“Rear Entry Upon Request” is an amusing bumper sticker for an old bus transporting two young drag queens and an older transsexual across the Australian outback, leaving a trail of sequins, broken heels and dance combinations behind them. On their road trip playlist are toe-tapping and head-bobbing classics such as “Like A Virgin,” “I Will Survive” and “Shake Your Groove Thing.” After its debut on Broadway in March 2011, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is now on its first national tour and has decided to take a weeklong pit stop at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The show opened with a flamboyant energy that bubbled along to the song “It’s Raining Men.” Three gospel-like singers entered from hidden catwalks high above the stage, overshadowing a quick paced dance sequence. Multi-colored lights with disco patterns illuminated the stage; the fully clothed male chorus dancers were instantly topless. A man in full drag welcomed the audience to a club in downtown Sydney, Australia, and serenaded onlookers with an exaggerated Tina Turner impersonation of “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Of course, his flapper dress and Tina Turner wig were hot pink.
From there, the plot quickly took flight. Tick, the drag queen protagonist played by Wade McCollum, discovers he has a son, and he ventures to the outback to meet under the guise that he is performing at a small casino in the city of Alice. Tick calls upon his old friends, one a recently widowed transsexual named Bernadette, played by Scott Willis, and the other a very sassy Madonna-obsessed drag queen named Felicia, played by Bryan West, to aid him in his “comeback show.” Traveling through rugged cities and “straight” terrain, these three become dynamic, loyal, bedazzled, high-heeled musketeers.
While the show included many glimpses of muscles, waxed legs, and glittered lipstick and eyelashes, the spotlight of the show really rested in the costumes — loud, outrageous, bright, tacky costumes that would make even Lady Gaga go “gaga.” The show won a 2011 Tony for its 500 costumes, 60 wigs, and 150 pairs of shoes. The quick changes were astounding, and the transformations from street to drag were seamless and well-rehearsed.
While the odd-shaped dresses astounded the audience, the lighting in the “True Colors” scene truly stood out. In this scene, the old grey 50s era bus, fondly named Priscilla, has broken down and been tagged with grave message in pink paint that reads “F*ck Off Faggots.” With nothing else to do, the ladies decide to “paint the bus” in hot pink. The bus slowly transforms in brush-like strokes into a hot pink backdrop with the magic of soft LED lights. The 30,000 LED’s were downloaded with software that allows the bus to be a whimsical backdrop of bubbles, rainbows and rubber duckies for the remainder of the show.
The grand lights, costumes and music are not meant to be enjoyed by all ages, as the show’s script holds explicit language and adult themes that have warranted the show a warning for children under thirteen. There were also small technical sound balance issues, because at times the singing and conversations were hard to hear. The show does deal with gender and LGBT community struggles, but according to star Scott Willis, “the social message in the play is handled in a light manner.” Priscilla’s journey at the Segerstrom will end Oct. 27, but a new queen will reign. The musical “Evita” is waiting in the wings to perform at the Segerstrom from the 10th of December through the 22nd.
Filed Under: Entertainment