The long-awaited Priscilla, Queen of the
Desert – The Musical opened last night at Toronto’s Princess of
Performances by leads Tony Sheldon
(Bernadette), Will Swenson (Tick) and Nick Adams (Felicia) are excellent. And
supporting performances, notably including C David Johnson (Bob), are
But it is the wardrobe and music that make
this show an absolute must-see.
This show’s closet is a drag queen’s wet
dream. There are more than 300 costumes, designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy
Gardiner. Some incredibly elaborate pieces are onstage for mere seconds, just
long enough for the eye to process. The sheer pace of makeup and costume
change seems supernatural at times. It’s really quite amazing.
The music is mostly a great selection of
gay anthems and favourites, including a healthy dose from Madonna’s catalogue.
There are a couple of unexpected but cool song choices too: Always on My Mind,
the 1972 country tune that has been covered by scores of singers, from Elvis to
Willie Nelson; and Thank God I’m a Country Boy, a huge 1974 hit for US folk
singer John Denver. These are all songs from which most people know at least
some of the words, and that’s part of the show’s charm.
I heard early on that the North American
version of Priscilla might be more about Tick’s relationship with his son, and
worried that it might turn out somehow sappy and too family-friendly. But
thankfully, that’s not the case. It’s more musical revue than soap. But the
dramatic bits, those that made audiences of gay men choke up when the film
version of Priscilla came out in 1992, are intact and as potent today as ever.
“When we started this, the author and
director of the film, a guy called Stephan Elliott, made me promise we wouldn’t
sanitize the show,” producer Garry McQuinn told Xtra earlier this fall. “I have
a personal obligation to Stephan not only to preserve the story that’s told,
but to hide nothing and to be incredibly open and direct about the characters’
Mission accomplished; this might be gayest
thing I’ve ever seen and it’s glorious.
The opening night was a veritable who’s that
of Toronto gay society. Among the honoured drag queens in the audience were Michelle DuBarry (with escort
George McIntyre), Miss Conception, Michelle Ross, Heavenly Hytes and Dusty. Bruce Vilanch was there, too, but although Xtra heard producer Bette Midler was in town, we didn't see her there. Oh yeah: there was also a smattering of familiar monkey-suited captains of industry and philanthrophy hanging around. Xtra also spotted former mayoral candidates George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone, out for their first nights as free men, as well as Officer Bubbles of viral G20 YouTubia fame.
For tickets and showtimes, visit mirvish.com.