Chicago Theatre Review
Let the Mirror Balls Drop
Amidst a profusion of sequins, marabou and mylar the ensemble of this cotton candy of a musical guarantees to dazzle and delight audiences of every age, gender and persuasion. It’s just plain fun and, boy, do we ever need this dose of eye-popping, over-the-top beguilement right now. Simon Philips has directed a wildly energetic musical version of the 2011 Tony Award-winning production that was, in turn, based upon a 1994 film cult classic.
Tick, a gay performer called Mitzi, struggling to make it in Sydney, Australia’s drag scene, receives an unexpected phone call from Marion, his former wife. They’ve remained friends over the years, although he’s never met his 8-year-old son, Benjamin. Marion suggests that Tick (and some of his drag performer friends) come to remote Alice Springs to perform at her hotel/night club. While he’s there, he can finally get to know his young son, as well. So Tick invites his old friend Bernadette, a transsexual who achieved fame years ago in the lip sync revue, “Les Girls.” Bernadette has just buried her partner and is ready for a new diversion. Tick also invites his younger friend Adam, who performs under his drag name, Felicia. Off across the Outback travel three generations of female impersonators in a bus christened Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Their adventures with back woods locals, Aborigines and a broken-down vehicle form the plot of this episodic, joyous journey that stresses acceptance and friendship.
Wade McCollum easily dons powder and pantyhose, making Tick the heart of this production. Mr. McCollum has a powerful, expressive voice and an agility made for Ross Coleman’s manic disco moves. But where McCollum really excels is in the honesty he brings to his relationships, not only with his friends Bernadette and Adam, but also with his young son (nicely played by Will B.).
Having seen this production on Broadway, I didn’t think any other actor could come close to Tony Sheldon’s wonderful portrayal of tough-as-nails survivor, Bernadette; but Scott Willis truly succeeds. While protecting her fragile psyche, Willis combines this with Bernadette’s fierce devotion to her traveling companions and her love for new flame, Bob (played with sweetness and warmth by Joe Hart). Bryan West, appropriately flamboyant and a very talented singer/dancer, just doesn’t provide his Adam/Felicia with the gravitas needed to make him realistic.
Much can be said for the show’s tireless ensemble who play multiple roles in this demanding production.Three Divas (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West) who serve as the boys’ Guardian Angels, descend from the heavens periodically to comment musically and entertain in such diverse numbers as “It’s Raining Men” and the operatic, “Sempre Libera” (while Felicia lip syncs and writhes atop a giant stiletto heel mounted to the roof of the bus). The rest of the company become The Village People, Tina Turner and every species of animal found in the Australian Outback.
This brings us to the real stars of this show: Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s award-winning costumes (for both the film and the stage production). If for no other reason (and there are plenty of them) their blindingly colorful, sequin-encrusted, spandex encased, beaded and feathered creations are worth the ticket price. Dancing cupcakes, whirling human paintbrushes, towering emus and that famous frock made entirely of rubber flip-flops have to be seen to be appreciated.
But if that weren’t enough, the score of this jubilant jukebox musical is so infectious that it draws audience members onto the stage at the top of Act II for a dance-along with the cast. Filled with club hits from the ’70’s and ’80’s, it’s impossible to simply sit still while songs like “Material Girl,” “Go West,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “I Will Survive,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “MacArthur Park” flood your brain with memories of a happier, more carefree time. Only
a handful of the movie’s original tunes have found their way to the stage version, but when you’re boogieing to “Hot Stuff” and “Shake Your Groove Thing,” it’s difficult to split hairs.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by Broadway in Chicago March 19-30 at The Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago.
For tickets call 800-775-2000 or go to www.BroadwayinChicago.com
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