Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Long may Zach Theatre's musical Queen reign!
Reviewed by T. Lynn Mikeska, Fri., Oct. 21, 2016
Tick is a drag queen with a secret. After years of making a name for himself as "Mitzi" in the Sydney drag scene, he must return to the small town of Alice Springs for reasons he's not quite ready to disclose to the world at large. So he does what any self–respecting ingénue would do. He invents a cover story and enlists two other divas to join him on an epic cross-country road trip.
And that is how, in Zach Theatre's production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, three brilliant drag performers find themselves traversing the Australian outback in a rickety bus in the name of show business. Tick's traveling companions are Adam – also known as Felicia Jollygoodfellow, an ostentatious young drag queen with a flair for the dramatic and a talent for finding trouble, and Bernadette Bassenger, a recently bereaved transgender woman and legendary drag star. Together, these three queen bees lip-synch their way across the desert and into your heart.
This perfectly presented story celebrates the joys and pitfalls of being one's most authentic self. While the overall tone of the show is mirthful-meets-mean girls with a dollop of raunch dressing, a few homophobic and transphobic moments land like punches to the gut. After one particular act of violence, Bernadette reminds her friends that they must never forget the cost of the life they've chosen. However, the show must go on. With the help of a mechanic named Bob, some pink paint, and a little Kylie Minogue, the trio draw ever closer to Alice Springs – and to uncovering Tick's past.
And if all of this sounds like the plot of a Terence Stamp movie from the Nineties, that's because it totally is.
In 1994, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, became an instant international cult film classic. The adapted stage version (which premiered in Sydney at the Lyric Theatre in 2006) does complete justice to its celluloid counterpart, which is no small feat. Fans of the movie will be glad to know that while their favorite one-liners, plot points, and eye candy (we all know I'm talking about the flip-flop dress) are included in the fast-paced show, there's plenty of original material as well. Audience members who are seeing this story for the first time will be equally wowed.
Josh Denning is an earnest and charismatic everyman in his portrayal of Tick, while Anthony Vincent Toudjarov's Adam is the ultimate self-destructive dream girl with an attitude best measured by a seismometer. As Bernadette, Jack Donahue effortlessly depicts a transgender character steeped in grace, strength, compassion, and wit.
Barry Doss' incredible costumes are showcased repeatedly throughout the production. Each drag ensemble is a jaw-dropping masterpiece from head to toe, featuring everything from hidden puppets and candle wigs to pop-up lizard neck ruffs. There are too many costume changes to count – even the curtain call has its own set of costumes. The total effect is absolutely awe-inspiring.
Adding to the overwhelming visual feast is Stanley A. Meyer and Jason M. Curtis' truly astonishing set. And if that's not reason enough to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Zach's production features an über-talented ensemble cast, phenomenal singing, engaging choreography, and a song catalog that will make you shake your groove thing.
So reach for your frilliest frock and high heels, fling a feather boa around your neck, and get ready for a drag show that's anything but a drag. The combination of superlative performances, spectacular costumes, and delicious set surprises promises to delight your inner diva and leave you dancing in the aisles.
Priscilla, Queen of the DesertZach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar, 512/476-0541
Through Oct. 30
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.