Review “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”


Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
When: through March 30
Tickets: $28-$85
Phone: 800-775-2000

Everybody loves a show about drag queens that reaffirms family values. It makes them feel safe and promises a sequined spectacle replete with double entendres and sarcasm.

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” delivers. Based on the 1994 film, with a book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott about two drag queens and a transsexual on a journey across Australia to Alice Springs to connect with the son of one of them, the 2006 musical that premiered on Broadway in 2011 is an over-the-top extravaganza chock full of pop classics. The song list hits the high points of dance-era anthems and ballads: “I Will Survive” (reprised several times), “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?,” “Hot Stuff,” “I Say a Little Prayer,”… you get the idea.

Setting out in the rundown bus named “Priscilla,” the trio — Mitzi/Tick (Wade McCollum), the father seeking to connect with his young son; Felicia/Adam (Bryan West, who has the best voice of the three), and classy aging transsexual Bernadette (Scott Willis) — encounter a predictable series of obstacles ranging from rural rednecks to bus breakdowns. Along the way, they meet Bob (Joe Hart), the mechanic who joins them, leading to a romance that, combined with Mitzi/Tick’s son’s acceptance of him and his profession, guarantees an uplifting ending.

While the performances are good enough and the staging certainly is colorful – especially the lighting of the bus — the main reason to see “Priscilla” is the procession of more than 500 eye-popping costumes by award-winning designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. They run the gamut from French Revolution-inspired getups to the animals of the Outback, and the wigs are equally fantastical. The ensemble also dances up a storm in them, though choreographer Ross Coleman’s vocabulary seems limited to conventional moves.

The main downside is a poorly balanced sound system that renders close to half of the lyrics and some of the dialogue unintelligible. My advice: Brush up on the songs in advance, then surrender to the enthusiasm of the feel-good evening.