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First off, let’s get one thing straight — so to speak. The title character of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” now making its Long Island premiere at the Patchogue Theatre, fits none of the LGBTQ categories, unless B stands for bus. Although she — it — boasts a wardrobe replete with glittery get-ups, Priscilla is a bus whose mission is to transport two drag queens and an aging transgender woman from Sydney to the central Australian outback.
The soundtrack to their epic journey, played disco-live by Michael McAssey’s band, echoes the playlist of their nightclub career as Les Girls, singing and shimmying to 1970s-’90s jukebox hits. None were actually girls until Bernadette completed her transition. Tick, a hard-body partner in the trio (Mitzi on stage), brings Bernadette out of retirement to join an act that includes a rapacious young queen, Adam/Felicia, who thinks it’s as safe to flaunt it in the country as it is in the city.
Tick, played in this spectacular Gateway production by Tony winner Jarrod Emick (Joe Hardy in the 1994 “Damn Yankees” revival), brings a veiled machismo to the role, appropriate for an avowedly gay man who secretly — to his partners — has a wife and son. That’s why he’s making the trek to remote Alice Springs: His wife books their show for her casino. Their 8-year-old has never met his dad.
Smartly directed by David Ruttura and framed by Stanley Meyer’s adaptive set, “Priscilla” never loses its sense of humor, even in darkness.
William Selby’s Bernadette sings like a diva in “I Will Survive” and presents an imposingly dignified woman who remembers how to fight like a man. She and Tick rescue “Felicia” (a dandy Matthew Marks) from rednecks who are shocked to find that she’s a he, following John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Bob (Mitch Poulos), a mechanic who fixes broken-down Priscilla, is a fan who nostalgically recalls Les Girls in “A Fine Romance.” His fascination with Bernadette becomes a revelation as Tick hilariously delivers “MacArthur Park” upon discovering the meaning of the lyric “Someone left the cake out in the rain.”
Wearing the original 2011 Tony-winning costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, a gyrating company of dancers, choreographed by Gerry McIntyre, reminds us — even in the face of gay-bashing and hate speech — that these girls “Just Wanna Have Fun.” We had fun, too.
The Long Island Advance
If nothing else, The Gateway’s latest production of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” at the Patchogue Theatre should be applauded for its costumes and set. The original Broadway apparel is showcased (the 1994 film won an Oscar for Best Costume Design) and Broadway set designer Stanley A. Meyer helped produce its amazing look, glam clubs, scruffy bars, the Outback and a bus decked out with a giant sequined shoe on its roof.
But that’s just icing on the cake. Just when you think the cast can’t top the last number, there’s another, over 20 in all, to blow you away.
Jarrod Emick as drag queen Tick, William Selby as the transgender Bernadette and Matthew Marks as gay Adam travel through the Australian Outback en route to their next drag gig. They first team up in downtown Sydney in Club Cuckaloo, where the entire company wallops everyone with “It’s Raining Men,” including the amazing Miss Understanding, the beautiful Darius Harper, who waved to everyone while greeting a friend in the audience before the show, dressed in pink and fringe. When Tick gets a call from his wife (they’re still married) to perform in her club, that’s when the fun begins. The drag queens accept the offer; Priscilla is the bus they name that gets them across the desert.
The standout numbers are pretty much one after the other, because this was the energy of the ‘80s after all, when songs were about dancing, love and having fun. The cast gloriously gets into their joy, especially with “Go West,” including an Indian chief, clown, astronaut, aborigine, llamas and other characters, as the precursor to the drag queens’ journey. Their first stop is Broken Hill, where Debra Walton’s performance as Shirley, a drunken, stumbling singer in a gritty barroom who mumbles “I Love the Nightlife” in slow motion, snorting and spitting, is hilarious. (Walton played Charlaine in The Gateway’s “Ain’t Misbehavin.”)
The bar patrons happily let loose to the song after Bernadette straightens out their refusal to give her a drink, but afterwards the travelers discover Priscilla is painted with ‘F--- Off Faggots,’ deflating them. That’s when the revelations emerge, including Tick’s touching angst in whether to be gay or straight, although he loves being a drag queen. He’s also a father, hasn’t seen his boy for years and is afraid of the son’s reaction to his lifestyle. Selby’s Bernadette is stunning. Bernadette is funny, caustic, kind and heartbreaking, but no victim. She is proud of herself and longs for true love. Marks’ Adam is sassy and bitchy, but vulnerable. His campy lip-synching opera to “Siempre Libre” on top of the bus, dressed in a gorgeous, silver sequined costume, is glorious. But, then, so is “Shake Your Groove Thing,” and … well, we can go on and on.
