Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, A Spectacular Sequined Musical Road Trip

On the bus L-R: Bryan West, Scott Willis, Joe Hart and Wade McCollum.
Flying: Brit West, Emily Afton and Bre Jackson. Photos by Joan Marcus

Get ready to be glitter-bombed! Everything in this musical gets a touch of the pink as a bus named Priscilla treks across the outback taking two drag queens and a transsexual on a transformative journey none of them will ever forget. And it’s all bursting to the rafters with spectacular sequined costumes, high-flying belting divas, neon flashing lights, and big, bold characters in 8-inch platform heels, all dancing to the soundtrack of the 70’s and 80’s. What more could a girl ask for? Confetti, you say? Yes, they’ve got that too.

The Compnay in "MacArthur Park"

Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner won a well-deserved Tony Award for Priscilla’s flamboyant, over-the-top costumes, filling this fantasyland road show with a breathless parade of whimsical creations. Cupcake-inspired Marie Antoinette gowns with candle hats and jellyfish-like parasols, a mini-dress made entirely from flip flops that would have been the envy of Carnaby Street in the ‘60s, enormous disco bell bottoms, fantastic feathered emu headdresses, and dancing pink paintbrush designs are as memorable as if they were characters in their own right.

The Company in "It's Raining Men"

Priscilla goes from zero to sixty in mere seconds as three diva angels descend from the heavens perched on what looks like whipped cream clouds made by the trains of their skintight silver dresses, all while singing a terrific cover of “It’s Raining Men.” Below them, Miss Understanding (Nik Alexzander) steals the show with a hilariously athletic tribute to Tina Turner and “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” 

From here we meet our three leading ladies – long, leggy Tick/Mitzi (Wade McCollum) who decides to make the journey to his wife’s casino (at her request) in rural Alice Springs to meet his 8-year old son he’s never seen and fill in as an act in her club. Though gay, he and Marion (Christy Faber) are on good terms but he’s terrified what his son will think of him if he finds out who he really is and what he really does. McCollum is a dynamic entertainer and exceptional dancer, and it is a showstopper of a role and he makes it look effortless.

L-R: Wade McCollum, Bryan West, Scott Willis & Company in “Colour My World”

He enlists his two friends, Bernadette (Scott Willis), an aging Norma Desmond-esque transsexual in flowing leopard print silks, and Adam/Felicia (Bryan West), a younger drag queen with a definite fixation on Madonna, to join him for moral support. Willis is delicate and perfectly poised, and his flashback to his Les Girls days is a poignant memory that plays out sweetly alongside his unlikely relationship with Bob, the mechanic (a charming Joe Hart).

For West it’s all about having fun and his youthful energy & pretty face make him the perfect third musketeer of this mismatched trio of friends. Favorite look and number – his sparkly X-men super hero outfit that he wears while singing "Sempre Libera" (from La Traviata) atop a gigantic silver high heel on Priscilla’s roof. There’s even an oversized boom box tucked into the toe strap. I don't know what it all meant but I loved it anyway.

Bryan West in "Sempre Libera"

The songs are fabulous. “I Say A Little Prayer,” “I Love The Nightlife,” “I Will Survive,” and “Hot Stuff” have never sounded better. Each song lead-in is set up beautifully, either sparking a gag (“MacArthur Park is one of the best), or marking a serious turn in the story (“True Colors” will leave a lump in your throat). Music director Brent Frederick makes the most of them all, eliciting spectacular vocal performances from his cast, and giving his orchestra plenty of opportunity to shine. (You gotta love the horns in “MacArthur Park.”) Choreography by Ross Coleman is electric and Simon Phillips’ direction weaves it all together with great style.

Center L-R: Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, Bryan West & Company in “I Will Survive”

Priscilla has as many sweet, tender moments as it does bubble and froth, and though the story carries little surprise, it doesn’t matter at all. The costumes, the dancing, the soundtrack, and a trio of terrific leading performances are plenty to make this traveling show a hit.

Now through June 16, 2013
Pantages Theatre
Tickets: www.HollywoodPantages.com.  

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