Category Archive for: ‘Victor Cordell’
“We are fa-mi-ly. I’ve got all my sisters with me.” Sister Sledge, from the song We are Family.
An old adage notes that we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. That said, blood relationships can be very special. But those who are lucky may bond with friends in a way that is very much like family, with all its love and all its dysfunction. Three disparate characters on a road trip share a special experience in Theatre Rhino’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a sparkling and rollicking musical comedy. It’s fun for the whole fa….Well, maybe not!
Tick’s livelihood comes from playing Mitzi, a drag queen, in Sydney (Australia). He receives a call from his ex-wife, asking if he would put together a trio of drag performers for a casino gig in Alice Springs, in the center of the country. Tick calls on two performing friends who are radically different and immediately at odds with one another. Bernadette is a mature, somewhat sedate, voluptuous transsexual. Adam, stagenamed Felicia, is a svelte, flamboyant, sassy drag queen.
Together, the three embark on a two-week long bus adventure across the Australian outback, replete with all manner of rustic characters, homophobia, bar fights, and being stranded by a breakdown of their bus, named Priscilla. The route is
paved with a catalogue of uplifting hit songs, largely from the disco era, performed in rousing fashion with dance. Many bear special connection to gender-identification discriminated groups, like Girls Just Want to Have Fun, We Belong, Go West, and I Will Survive.
Each of the three “girls” makes his mark. Rudy Guerrero is the leader and center of the action. He captures the range of both Tick and Mitzi, gabbing like a real working class dinky-di (a genuine Aussie) and strutting his stuff in many numbers, including the anthem Raining Men. Darryl V. Jones conveys a sensuous warmth as Bernadette and displays a tantalizing smoke and honey alto-like baritone in songs like the 1936 standard A Fine Romance. Charles Peoples III is irrepressible, irresponsible, and irresistible as Adam/Felicia. Possibly the funniest bit in the whole show is when he is sitting on top of the bus and lip syncing the opera aria Sempre Libre from La Traviata. His quivering and flouncing is absolutely hilarious.
Many supporting characters have good turns as well. The most memorable is Crystal Liu’s Cynthia, an Asian mail-order bride who apparently has her own history of exotic performance. What she does to ping pong balls with her legs spread shouldn’t be discussed in proper company. Suffice it to say that it brings new meaning to the song that accompanies her – Pop Musik.
Director John Fisher orchestrates an exemplary production that a small company shouldn’t be capable of. Everything works, from scenic design to lighting, from sound to musical direction. But special recognition goes to the team of five costumers who assemble in the neighborhood of 200 costumes. The outfits are sensational, from glitter-glam to Western, sometimes decorating the whole stage in pink or white or funereal black. Apart from the leads who wear new outfits each time they return to stage, other players typically have 12-14 changes, and they all take place in one backstage room. Amazing. Hopefully, the costumers are paid piecework, because they produce a ton. Same with AeJay Mitchell’s energetic wall-to-wall choreography which includes everything from disco to hoedown.
Live singing is accompanied by an instrumental soundtrack that offers the advantage of rich sound and tonal accuracy. One drawback is that the key of a song can’t be transposed to allow for the range of a singer. The effect is that sometimes singers don’t seem to be in their sweet spots. But that is a minor matter in an evening of great fun.
Full disclosure – if I seem too favorably disposed toward this piece, please forgive me, but it has a special resonance. My wife and I lived in Sydney long before cell phones and GPS. When driving in the desert between Alice Springs and Ayres Rock, we got stuck in mud from a rare rain that partly flooded the last 100 miles of dirt track, which were actually closed to traffic by the highway department. Like the drag contingent, we were also stranded in the outback – without seeing another human or vehicle for an hour and a half – a pretty long time given the circumstances.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott is produced by Theatre Rhinoceros and plays at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. in San Francisco through July 1, 2017.