The leads are all Broadway alums. Emick is a Tony award-winner, and along with Selby and Marks, all have significant show credits. The three divas, Lisa Helmi Johanson, Coleen Sexton and Walton, move the story along (oh, that hair!); Johanson nails Cynthia, the sexy, ambitious, over-the-top mail-order bride to Bob (Mitch Poulos), the mechanic called to fix Priscilla when she breaks down. He’s a sweet, regular guy, who loved Bernadette’s lead in her old act, “Les Girls.” Catch him singing “A Fine Romance,” the playful, classic ode to unrequited love because his bride is a mismatch. It may be a song originally crooned by Fred Astaire from the 1930s, but its clever irony fits the scene. So does the 1968 “MacArthur Park,” because … someone left the cake out in the rain, sort of. “I always wanted to sing this,” deadpans Emick.
The show is a flat-out celebration of diversity. And color. There are hats with birdcages, sequins, flowers, fruit and feathers, sky-high platform shoes and dancing wearing these weighty essentials. And the orchestra pumps out that ‘80s sound with abandon and then some.
The Gateway's exciting Long Island premiere of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert went off without a hitch this past weekend at The Patchogue Theatre. Running through August 6th, I really can't stress enough that this musical is incredibly enjoyable and the cast, directed by David Ruttura, is top-notch. There were some changes from the 2011 Broadway production, but your big, glittery heart will definitely be smiling as you leave the theatre.
The emotional tale, based on the 1994 movie, follows three friends on a journey through the Australian outback. They bond, meet some interesting characters, and run into a little trouble along the way. The journey is initially proposed by drag performer Tick, a.k.a. Mitzi, portrayed by Tony Award winner Jarrod Emick. He receives a call from his estranged wife, Marion, that their son is asking about his father. At the same time, Marion mentions that she needs a show for her casino. So, Tick convinces his friends Bernadette, portrayed by William Selby, and Adam, a fellow drag performer a.k.a. Felicia, portrayed by Matthew Marks, to join him.
These men are really superb in their respective roles and the entire cast seems to be having a great time with the fun score filled with familiar 70's and 80's dance songs.
Mr. Emick (Broadway: Damn Yankees, Miss Saigon, et. al.) wonderfully portrays Tick/Mitzi. Indeed, a favorite among the audience is his beautiful, heartfelt rendition of "Always On My Mind" in act two. Additionally, Mr. Selby's (Forbidden Broadway) performance of Bernadette is truly endearing; however, don't cross her because she can pack a punch. They run into a group of low-life's who give them a hard time because they are drag performers, gay, and Bernadette is a transsexual. Bernadette proceeds to kick one of the guys and thunderous applause ensues. Throughout their journey, she makes the best out of every situation. And Mr. Marks (Broadway: Book Of Mormon, West Side Story) is utterly flawless as Adam/Felicia.
Mr. Ruttura's creative team is also brilliant.
Stan Meyer's set is outstanding. Priscilla, the bus they use for their excursion, was built from scratch and customized for the size of the stage. Additional highlights include the spectacular Tony winning Tim Chappel & Lizzy Gardiner costumes from the Broadway production (!!!!!). This was enhanced stunningly by Doug Harry's spot-on lighting and the incredible orchestra headed up by Music Director Michael McAssey.
And so, Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert is definitely another hit for The Gateway. A thought provoking story, a sensational cast, and a lot of glitter and dance music make for a fun night of theatre.
What do drag queens, disco music and feather boas have in common? They’re front and center at the Patchogue Theater in the Gateway Playhouse’s production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a loud and proud musical with a touching story at its center.
The story follows drag queens Tick (stage name Mitzi), Adam (stage name Felicia) and a trans woman named Bernadette as they travel through the Australian Outback to perform at a remote casino owned by Tick’s estranged wife. She lives there with their 8-year-old son, whom Tick has never met. Tick, Adam and Bernadette buy a broken down bus, which they nickname Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
The show is packed with recognizable songs like “It’s Raining Men,” “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” to name a few. The songs are sometimes altered to fit the scene and at times they become medleys with the melodies working together to tell the story.
There is obvious tension between Bernadette, an older gal who has been in the entertainment business for many years, and the young, vivacious, sarcastic Felicia. Played by the adorably expressive Matthew Marks, Felicia is flamboyant and charming, easily executing one-liners that will have you in stitches.
Bernadette (William Selby) is a long-time friend of Tick’s who’s just lost her husband. Tick convinces her that the best way to get over her grief is to help him put on a show at the casino. Bernadette reluctantly agrees, and she and Felicia make hilarious digs at one another throughout the performance.
Tick’s (Jarrod Emick) storyline is where the heart of Priscilla is centered. Tick’s concerned that his young son won’t accept him because of his sexual orientation and his work as a drag queen.
The characters live in a time where their true selves are not widely accepted, especially in some of the small towns they comes across. They face condemnation and disgust, and some violence in a particularly rough spot. Through it all, Bernadette is the one to pull them back together, and the trio cling to one another for support during some especially low points in their journey. Their heartfelt rendition of “We Belong” was a bit of a tearjerker!
