Pride Films and Plays Poignant PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT Proves Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Reviewed by: Bob Douglas

Highly Recommended

Pride Films and Plays present Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in their new venue to a cheering opening night audience. Resplendent in flamboyant ball gowns, lots of feathers and glitter, looking down over the vast red Australian desert: for three showgirls it was the dream of a lifetime, a four week cabaret engagement in Alice Springs. The problem is simply getting there intact, along with their refurbished bus “Priscilla.”

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a musical with a book by Australian film director-writer Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, using well-known 70s and 80s pop disco songs as its score. Every single number is a toe-tapping one and many are full company production numbers. For older people it is a journey back to our youth while for younger, it is a look into a time when life felt freer. I had difficulty keeping my mind on the show because I kept trying to imagine the dressing room madness of all of the many costume changes. The show is adapted from Elliott’s 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman, who contract to perform a drag show in a remote Australian desert resort town. As they head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla, the three friends come to the forefront of a comedy of errors, encountering a number of strange characters, as well as incidents of homophobia, while widening comfort zones and finding new horizons.

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Fasten your seat belts because the ride will not only be a bumpy one but an eye-popping, ear-pleasing, toe-tapping honey of a show. It moves like a cyclone from start to finish and leaves the audience gasping for breath on numerous occasions, thanks to its spectacular spectacle, its raunchy humor and its virtuoso performances. There are puns a plenty and they just keep coming and coming.

Entertainer Honey West performs the role of transgendered Bernadette who is heading toward her farewell engagement but finds something else as well. Her second act performance of “A Fine Romance” is especially touching. I could not warm to the performance of Jordan Phelps as Tickwho is an accomplished performer and did not know why. Then in the second act it all made sense: it is how his role has been written. Mr. Phelps underplayed his role in Act I so that the scene in Act II with his wife and son would be very moving and touching. Much like the middle child in a family he begins subdued but, like a locomotive, gains strength and touches your heart in the finale scenes with his relationship to his son.

What ignites the trio of drag queens is cyclone Luke Meierdiercks’ performance as the hunky and mischievous in a tour de force performance. With a body by god, the stamina of a race horse and the intensity of a dentist drilling (sans Novocain) Mr. Meierdiercks is the spark and the glue holding the three together and possesses star quality. He is the triple threat and dazzles in this role.

What fine casting!

A trio of three divas performs throughout on a bridge high above the stage and belt out the opening numbers “It’s Raining Men,” and “What’s Love got to do with It?” The beat of the show was set.   This trio sings throughout the show and sets the stage for each of the many production numbers. Tuesdai B. Perry was one of the divas and when she delivered “Sempre libera” at the close of Act I I did not believe the aria was being sung live. Ms. Perry hit each of her high notes and did not slide into them. Brava! The two other divas were Jill Sesso and Rebecca Coleman who never missed a beat and all three were a joy to watch. As Miss Understanding, Aaron C. Reynolds brought the house down with his impersonation of Tina Turner at her best! From this opening number forward, the audience was firmly in the Company’s hands and the show never lost its spectacular, helter-skelter momentum of songs of the disco era. The audience was captivated and wanted more and more.

My most favorite number of the evening was “Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain”

John Cardone, a Chicago evergreen musical comedy performer delivered an underplayed yet spot on performance of Bob, a mechanic who comes to the aid of the three drag queens stranded in the desert and for whom Life takes a turn.

Accents of the entire cast were spot on and the cast never dropped them as the performance went on; an amazing fete in itself! I must say that the entire company is the star because every member played many roles, has lightning quick costume changes and never lost energy or a beat. They performed at 110%. Not to be missed is Maiko Terazawa’s performance of an out of control Asian alcoholic who treats the audience with her ping pong ball tricks. She brought the house down, never going over the top and her performance remains firmly embedded in my mind.

Co- Directors Derek Van Barham and David Zak delivered an entertaining and poignant production delivering many laugh filled, tight moments punctuated with sentimentality and honesty. Music Director Robert Ollis and his orchestra ensemble packed quite a punch, providing just the right hot sound of disco. Cat Wilson’s lighting design and G. Max Maxin’s projection design complete the transitory world of Priscilla and compliment the overall set design.

John Nasca has done an outstanding job with his designs of feathers, spangles and spandex. My most favorite number of the evening was “Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain” where his costumes looked like someone just raided a cake shop! He saves his finest for the last number in the show when the trio comes out in jaw dropping sequin gowns where stitchers Blake Burke, James Schwab, Yizhi Zou, Brian Estep and Honey West must have gone blind and developed carpal tunnel in sewing them.

This is a great way to begin the New Year with a great theatrical evening and the best theatrical bargain in town! Call the Pride Films Box Office and get tickets today. Straight, gay or however you wish to identify yourself, you will be happy you did.

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL

Now through February 12

Thursday through Saturday eves at 7.30pm and Sundays at 3.30pm

Tickets: $40 for reserved seats and $30 for general admission. There are discounts for seniors and students. Contact: www.pridefilmsandplays.com