Farhana’s Reflections: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, a Review

By Farhana Islam

From the opening act, the entire stage was drenched in color, sequins and trimmed with feathers. I am of course, speaking of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Broadway musical playing at the Palace Theater. The show was adapted from the 1994 movie about three Australian drag queens on an odyssey through the outback. This show was a splashy, feel-good production. The soundtrack was filled with funky songs of the seventies, “I Love the Nightlife” and “I Will Survive” to songs from my youth “Like A Prayer” and “True Colors” (which I had no qualms about belting out).

If you have seen the movie, you will quickly follow along. If not, the production still relates well to someone not familiar with the storyline. We are introduced to Tick, who is known in gay-friendly Sydney as the drag performer Mitzi. Tick had long since abandoned the façade of a straight lifestyle. He receives a phone call from his estranged wife, Marion who is determined to bring about a meeting between Tick and the son he has never known.

One can sense that Marion, while she still loves and cares for her husband, is not foolish to consider him romantically. She manages a casino in rural Alice Springs and because Tick is a performer, she suggests that he perform at the casino as well as have a visit with his son. Tick enlists his friends Bernadette and Felicia, a transsexual and another drag performer, by offering them somewhat of a half-truth: they have a gig in Alice Springs, and would they like to come? Tick keeps the true nature of this trip, to see his son, a secret from his companions. They certainly don’t know that their resplendent friend was married to a woman, much less is a father.

With the aid of Felicia’s wealthy mother, the trio stock up for their performance, on feather boas, designer heels, wigs and a giant bus to help them navigate through the dusty terrain. It is this very bus that is christened “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. As they journey on their path to Alice Springs, the trio encounter both dangerous and memorable locals. Some are savagely homophobic and resort to hateful graffiti on Priscilla while others lovely, like Bob whose gentle heart melts, and is melted by the elegant Bernadette.

The real essence of the musical wasn’t the costumes, though they are exquisitely designed. Nor was it the rapid-quick make-up changes, which left me puzzled at the speed. Or the elaborate scenery and meticulous backdrop, which were breathtaking. Or even Priscilla, the dynamic behemoth of a bus that barreled down the road and spun and sparkled, and was a marvel to behold.

The essence was for me, however, the story of a father keeping a promise to his son. Of traversing through the desert of self-doubt, of phobias, of hope, that was the heart of the musical. We see Tick for what he is, a gay man, a father who is struggling to come to terms with his role and how in turn that role will affect his identity. It was especially poignant when Tick has a moment to reunite with his son, Benjamin and they chant a rendition of “You Were Always on My Mind”.

I am a fan of the movie, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. With this musical production, I can say I am an ardent fan. It is everything that live entertainment should be. The music is engaging, the jokes are interactive and the tender exchanges register deeper. Perhaps it is because I could see that the actors could see how much I enjoyed the performance and they in turn, gave a better performance. Whatever the reason, I invite you to draw your own conclusion in person.

All images by © Joan Marcus, used with permission

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