Sunday, March 10, 2013

Priscilla Rocks, No, Discos the Benedum

Priscilla Rocks, No, Discos the Benedum
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
March 5-9
Benedum Center
7:30 pm

                                                By Tamar Cerafici                                              

I hate March. March has a special, dark place in my heart that makes the knives in my house look particularly interesting, and not in a good way.

And when one wakes up to the white hellscape known as the North Hills and she has 6 inches of heavy spring snow to clear, she tempted to crawl back into the warm comfort of her bed and not come out until June. (I have to distance myself and speak in the third person this time of year.)

The bus, the queens, paint brush number
That is, unless one has the raucous fabulousness of Priscilla Queen of the Desert still ringing in her ears and creating microseizures in her brain. After last night’s performance, this morning’s heavy snow is a white wonderland, perfectly suited for memories of a pink bus and dancing paintbrushes.

Priscilla tries awfully hard to be a party from start to finish. Just to make sure we get the point, we’re occasionally bombarded with disco effects and party streamers. The trick succeeds, mostly. 

The show is based on the mid-90’s Australian offering, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Like others in the genre (think of Strictly Ballroom or Muriel’s Wedding) the movie boasts a thin plot line exploring the lives of outsiders who find their own place in the scorching Australian sun.

This particular sun shines on three performers, the young drag queens Tick and Adam, and their transsexual mentor, Bernadette. Tick, who has a wife named Marion and a kid named Benji in Alice Springs, hatches a plot to see his 6-year-old son. Tick enlists Adam and Bernadette to join him on the promise of a gig at Marion’s casino. Since none of them can afford plane tickets to the Outback, they journey west in renovated bus purchased from three Swedes named Lars. During the road trip, they come to terms with their own loneliness and sexuality, and confront the bigotry of the hicks, and find security and even love. That’s about it. They reach Alice Springs, they’re a hit, and Benji helps Tick understand that a family is often just a hodgepodge of people who love each other. You know, the usual.

But these performances are anything but usual:

Three Divas (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West) literally fly in and out of the show like a Greek Chorus, if a Greek Chorus belted dance tunes suspended 25 feet in the air. Crazy, but glorious.

Tick, Adam and Bernadette, oh the costumes!
Wade McCollum (Tick) does his best with a character. Unfortunately, he really doesn’t have much to work with – to be fair, Tick is one of those types who lets “I dare not” wait upon “I would.” Tick is really more of a confused little boy, who stays a confused little boy until his relationship with Benji anchors him. McCollum’s voice is as sweet as his character, when he’s not lip-syncing to the Divas. 

But Tick emerges as a reluctant hero who modifies the extremes of Adam (Bryan West), the rebel escaping from his conservative and wealthy mother, Bernadette (Scott Willis), who has found her place and is content, and the chorus of Outback hillbillies.

Bryan West dominates the show as Adam and his alter ego, Felicia. West humanized Adam, whose lines are a string of bitchy quotes, and in doing so treats us to several fine covers of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Verdi (his Violetta is literally over the top). Scott Willis’s Bernadette grounds his co-stars; his calm baritone and rock-solid acting give us permission to become emotionally invested in these characters. Bernadette desperately wants someone to care for her; Willis wins us over immediately.

In addition,the supporting cast is raunchy and funny and horrifying. Joe Hart’s Bob is heartfelt and sincere. Chelsea Zeno’s turn as Bob’s Filipino wife is worth the price of admission – she literally steals one of the many shows within the show, introducing a jarring punk vibe and a wickedly funny trick involving ping-pong balls.  Babs Rubenstein is unstoppable as the sex-starved, mullet-headed pub-keeper. The Ensemble is always strong and fun to watch. Each member plays their many parts with gusto; clearly they’re having a lot of fun. 

The hillbilly ensemble
Oh, the staging! The costumes! The bus is the center of all activity and is gorgeous. The set designers, stuck with and Australian Outback represented mainly by red screens, went to town on the bus. Any money saved on scenery was lavished on the costumes, which retained the Oscar-winning verve of the movie.

Finally, plumed-headdresses off to the remarkable off-stage army of costume changers who must coordinate this bacchanalia every night. Um, wow!

Unlike its bus namesake, Priscilla moves at lightning speed. Anyone caught under it should be ready to dance their way out, ‘cause this groove train ain’t stopping. 

I think I can stop hiding the knives – summer is only a bus ride away, as long as the bus is pink, and named Priscilla.

Tamar Cerafici is an environmental lawyer whose national practice includes nuclear power and sustainable development consulting. She is the author of “Dominate: How Lawyers Crush Their Competition (with these 4 Powerhouse Marketing Techniques),” and the founder of as well as LegalShoe, and The Lawyer’s New Clothes, new media channels on that teach lawyers how to build enterprises and find balance in their practices without selling their souls.

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