Camp on Wheels
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert would be worth the price of admission just for the costumes which are completely over the top wonderful. Or you might just go to see the wigs which are often rainbow hallucinatory masterpieces. Big shout out to designer Bob Kuhn. But this show isn’t just eye candy– this jukebox musical now open at the newly revived Mercury Theater is at its core a solid story of family, both biological and of choice, and is ultimately about being true to yourself. Its backbone is acceptance and love. It is a timely and worthy counterpoint to the homophobic backlash gripping our courts and statehouses. Opening night was a fan lovefest but if you happen to attend on a night with a less enthusiastic audience you are always in for a real treat because this cast owns the stage and rips it up.
If you did not see the movie on which the musical is based (and you should), you might not know that it’s an Australian Odyssey. A drag performer in Sydney is told by his estranged wife that it's time he meets his son being raised in the hinterlands, and she offers him a show at a remote Casino. He joins up with two fellow performers to trek cross country (which if you are not aware is mostly desert) in an old bus that keeps breaking down. Along the way, they encounter homophobic locals who do everything from graffiti the bus in slurs to beat up Felicia/Adam within an inch of his life– mature themes and depictions of violence warning here. But they also find sympathetic strangers and have memorable experiences in this on-the-road adventure.
Christopher Chase Carter, who directs and choreographs, has assembled a stellar ensemble, ranging from Chicago’s legendary Honey West as the aging drag superstar Bernadette to dazzling triple threat newcomer Shaun White as Felicia/Adam and Josh Houghton whose Tick/Mitzi is vulnerable and heartwarming. Eugene Dizon’s musical direction makes the instantly recognizable tunes fun and full out and he has so much to work with as the group cycles through a cast of hundreds of working-class folks/ dazzling performers/ unique personalities. There are no weak links and everyone on the stage is a star. This show will get you wanting to dance and sing all the way home.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is all that: meaningful tale and dazzling entertainment. Don’t miss it. The run is Wednesdays through Sundays from now until September 15, 2022, at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago IL. Tickets and information are available at www.mercurytheater.com