Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Downtown Cabaret Theatre
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Crowns and Zander's review of Fun Home

Jason Parry, Tim Rinaldi (aloft), Lance Anthony
and Cast

Photo by Kevin McNair
Downtown Cabaret Theatre is currently presenting a festive and high-spirited production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The musical is based on the 1994 film, which follows three drag performers traveling in a bus across Australia, showing what happens to them along the way. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott's book follows the original screenplay very closely; all the great lines and moments from the film are all here in the stage adaptation. Even if the movie is ultimately better than the musical, Downtown Cabaret Theatre has managed to the heart of the show, in addition to all the glitter and sequins.

What this production definitely has going for it is a trio of wonderful performers in the three leading roles. However, the real showstopper of any staging of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has got to be the extravagant and fabulous costumes, which designer Jessica Camarero has most certainly provided. These eye-popping outfits and wigs fit perfectly with the score's collection of disco hits. The cast, on the whole, is pretty splendid, providing an evening of dazzling fun.

Director Christy McIntosh-Newsom has staged the musical on an attractive and highly functional set, courtesy of William Russell Stark, which has been expertly lit by lighting designer Phill Hill. McIntosh-Newsom keeps the pacing bright, with a welcome and talented assist from choreographer Emily Frangipane. There is a great deal of lip-syncing done by the drag performers, and the director has placed three female divas (thrillingly sung by Jessica Paige Braun, Leondra Smith-West, and Alexis Willoughby) on an upper level, and they provide the vocals that the actors are lip-syncing to onstage below them. Starting off with the wild "It's Raining Men," the audience is treated to a good time almost immediately.

This is not to say that the three leading actors don't do plenty of their own singing in the show, for they do. In the central role of Tick/Mitzi, Jason Parry is absolutely ideal, shining gorgeously under the spotlight, but also doing well as a character who is facing a major change in his life. Parry's first song is an introspective "I Say a Little Prayer," and this actor also excels in a hilarious rendition of "MacArthur Park" in the second act, a wickedly staged number that must be seen to be believed. In addition, he partners terrifically with his two costars.

Playing Adam/Felicia, Tim Rinaldi is, to quote one of his best numbers in the show, "Hot Stuff," and he carries the right attitude and poise to be completely believable as a drag artist of the highest rank. He also has a wild time performing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and, like Jason Parry, he looks sensational in the seemingly endless array of gowns and wigs.

Acting as sort of the mother hen of the trio, Lance Anthony is both touching and divine as Bernadette, especially in the scenes with the sympathetic Eric Dino, as the character Bob, whom the trio meets along their cross-country journey. Still, the best moments are when the three leads perform together, in such numbers as "True Colors," "Color My World," and "Shake Your Groove Thing."

The sizzling offstage band, led by musical director Eli Newsom, definitely adds to the show's pulsating energy, as well.

The supporting cast has moments to sparkle. As drag performer Miss Understood, Bobby Henry is absolute dynamite, delivering a strong "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Also impressive is Sean Davis, who looks great in the full company numbers, but really makes his mark in a flashback scene as Young Bernadette, touchingly lip-syncing to the tune, "A Fine Romance." Everyone in the cast basks in the glorious charge of this show, propelled by such danceable anthems as "Boogie Wonderland" and "Finally," which, fittingly, is the finale song in the show.

However, there is a moment just before the closing number that stands out. Looking stunning, from head to toe, the threesome of Jason Parry, Tim Rinaldi, and Lance Anthony bond together to the song "We Belong," and it's easy to see the heartfelt relationship among them, which shines brighter than any of the spectacularly designed costumes. Downtown Cabaret Theatre has done a super job with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and it is worth reveling in.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, through May 30, 2018, at Downtown Cabaret Theatre, 263 Golden Hill St #3, Bridgeport CT. For tickets and information, please visit or call the box office at 203-576-1636.

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