By John Benson
The old theater adage about new stage productions is, “Will it play in Peoria?”
That is, will the supposed highbrow, creative theatrical shows reach the mainstream? For Broadway-winning production “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” which takes gender-bending to a whole other level, this is probably a valid question.
Well, that’s exactly where the national touring production — a disco romp that strings together disco hits to create a stirring story of acceptance and love — went to find out before beginning its cross-country run.
“We had the first preview last night and I hear the audience question things we say that are very rude and crude and fun things that we poke fun at,” said Associate Choreographer Joshua Buscher, calling from Peoria, Ill. “But they laugh along. It was very cool to see the audience, that has never seen the movie or seen the show before, experience what ‘Priscilla’ is. They get just swept up in this spectacle of the show. And last night we had a standing ovation in the middle of the finale.”
The Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott musical began roughly two decades ago as a critically-acclaimed 1994 Australian feature film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” featuring Guy Pearce. The stage production debuted down under in 2006 before traveling to the West End and ending up on Broadway in 2011 for 526 performances before closing this past summer.
As far as the storyline, basically “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” tells the uplifting tale of a trio of friends on a road trip of a lifetime. The threesome hops aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the middle of the Australian outback. And what’s the most important aspect of a road trip? Music.
This show has plenty of dance-floor hits ranging from “It’s Raining Men” and “Finally” to “I Will Survive” and “Shake Your Groove Thing.”
Considering the plethora of sing-along tunes, on the surface “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” has a decidedly “Mamma Mia!” feel.
“A lot of people compare it to ‘Mamma Mia!’ but most of them by the end of the show realize we are far ahead,” said Buscher, who was a member of the Broadway cast. “Our show takes a really cool path. It’s a marathon and a beast. There are over 500 costumes in the show and the ensemble is in 18 of the 22 numbers dancing so it’s just always something for the audience to see and revel in. Every scene tops itself.”
Talk about eye candy, the set at times boasts giant cupcakes and paint brushes, as well as gumbys and a full-size bus. However, on a deeper level, there’s a sense that “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is breaking down boundaries.
“That is what’s so good about it because yes, it’s a show about drag queens,” Buscher said. “We have one transsexual and two men are gay. The audience realizes halfway through they don’t even see them as drag queens anymore. They see them as people. The show is about acceptance. And watching last night in Peoria, you can actually see the audience relax. You take away the glitz and glam of costumes, all you have is a father going to meet his son. So it’s a celebration of love, life and friendship.”