Outlandish And Colorful, ‘Priscilla’ Is A Lot Of Fun

BUFFALO – If the gray skies and the blankness of snow are getting you down, there is total relief for those who are able to drive to Buffalo.

”Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” opened Tuesday at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, and rarely has a show had so many colorful, outlandish sets and costumes, or such an energetic and talented cast.

The show can be a bit controversial, although Tuesday’s audience didn’t think so. The aisles and lobby were full of people smiling and praising the show, and the ovations at the end went on and on. The book was written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, based on the successful 1990s film by the same name.

The plot concerns a drag queen, a man who earns his living by performing nightclub acts, dressed as a woman. Our hero goes by the name of Tick. He is a headliner in a club in Sydney. Once, while performing at a casino in the central Australian town of Alice Springs, which is hundreds of miles from Sydney, Tick met a kind and sympathetic woman, and now, six years late, he gets a phone call from her: their six-year-old son is wanting to meet him.

Tick enlists two of his friends, and the trio buys an aging tour bus, which they name ”Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” They set off through the Australian desert, trying to reach Alice Springs, despite the fact that the bus breaks down regularly, and the towns through which they pass are peopled by gruff, miners and herders, who aren’t sympathetic to the trio, nor to how they earn their living.

The entire cast works very hard, and except for the three principals, each member must play close to a dozen different parts, from a blue collar workman to a dancing cupcake, complete with lighted candle on top. And, everything in between, as well.

Wade McCollum was winning as Tick, capable of making us laugh until our sides hurt, then making us feel the loneliness and frustrations of his character, just as effectively.

Praise also, to Scott Willis and Bryan West as Tick’s travelling companions. From time to time, a trio known as ”the Divas” floated down from the ceiling, each time in a different outrageous costume, to serve as a singing chorus. They were Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West, and brava to each.

The orchestra, directed by Brent Frederick, kept musical work after musical work flowing past us, without a noticeable flaw of any kind. Nearly all the music was not original, but rather a collection of already successful hits from popular music, including ”I Say a Little Prayer,” ”Material Girl,” ”I Love the Nightlife,” ”Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and ”Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

Director Simon Philips managed to get all the hoopla of the original Broadway show into a form which seems to be working very well, as it is disassembled once a week and carted to a new city for the next performance. Praise too, for choreographer Ross Coleman, who had everyone moving fabulously.

Special praise to Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who designed the literally hundreds of costumes which seemed to change several times per minute, and each of them was a monstrosity of glitter and glow.

The show is entertaining and a lot of fun. If you’ve read this far, you have a good idea of whether or not you’d enjoy it. ”Priscilla” continues at Shea’s through Sunday evening.