Pictured: Francisco Javier Villegas, DaShawn Young, and Ron Megee. Photo by Manon Halliburton.
By Marissa Carter
Based on the 1994 movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert about three friends traveling through the Australian Outback in an old bus on a journey of love and hope, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL was adapted for the stage in 2006 by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott.
Our story begins when Tick/Mitzi (Francisco Javier Villegas), an Australian drag queen, decides it is time to meet his estranged son. He is nervous about the meeting, and turns to two of his friends, fellow drag performer Adam/Felicia (Dashawn Young) and Bernadette (Ron Megee), a trans woman and retired “female impersonator,” to accompany him under the pretense of performing at the casino in Alice Springs.
Each character begins the journey for their own internal reasons, and as the three passengers board the bus, Tick is noticeably distant, while the tension between Adam and Bernadette is palpable. Along the way, however, the three individuals go from friends to family as they meet new people, combat bigotry and hatred, and learn how to truly appreciate themselves and others.
A show of this caliber requires a huge amount of commitment and talent, so it was a little worrisome when the performers got off to a rocky start. The cast in the opening scenes struggled with what appeared to be opening night jitters. Fortunately, they found their comfort zone fast and by the time the main plot was introduced everything was flowing along smoothly. Though only a few of the cast members ever managed to use a believable Aussie dialect, the performances were spectacular, and it was easy to forgive and forget.
Villegas, Megee and Young bring some must-see performances that are in perfect contrast to each other, and exactly what the show calls for. Villegas imbues Tick/Mitzi with hopeful friendliness and just enough insecurity to make the storyline convincing. Megee plays a lovely Bernadette: a trans woman who is damaged by a hard life, yet so classy, poised, compassionate and strong that she commands immediate admiration and respect. Young is absolutely gorgeous as Adam/Felicia. He takes full command of the character and delivers a performance overflowing with sensuality, grace, and brazen playfulness.
Complementing the main trio is a fun company of characters including the roadside hero and romantic interest Bob (Marc Liby), the fiery and hilarious Cynthia (Vanessa Severo), sympathetic and wise Marion (Laura Jacobs), and sweet Benji (Aiden DeLaHunt-Villegas). Damron Russel Armstrong, pulling double duty as Miss Understanding and Jimmy, is equally strong in both roles.
This show has the most versatile ensemble I have ever had the pleasure to watch. They are in and out of so many characters and perform so many different types of music that this production alone could constitute a full acting resume. Tying everything together are the three divas, all of whom show impressive range and strength while giving killer performances of some difficult, well-known songs such as ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Venus’, and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’
Not only does the entire cast perform well, but they look amazing doing it. Costume Designers Jon Fulton Adams and Wayne Potter deliver plenty of outrageous and impressive costumes, with no shortage of feathers and sequins. The headpieces and wigs from Wig Designer Ryan Webster are works of art. Gary Mosby’s set is so simple and well-used that it enhances the show while leaving the spotlight entirely for the cast themselves.
All in all, PRISCILLA is a fun journey and a delightful show to watch. It’s heartwarming, upbeat and happy, with plenty of tender moments and just enough anger and triumph to make it endearing.
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL is playing through June 25 on Unicorn Theatre’s Levin Stage. For more information visit unicorntheatre.org.