A Drag Race Across the Outback
Take a cult movie, spin it into a jukebox musical, add fabulous costumes and a bus for a set, and you get Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Based on an Australian-made film, it’s the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman who travel across the Australian desert in an old bus, which they have christened Priscilla. Along the way, they sing and dance to familiar hit songs of the past. These tunes become all-out big-time musical numbers.
Now on stage at St. Jacobs Playhouse, this production is flamboyant, campy, energetic and entertaining. And there’s even a thoughtful message tucked away in all the sequins, glitz and bling. Priscilla Queen of the Desert tells us that everybody needs somebody to love, and the world has much to learn about loving in an accepting, non-judgemental way.
Tick (drag name Mitzi), Adam (drag name Felicia) and Bernadette leave their homes in Sydney to go to Alice Springs in the middle of Australia – a tiny town in the desert recently buoyed with a casino to attract tourists. The drag queens are bringing their stage show to the outback. But Tick has an ulterior motive for the move. His wife, from whom he is separated but with whom he has a good relationship, manages the casino and says it’s time that Tick meets his six-year-old son. Tick agrees to the trip with much trepidation. The three “girls” make the journey in the Priscilla bus with both adversity and joy along the way.
In the past, drag queens simply lip-synced and acted out their songs, but Tick and Adam are modern entertainers who do their own singing. This musical production gives it to us both ways – we hear our travellers sing, and then when they lip-sync, three Divas appear and do the singing for them.
The three actors in the lead roles are perfect, each commanding the stage in turn. Patrick R. Brown brings class to the role of Bernadette. She is warm, funny and charming. Robbie Towns as Tick/Mitzi creates a perfect balance of panache and apprehension – he has strength in handling the tough crowds, and vulnerability when meeting his son, Benji. He has a warm chemistry with Benji, played by a very talented youngster, Thomas Winiker. Billy Lake gives us an exuberant and flamboyant Adam/Felecia. He steals the show sitting in the giant high-heeled shoe, riding along on top of Priscilla.
The three singers have certainly earned the name Divas: Stacey Kay, Kelly Holiff and Tiffany Deriveau belt those 80s and 90s tunes better than the original singers. Brad Rudy as Bob captivates the audience with his simple charm. A special shout-out goes to JJ Gerber and Jesse Weafer for their amazing drag queen numbers. Kimberly-Ann Troung is suitably crazy as Cynthia, Gabrielle Jones is excellent as the tough chick with the mullet, and Monique Lund is perfect as Tick’s wife, Marion. The seven ensemble members form a bevy of beautiful bare-chested young men.
The songs are familiar hits: “It’s Raining Men”, “What’s Love Got to do With It?”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Go West”, “True Colours”, “I Will Survive”, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “Hot Stuff”, “Always On My Mind”, and more. My personal favourite “MacArthur Park” becomes an over-the-top ode to pieces of cake holding umbrellas and dancing.
The costumes are incredible — there’s a dress that reveals puppets, sparkling giant paint brushes, and big hair that turns into cheerleaders’ pompoms. That’s just a few – we can only imagine the hectic pace back stage with so many costume changes. The bus/set is also amazing, patterned after a sparkling Barbie motor home. Roadkill adds to their journey, and while that may sound disgusting, it’s actually hilarious.
Credit goes to Director-Choreographer David Connolly who keeps the show fast-paced and energetic, but at the same time, pausing for those poignant moments.
Even before the show began, the opening night audience was treated to laughs. Artistic Director Alex Mustakas welcomed everyone and said that they would be presenting the sequel to Priscilla Queen of the Desert next year. It will be starring everyone’s favourite fake Mountie, Neil Aitchison, and the show is called King of the Desserts.
That set the tone for a night of fun. Don’t miss this chance to see a great show with a very talented cast. Wear your best bedazzled frock, apply your glitter eye shadow, don your sequins, wrap your feather boa, and go see Priscilla. She and her girlfriends will welcome you.
Glitter and glamour, music you love, and a heartwarming message of inclusion – what could be better?
Priscilla Queen of the Desert continues with eight shows a week until April 7 at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs. Tickets are available by calling Toll Free 1-855-372-9866 or Local Box Office 519-747-7788 or check www.draytonentertainment.com
Photo: Billy Lake (Felicia), Patrick R. Brown, (Bernadette) and Robbie Towns (Mitzi) in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo by Hilary Gauld Camilleri.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert – 2019
Book by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott
Based on the motion picture
Directed & Choreographed by David Connolly
Musical Direction by Jeannie Wyse
Performed by Patrick R. Brown, Billy Lake, Robbie Town, Stacey Kay, Kelly Holiff, Tiffany Deriveau, Brad Rudy, JJ Gerber, Jesse Weafer, Kimberly-Ann Troung, Gabrielle Jones, Monique Lund, Thomas Winiker, et al.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
St. Jacobs Country Playhouse
March 13 to April 7, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson