Entertainment » Theatre

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Oct 3, 2016
Larry Daggett, Matthew Tiberi, and Andrew Giordano in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical,' continuing through Oct. 9 at the Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theater
Larry Daggett, Matthew Tiberi, and Andrew Giordano in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical,' continuing through Oct. 9 at the Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theater  (Source:Eric Antoniou)

Fiddlehead Theatre Company brings the glamour of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical" to the Shubert Theater now through Oct. 9 in a colorful, energetic production that speeds along like a bus full of drag performers across flat, straight stretches of Australian outback.

The play is a jukebox musical, so you're probably familiar with most of the songs. They're fit to the play in clever ways, starting with The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" and including a host of others, including gay anthems like "Go West," "I Say a Little Prayer," "MacArthur Park," and "Hot Stuff," unexpected detours into Country music like "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" and "Always on My Mind," and disco gems like "I Love the Nightlife," "Shake Your Groove Thing," and -- but of course! -- "I Will Survive."

The plot? It's tempting to wonder aloud whether the plot really matters -- after all, this show is all about costumes, music, and dancing, all of which dazzle -- but there's a place for plot here, too, and it's serviceable enough.

The book, by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, is based on the 1994 film "The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert," and the story remains essentially the same. Tick (Andrew Giordano) is summoned to the remote desert town of Alice Springs by his wife Marion (Val Moranto) -- yes, that's right, wife; and, yes, Tick is a gay man, but this play offers plenty of non-judgmental nuance -- and he takes a couple of friends long for the ride. One is transsexual former drag performer Bernadette (Larry Daggett), who is in mourning for her recently deceased husband. The other is a hormonally mischievous twenty-something named Adam Matthew Tiberi), who clashes with Bernadette non-stop. The kicker: Tick's wife wants him to come all that way because they have a young son, Benji (Cameron Levesque), who's starting to express a wish to meet his father.

The journey across the desert is, of course, also a journey of self-discovery for the three, with Bernadette learning how to embrace life once more, Tick facing his fears of inadequacy, and young Adam growing up a bit. Along the way they meet a few homophobes, but also a sympathetic straight man named Bob (Bob Knapp). None of this is very deep, but this is a show that's all about shiny things, saturated hues, and crisp beats.

The cast manage lighting-quick costume changes, and there are plenty of costumes to change in and out of, from outrageous disco duds to 1950s matron wear to '60s styles that look as though they might have been fashioned from sheets of plastic. (Especially groovy: A dress covered in large "google eyes" that would have looked smashing on Twiggy.) It's a staggering amount of wardrobe (over 30 costumes in all, and that's without taking into account the 11 huge headdresses), and it's all the work of Stacey Stephens.

Scenic designer Brian Ruggaber keeps the set simple, though the major set piece -- the bus -- is elaborate inside and out (if a bit cumbersome for the crew of stage hands who have to push it around). Brian McCoy's sound design does justice to the work of the nine-piece live orchestra, and the arrangements are all kept within parameters that work for the show. Stephens also serves a director, and his direction is as lush and colorful (and, when needed, as outsized_ as the outfits he supplies. Nobody on this trip has packed along a tube of subtlety, but hey: Drag is all about broad, big, and Day-glo.

Seeing (and hearing) all the work Fiddlehead have put into this production, it seems a shame the show is only running through October 9. There's only one thing to do: Go see it while it's here.

"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical" continues at the Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theater through Oct. 9. for tickets and more information, please go to http://fiddleheadtheatre.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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