Chicago Theatre Review
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Pride Films and Plays
Amidst a profusion of sequins, metallic fabric and fluffy marabou the entire ensemble of this mirror ball of a musical dazzles and delights audiences of every age, gender and persuasion. It’s just plain fun, something we all could use right about now, with a positive message of love. David Zak and Derek Van Barham, with some show-stopping, gyrating choreography by Jon Martinez, have co-directed a wildly energetic musical version of the 2011 Tony Award-winning production that was, in turn, based upon the 1994 cult film classic.
Tick, a gay performer called Mitzi, struggling to make it in Sydney, Australia’s drag club scene, receives an unexpected phone call from Marion, his former wife. They’ve remained friends over the years, although he’s never met his young son, Benji. Marion suggests that Tick (and some of his drag performer friends) travel across the Outback to remote Alice Springs to perform at her hotel/night club. While he’s there, he could 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 young lover and is ready for a new chapter in her life. 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 rickety old bus christened Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Their adventures with back woods locals and Aborigines, while coping with their broken-down vehicle, form the plot of this episodic, joyous journey that stresses acceptance and friendship.
Award-winning actor and Chicago celebrity favorite Honey West headlines this production. She turns in a wonderfully soulful star turn portrayal of Bernadette, a tough-as-nails survivor. While protecting her fragile psyche, Ms. West combines her own style, grace and accomplished vocal prowess with Bernadette’s fierce devotion to her two traveling companions and her love for new flame, Bob (played with sweetness and warmth by John Cardone).
If Honey West’s Bernadette provides the soul for this show, Jordan Phelps comfortably dons powder and pantyhose, making Tick the heart of this production. Mr. Phelps has a beautiful, powerfully expressive voice and an agility made for Jon Martinez’s manic disco moves. But where Phelps really excels is in the honesty he brings to the role, especially in his relationships, not only with his friends Bernadette and Adam, but also with his young son (nicely played and sung by Asher Ramaly.).
Luke Meierdiercks, a handsome young actor who constantly surprises in every role he plays, is appropriately flamboyant as Adam. A terrifically talented actor/singer/dancer, Luke provides his character, who’s mostly at home in his drag persona of Felicia, with the gravitas necessary to make him a real person in this fairy tale fantasy.
Much can be said for this production’s tireless ensemble, all of whom play multiple roles throughout this demanding production.Three Divas (Tuesdai B. Perry, Rebecca Coleman and, especially, the remarkable Jill Sesso) who serve as the boys’ Guardian Angels, primarily inhabit the balcony of Jeremy Hollis’ inventive, multilevel set. At times they descend from the heavens 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 the roof of the bus). The rest of the company become The Village People, Tina Turner and other characters in the Sydney drag club and the Australian Outback.
This brings us to three of the real stars of this show. John Nasca’s jaw-dropping costumes surpass even this talented designer’s own past glories. Mr. Nasca’s blindingly colorful, sequin-encrusted, spandex encased, beaded and feathered creations are worth the ticket price alone and have to be seen to be appreciated. The second star of this production is G. Max Maxin’s stunning, tongue-in-cheek, animated video design. It complements Hollis’ scenic work with movable artistry that takes audiences into the dressing room, behind the wheel of the bus and even on top of Ayres Rock. The third star of this show is musical director Robert Ollis and his five member disco band, tucked away into the far corner of the room. They may be out of sight but they’re always at the forefront of this production.
But, if that weren’t enough, the score of this jubilant jukebox musical is so unbelievably infectious that it constantly draws the audience in with its pulsating disco beat. Filled with club hits from the ’70’s and ’80’s, it’s impossible to 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 our 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,” there’s no reason to split hairs. This magical, musical story of friendship and family that professes to all, “We Belong,” proclaims a love for all with “True Colors.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 12-February 12 by Pride Films & Plays at the new Pride Arts Center—The Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-737-0984 or by going to www.pridefilmsandplays.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.