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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

An Ab-Fab Dazzling Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Pulls Into the Paramount

Also see David's reviews of Clara and Les Misérables


Wade McCollum and Company
Big pink bus and all, Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical arrived for the final week of its year-long national tour to an over-the-top joyous response from an uber-supportive GLBT-friendly audience at the Paramount this week. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott's book is a faithful adaptation of the hit 1994 indie film, but the musical drops all things Abba (since Mamma Mia! has that territory covered) and otherwise eschews a Broadway score for a grab-bag of pop favorites ranging from "I Will Survive" and "It's Raining Men" to "Color My Word" and "Go West," with the Astaire/Rogers "A Fine Romance" tossed in the mix as well. All that's missing is a vocal of "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," but visually they are in this show in spades thanks to the justly Tony and Olivier awarded cascades of costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner and the imaginative Bus & Production design by Brian Thompson.

For the unenlightened few, Priscilla Queen of the Desert concerns an Australian road trip a trio of diverse drag queens take across Australia. Ostensibly it's for a performance gig at a casino/hotel, but instigator Tick, aka Mitzi, is really looking to hook up with his long ignored young son, the product of a youthful marriage to the venue's proprietor. His castmates are vintage drag doyenne, male to female transsexual Bernadette and the youngster of the bunch Adam/Felicia, who prefers to do his own vocals rather than lip-synch. Along a misadventure-laden trail they meet Bob, a Grizzly Adams type who becomes their tag-along protector/mechanic and a potential romantic interest for Bernadette. No spoiler here as to the show's wrap up, but suffice to say the show is all about entertaining, with a side order of tears to go along with a heap of laughs and every gay joke and aside you can possibly imagine. If it's no La Cage, you'll still have a grand time at Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and it a far sight better than such other recent stage to screen efforts that have played the Paramount (yes Flashdance I am talkin' 'bout you!).

Director Simon Phillips and choreographer Ross Coleman make sure the fun and pacing never falter. Headlining the cast are two former Pacific Northwest talents, Wade McCollum (a stellar Bat Boy from Portland) as Tick/Mitzi and Scott Willis (a bright light of Seattle Men's Chorus) as Bernadette. McCollum is a statuesque stunner of a talent, with strong acting chops, a rich voice, and an amazing fluidity of movement, and he bedazzles as brightly as any of his wigs or costumes, even when Tick plays it sotto voce in a charming moment with his young son. His "MacArthur Park" number is perhaps the high-energy rouser of the evening. Willis is majestic as the tart tongued but sweet natured Bernadette, and develops a nice chemistry with Joe Hart's cuddly teddy bear Bob, and the flashback involving the two of them is one of the best ideas used in the show. As the bitchiest of the three queens, Bryan West delivers all his zingers with gusto, presenting his Madonna-hit laden vocals with brassy boldness and all the right moves in his dancing.

As a Greek chorus of Divas who supply the vocals for the trio to lip-synch to, Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West offer stellar support—most often suspended high above the action. Amy Hillner Larsen is solid as Tick's estranged wife Marian, and amiable Shane Davis doesn't overdo the cute factor as Tick's son Benji. Ensemble standouts included Nik Alexzander, feisty as drag queen Miss Understanding, and a beautiful big-boned gal named Babs Rubinstein in a succession of character roles. A special nod is surely deserved to Chelsea Zeno for her memorable turn as Bob's loco mail-order bride Cynthia, whose special "performance" is a rare case where a great movie moment is just as funny live.

With several performances of this run available on GoldStar, there is no excuse for missing out on Priscilla Queen of the Desert if you are in the mood for a gay old time with a dollop of real heart mixed in!

Priscilla Queen of the Desert runs through November 17, 2013, at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine in downtown Seattle, through November 17th. For tickets or information visit the Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, please visit www.priscillaontour.com.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David Edward Hughes



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