Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Michele Markarian
For anyone who came of age during the disco era, the opening strains of “It’s Raining Men”, will cause the heart to skip a beat in happy remembrance. As the male dancers of the drag club set in Sydney, Australia strip to their bare chests and gyrate to the music, I am transported to the clubs of the 70s, before AIDS decimated the gay population and changed the music forever. This is the setting for “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, which, in spite of an underdeveloped book, is a feel good, fun and gorgeous ride.
Tick, whose drag identity is a statuesque diva named Mitzi, is married to Marion, a female friend and nightclub manager he hasn’t seen in years. They have a six-year old son, Benji, who has yet to meet his father and would like to. Torn between his freedom to live the life he wants and his desire to meet his son, Tick decides to embark on a journey from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform at Marion’s club. He enlists the aid of two friends, an older transgender woman named Bernadette and Felicia/Adam, a young, reckless performer, to make the journey with him and be part of the show. Neither of them knows about Benji or Marion.
The script, for the most part, chooses to focus not on the dangers of two drag queens and their transgender friend crossing the Australian desert in the 1970s, but on the beauty, flamboyance and acceptance of their lifestyle. Between the disco music – “I Love the Nightlife”, “Hot Stuff”, and “Shake Your Groove Thing”, as examples – and the beautiful costumes of this uniformly talented cast, there’s a lot to like.
Andrew Giordano gives a sensitive and grounded performance as the conflicted Tick/Mitzi. Matthew Tiberi, whose angelic voice is one of the show’s highlights, plays Adam/Felicia with insouciant abandon. Larry Daggett is both tough and touching as Bernadette, formerly Ralph, who finds love later in life with the solid and tender Bob (affectively played by Bob Knapp). Lynn Craig, as Bob’s mail-order bride Cynthia, almost brings down the house with her unorthodox rendition of “Pop Muzik”. The biggest surprise for this theatergoer, who – don’t hate me – normally finds child actors to be a step behind the adult ones, is Cameron Levesque as the six-year old Benji. This kid is terrific! Vocally, he holds his own with the seasoned Andrew Giordano in a sweet version of “Always On My Mind” – and their connection is palpable.
Most of the show’s action takes place on and around Scenic Designer Brian Ruggaber’s cleverly constructed Priscilla, the large bus financed by Felicia/Adam’s mom. The ensemble, who adroitly weave between playing gorgeous female impersonators and rowdy Australian rednecks, are superb. And a vocally talented Supremes-like trio, the Divas (Tamala Baldwin, Onyie Nwachukwu, and Lindsay Roberts) appear periodically for that extra kick of ambiance. Stacey Stephens’s brisk direction keeps the experience – and it is an experience – fun, fast and entertaining. Be sure to have a selfie taken with one of the majestic entertainers in the lobby during intermission and before the show, but ladies, keep your egos in check – these girls are stunning. For more info, go to: http://fiddleheadtheatre.com/