the other two main characters. Weafer throws himself into his role as Felicia/Adam and is so much fun while still being vulnerable. There is so much to love about Cowling’s Bob, as he comes off as a kind, down to earth guy. The ensemble is full of talent, including Maria “Nikki Cruz” Mendoza who plays Cynthia, Bob’s wife. Her performance is funny and sexy. Nestor Lozano Jr.’s performance stands out as Miss Understanding and Danik McAfee is off the charts as Farrah and a young Bernadette. Jade McLeod, Kate Blackburn and Kate Etienne show off their amazing singing abilities and the entire ensemble of Gealan Beatty, Greg Pember, Luke Opdahl, Eric Dahlinger, Alex Kelly, Robbie Fenton, Angela Woodard and Darcy Stewart are stellar, filling out the remaining roles. Their versatility is mesmerizing. Henley Aberg, who plays Benji can do some impressive flips.
Stage West has filled the stage to the brim with outstanding costumes designed by Leslie Robison-Greene and original costume design by Dariusz Korbiel. The costumes are stars of their own, with sheen and sparkles, along with platform shoes, gorgeous dresses, beautiful makeup and wigs. JP Thibodeau’s set design has Priscilla the bus cut in half, so it spins on stage and you can see inside. The stage transforms from dressing rooms, to a bus on the road in the Outback, to a drag queen performance stage. It does it all while David Smith’s lighting design puts the spotlight on the drag queens and highlights the costumes. The only technical fault in the production is that the projection design looks pixelated at times.
Director Mark Bellamy captures the spirit of Priscilla. Lots of fun and flash here, with the occasional cutting remark or dirty joke, but the production also examines the depth of homophobia in society and the effects of being exposed to things we don’t understand. The themes of tolerance, celebration and acceptance are big in this production. Along with Liz Gilroy’s choreography, Bellamy nails everything about this performance.
Stage West’s production has everything you are looking for in a night at the theatre. Don’t miss this production. More information is available online.