Yaass Qween! “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”

Presented by Fiddlehead Theatre Company and CITI Performing Arts Center
Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Directed by Stacey Stephens
Music directed by Jose C. Simbulan
Choreography by Arthur Cuadros

September 29-October 9, 2016
Shubert Theatre
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel and Noelani Kamelamela

(Boston, MA)For a show that kicks and sparkles, look no further than Fiddlehead’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This is the sexiest, fleshiest show Boston will see this year. The make dance ensemble leaves little to the imagination while breaking it down on the dance floor. The leads whisk us over the rainbow to Oz. Prepare yourselves for a good time and plenty of audience participation.  

Taking the Broadway musical and fitting it into the Shubert is no small task, after all, most of the leads are quite tall.  Although this musical is sparkly and groovy, devout fans of the movie shouldn’t expect a rehash. Instead, it’s a peppier if somewhat more truncated version of the movie, but this local company took on this jewel with heart and pizzazz.  With performers from Broadway and the Boston area, this Mother/Maiden/Crone quest with a drag queen twist makes a pleasant two weekend stay. 

The orchestra and actors ably performed arrangements that are a delightful mash-up of popular music from the gay zeitgeist of the 1980s, a mixture of music from the 1960s forward which celebrates femininity and the steady rhythms of danceable music. Different sets onstage as well as lighting tricks create multiple levels of performance filled by preternaturally cheerful dancers and singers–quite attractive, too.  The choreography was appropriately filled with vogue, kicklines, disco moves, burlesque and of course, delightful costumes.  

Most costumes were functional while still being sparkly and one may easily lose track of the number of costume changes by even the second number. Fans in love with the movie and the Broadway production must temper their expectations. This show does well for a traveling production but the costume and wig design cannot compare to the originals. The Karl Lagerfeld meets “Black Swan” funeral, regardless of time or place is simply fabulous. It’s too bad that it would have been inappropriate for those costumes to be used more than once.

Actor Larry Daggett is an emotionally powerful revelation as Bernadette, the oldest transexual star of the small trio that takes to the desert rounded out by young Adam (Matthew Tiberi) and middle aged Tick (Andrew Giordano).  Tiberi delivers and engrossing performance as the selfish but naive Mitzi/Adam. Giordano sings excellently but his acting is far too serious for this production. It’s as if he’s playing in Hamlet while the rest of the cast is working their butts off in Priscilla

“Pop Muzik” is a great song but the bit with the ping pong balls is racist and outdated. Lynn Craig was recently originated a character in Lazarus at the New York Theatre Workshop for Heaven’s sake! No one should have to pander to make a living. David Bowie would be angry. Craig and every woman playing this role deserves better. This scene requires rewrites before being performed.

Show business is always more than what the audience sees, and lighting as well as adventurous blocking and scrim occasionally puts the audience backstage though even at its best Priscilla can only scratch the surface of what it meant to be gay or transexual at a time and in a place where it was uncomfortable at the very least and deadly at the worst.  For the most uncomfortable and the most loving moments, the production appropriately paused all of the glitz and glamour and traded it in for vulnerability.

Formerly at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, Fiddlehead has transitioned to the Shubert for the 2016-2017 season.  They will be back at the Shubert in May with Carnival!

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