Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the musical, by Stefan Elliott and Allan Scott, directed by John Fisher
Charles Peoples III as Felicia/Adam’ Rudy Guerrero as Tick; Kim Larson as Bernadette.
Director John Fisher’s commented in the program that though the movie “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” was created in the 1990s, it is still relevant today as a stage musical. It shares many of the tropes: the struggle to create families, the desire for companionship, and the discovery of self in adversarial circumstances. He went on to state that we hope whatever we are going through right now in the world that eventually it will end in a brighter future. And if not- we will survive. I had seen the film when it came out in the nineties mainly because I loved the concept, and all things Australia, Terence Stamp, and the fact that he played the character of transsexual Bernadette, the oldest member of the troupe. Seems drag queen Tick (excellent Rudy Guerrero), after a phone call, agrees to take his act on the road from Sydney to Alice Springs. Hoping to pick up gigs along the way, he convinces fellow cross-dressers Adam (Charles Peoples III) and Bernadette ((spot on Kim Larson) to come along in Priscilla, their refurbished VW van outfitted with a glitzy dressing room interior. Why? We discover that Tick has kept a secret hidden from his friends and he worries whether he and his friends will be accepted by people from his past. And will he be remembered and loved as he was years ago. We anticipate how locals will react to these fellas as they perform in outback saloons. Actors also go into the audience and encourage selected attendees to join them onstage, which they gleefully do.
The musical is wild and crazy which is expected, with a simple set backed by a colorful, beaded curtain (Gibert Johnson, lighting by Sean Keehan). At one point the curtain is pulled back to reveal the unadorned Priscilla, and later, she is given a new paint job after a sabotage by ignorant hooligans. Now, a giant red platform shoe adorns the roof which is lounged upon by various entertainers as they lip-sync pop tunes. Pop tunes? There are many and have you singing along- everything from “What’s Love got to do With it?”, “I Say a Little Prayer” to the show-stopper “I Will Survive.” Also, we witnessed head-snapping, quick costume changes: extravagant costumes and sky-high headdresses that leave you gasping with delight, rivalling those of Beach Blanket Babylon. These spectacular costumes were created by an extraordinary talented team consisting of Robert Horek, Karr, Glenn Krumbholz, David Bjorklund,aisy Neske and Cindy Preiado.
Though fast-paced with snappy dialogue, there are moments of poignancy (“I Say a Little Prayer”) and sadness brought on as when Mitzi (Guerrero) is attacked by homophobic outback locals. And a love story grows between Bernadette and easy-going, accommodating Bob (warm, engaging Cameron Weston), a mechanic who shows up when Priscilla breaks down in the desert.
I found a lot of diversity in “Priscilla”. The show is simply not a musical review showcasing one pop-tune after another, it has a plot with relatable, honest characters, to whose stories we can all relate regardless of age and or gender: who among us does not wish to belong to a group? For parental love- love of friends; for acceptance and respect? “Priscilla” does not disappoint. I loved every moment.
Priscilla, exterior (l. to r) Rudy Guerrero as Tick, Cameron Weston as Bob, Kim Larson, as Bernadette, Charles Peoples III as Adam; and David Tuttle bringing up the rear.
“Priscilla” is produced by Theatre Rhinoceros, the longest running LGBT theatre in the US and winner of many awards of recognition from city and state representatives from Gavin Newsome, Mark Leno, Nancy Pelosi; awards from BATCC and TBA as well as GLADD.
At The Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson at Battery, San Francisco. It runs as follows: June 7, 8, 9 – Wed., Thurs., Fri., Sat. – 8:00 pm; June 9 – Sat. Matinee – 3:00 pm; June 13, 14, 15, 16 – Wed., Thurs., Fri., Sat. – 8:00 pm; June 16 – Sat. Matinee – 3:00 pm; June 20, 21, 22, 23 – Wed., Thurs., Fri., Sat. – 8:00 pm; June 23 – Sat. Matinee – 3:00 pm. Go to www.TheRhino.org for tickets and more information.