REVIEW: ‘Priscilla’ — queens on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Posted on 17 May 2013 at 10:27am
Priscilla

The queens of ‘Priscilla’

It is a small perturbation that the two longest-running Broadway musicals about drag queens — La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, now playing at Fair Park Music Hall — involved plots where gay men have ill-advised sex with women and produce sons, only hoping not to embarrass their offspring. My guess is, this is done intentionally, to remind mainstream hetero audiences that gay or straight, we are all basically the same (as if showing our emotions weren’t already enough).

Still, you can practically hear the jaws drop inside the auditorium during many of the numbers of Priscilla, which makes La Cage look like a church social by comparison. Its outrageousness is less offensive and shocking than merely unbridled: It’s out-and-proud about its camp factor, and you’d better adjust or stay away.

Adjust. Do, do adjust, because Priscilla is a hoot, as glamorously trashy and enjoyable as the best drag show you’ve ever seen. Some people didn’t stay through Act 2; that was their loss.

Priscilla bus

The namesake bus

Three drag performers — gay men Mitzi (Wade McCollum, the one with the aforementioned offspring) and Felicia (Bryan West), and trans woman Bernadette (Scott Willis) —travel the Australian Outback in an elaborate bus on their way to a gig in a remote casino town. Along the way they encounter gay-bashers, weirdos, aborigines, looky-loo tourists, sex workers and, mercifully, tolerant, average folks who embrace differences rather than judge them. It’s the point of the show. (It’s the point of La Cage, too.) I found it telling that the first audience members I saw bail during the performance did so in the midst of a touching rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s song of tolerance, “True Colors.” It was as if those people couldn’t stand the idea they might feel empathy for a man in a dress.

Lauper songs appear elsewhere in Priscilla, a jukebox musical without original tunes but which shoehorns them into the story as they serve both the drag acts and illuminate the characters. Most are ’80s pop and disco numbers, though Mitzi’s version of “Always on My Mind” resonates on a different level as an expression of fatherly love.

But sentiment aside, it’s the fabulosity that carries the show, from the opening number “It’s Raining Men” (followed by a dead-on Tina Turner impersonation) to the scandalous “ping pong ball” routine (unforgettable) to some of the best sets and costumes you’ll ever see. Priscilla is hardly a perfect show, but you accept it for what it is, and gladly. That’s all it asks.

Runs through May 26. Get tickets here.

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