Being an unabashed fan of campy Broadway musicals, drag queens, and disco, I was quite pleased to accept an invitation from Swarovski to attend a preview of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Based on the 1994 movie, the musical just opened on Broadway.
Bette Midler is a producer, and Oscar winners Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner designed the costumes, which really deserve their own credit on the playbill. The musical is lighter than the film version, and campier, as any production featuring 15 disco classics must inevitably be. Themes like homophobia and non-traditional family are touched upon, but not brooded over. Overall, I left the theater feeling absolutely elated. It was better than any anti-depressant.
In short, it’s the story of a drag queen who at some point married a woman and had a child. He makes a pilgrimage (not unlike the Odyssey, except with better wigs and more feathers) from Sydney to the middle of nowhere in Australia with two drag queen mates to meet his boy. Struggles with prejudice, a non-traditional love story, huge hairpieces, and frequent Madonna references all blend fairly seamlessly.
Here are ten random things to love about “Priscilla”:
1) The opening number is “It’s Raining Men.” Hallelujah!
2) Swarovski crystals were liberally sprinkled on everything from dresses, to wigs, to a sweatshirt, to an enormous shoe. I particularly enjoyed the sparkle-encrusted loin cloths.
3) The makeup masks were ingenious. In scenes where the queens were in full gear, you could see that the eye makeup was actually a mask, complete with false eyelashes. I want one for instant day-to-night glamor.
4) Lots of crass, naughty puns.
5) Tony Sheldon as Bernadette, the aging drag queen who finds love with an Aussie from the Outback. His performance is pretty exquisite, veering from bitchy to tender to flamboyant.
6) Tons of Sound of Music references.
7) The fact that there’s a number featuring Donna Summer’s “Macarthur Park,” in which the ensemble cast is costumed in enormous cupcake costumes (Magnolia Bakery received a shout-out in the playbill credits).
8) There’s a scene in which a mail-order bride shows off her talent for projecting ping pong balls from her nether regions. I was lucky enough to catch one of these (which I’m going to assume for my peace of mind never actually touched any actual body fluids). Printed on the ball is: “For external use only.”
9) Lots of guys with six packs and perfect asses running around half naked for two hours.
10) The costumes! They were glorious: crystals, feathers, huge headpieces, Aussie chukka boots with high heels, diva gowns that looked like 80s Thierry Mugler, glittery lipstick, and hot pink everywhere. Tacky, sparkly heaven.
Go see it. You will feel like a drab little peahen when you come out, but on the plus side, you’ll have “I Will Survive” in your head for the next two days.