Past productions of Priscilla have been wildly acclaimed for the costume design and Gateway’s version is just as outrageous. The wardrobe is straight from the European tour of Priscilla, and includes the funkiest combinations of spandex, glitter, sequins and feathers! Expect to be amazed at the frequent costume changes and wildly imaginative headdresses and platform heels that these men can certainly strut their stuff in.
The New York Times
Priscilla, for those who don’t already know, is the name of the bus that carries two female impersonators and a transsexual woman across the Australian outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in the 2011 musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” The play, now at the Patchogue Theater for the Performing Arts in a colorful Gateway production, is based on a 1994 movie, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
Using the bus’s name in the title may indicate that the story is about the journey, in a more metaphorical sense, of its passengers. Or it may just have sounded good, which is a more likely explanation for this raucous tale played out alongside a medley of familiar dance songs from previous decades. “It’s Raining Men” is the opener, and “I Will Survive” ends the first act. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” pops up in Act II. Some of the numbers, which are mostly sung by cast members rather than lip-synced in a more traditional drag-show style, are used to advance the plot, while others seem to comment obliquely on the drag-queen scene in general.
The one thing that the movie, the Broadway show and the Gateway production have in common is a set of delightfully over-the-top costumes designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who won an Oscar and a Tony for their work. The current iteration was made for the show’s European tour and includes an array of imaginative clothing featuring lots of feathers, sequins, stretchy fabrics and huge headgear. Some garments have been made with everyday objects like flip-flops in bright hues that, when strung together, become a fetching minidress. Stanley A. Meyer has designed a pleasing set that includes an abundant amount of glitz and a large ramshackle bus that sits on a turntable at the center of stage in many scenes.
Despite all the surface glitter and the brashly strutting choreography by Gerry McIntyre, “Priscilla” is not as upbeat or feel-good a musical as it often aims to be. It has a dark underside and some pretty sour edges, which David Ruttura, the director, is not afraid to address — but which make it discomforting to watch. The jollity often has a desperate quality to it, and the raunchiness, of which there is plenty, tends to be either sophomoric or overly crass. The thin plot is more than a bit maudlin. The musical, written by Allan Scott and Stephan Elliott (Mr. Elliott also wrote and directed the film, which incidentally had its American premiere in Sag Harbor), seems to want to be a serious play beneath its shiny veneer, but it never achieves the needed depth.
Fortunately, some very talented performers are able to add their own dramatic texture. Jarrod Emick, who won a Tony for his role as Joe Hardy in the 1994 Broadway revival of “Damn Yankees,” plays the central character, who is known as Tick among friends and whose performer name is Mitzi. Mr. Emick is a personable actor and a fine singer (with a knockout Elvis impersonation) who brings a welcome measure of introspection to his role. Tick organizes the road trip after receiving a phone call from Marion (Coleen Sexton, pleasantly direct and down-to-earth), the wife from whom he parted some eight years earlier. She insists that he meet their son for the first time and offers him and his friends a gig at the casino she runs. He’s nervous, understandably, about how the boy will accept him. His song to accompany the moment is “I Say a Little Prayer,” which he performs impeccably, accompanied by the fine orchestra under the direction of Michael McAssey.
Tick chooses as his first companion for the trip the matronly Bernadette, once known as Frank, who has just lost her husband. She grieves for him with a heartfelt “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” William Selby, another fine singer and actor, delivers a sympathetic and very believable Bernadette, who sometimes proffers motherly counsel and comfort to her cohorts. Adam, a.k.a. Felicia, is less distinctive than the other two characters. Brash, young and impetuous, he likes to needle Bernadette about her advancing age. Matthew Marks does little to make Adam a more well-rounded character. However, he does do a very amusing and precise job lip-syncing an aria from “La Traviata."
The stage is rarely filled with only three actors, however. A supporting cast and an ensemble of men and women appear as entertainers in a Sydney nightclub (led by Darius Harper as a commanding Miss Understanding), as townspeople in various locales along the way, and as chorus members who materialize miraculously to turn simple songs into fabulous extravaganzas. Among the recurring background singers are the three sassy Divas in towering hairdos, played by Ms. Sexton (when she is not playing Marion), Debra Walton and Lisa Helmi Johanson. Ms. Johanson, a mischievous presence, has another role, too, as Cynthia, a reluctant country wife who longs for her former career in adult entertainment — which she displays at a local club in the musical’s most tasteless and misogynist scene.
Cynthia is married to Bob (an endearingly warm Mitch Poulos), a mechanic who rescues our traveling trio after their bus breaks down and joins them for the last part of their expedition. He is part of the show’s daffy curtain-call finale (underlined by the song “Finally”), in which old costumes and new ones — watch for Mr. Poulos as a kangaroo — flood the stage. The joy comes from a cast glad to accept applause.