Entertainment » Theatre

’Priscilla’ Tours - Glitter And Be (Very) Gay

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 26, 2013

"Priscilla Queen of the Desert," the joyous drag queen musical, has packed up its glitter for a nationwide tour. EDGE caught up with the man in the pit, musical director Brent Frederick, five towns out in Schenectady, New York, who said so far the Adventures of Mitzi, Bernadette and Felicia have been, what else... Fabulous!

Frederick was the rehearsal pianist for the Broadway run of "Priscilla" and said only one set piece was cut for the tour, but everything else is in place including 500 costumes!

"They are a separate character. The cupcake costumes for 'Macarthur's Park' alone are amazing, not to mention the Sydney Opera House appearing. There are nine trailers rolling -- a bear for the crew to load in and out. When we were on Broadway some of us wondered how they would do it. It had to be re-engineered in certain ways, but the producers involved kept everything largely the way it was in New York," Frederick said.

Capturing the Sidney drag scene

The show rolls into the Academy of Music in Philly this week on a tour that takes it to 13 cities between now and November. What’s especially exciting for the 31-year old conductor, who grew up near Reading PA, is starting the tour in this Philly landmark. "Playing this house is certainly one of the highlights of the tour for me," he said.

Frederick is leading those disco-sonic orchestrations with just nine "killer" musicians in the pit.

"We have the same orchestration as in New York. The songs were brilliantly chosen. The characters have lip-sync scenes, but singing in the show is live. Our music supervisor, Spud, is Australian and he was the ’go to guy’ in the Sydney drag scene in the 90s. So everything is done with an eye to the authenticity of the style of music on the drag scene there," Frederick explained.

Different from previous versions

The Broadway show is musically different from its previous incarnations. "The movie was heavily ABBA, but because of "’Mamma Mia,’ the musical couldn’t go that way. In London, they had music that is not as well known here. Here we’ve got the Weather Girls, Madonna, Donna Summer, Pat Benatar, something for everybody," he assures. Including the Verdi aria that pops up while Felicia is on top of the bus careening down Australia’s Outback.

"And of course we have the flying Divas hitting those high Cs in fabulous gowns. If you’ve had a bad day, it’s like getting in a musical rocket, the songs support the story and fit the characters," Frederick said.

As in the film, the story centers on Australian drag star Mitzi Mitosis - whose real name is Anthony "Tick" Belrose - who is asked by his ex-wife to come and perform at a resort she runs. Her ulterior motives is that their son, now 8, wants to meet his father. Mitzi corrals two other drag performers - Bernadette and Felicia - to join him and the three set out in a "budget Barbie campervan" (nicknamed "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") on a road trip across the Outback.

"The movie is darker," Frederick admits, "but the musical doesn’t back off the message even if there’s glitter on everything. It’s beautiful, reviewers have not always been kind to the show, because they just see it as a sugar high, or disco superficial. The songs support the story and fit the characters."

About acceptance

At its heart, "Priscilla" is a story of acceptance, both within a family and in the world. "They go into this backwoods bar and win over these angry lesbians. It erupts into a big party, but when they go outside, their bus has been vandalized with anti-gay epithets. At that point, they go into Cindi Lauper’s anthem, "True Colors."

"It sounds like it could be corny, but it’s such a beautiful moment... where the queens express their realization that they know that someone out there that want to knock them down, and then the song brings them back up to their mission."

One question that Frederick was curious about was how the show would play outside of New York. "But, this show seems to cross all orientations and boundaries, and audiences are a healthy mix of gay and straight audiences of all ages. Everyone can appreciate the show for something different and opening minds without getting preachy. On a basic level audiences are just having a great time and they react to the characters striving for love and acceptance. Being one of the few straight guys around this show, it’s great to be a part of that energy."

Frederick was effusive about the touring cast, which includes Wade McCollum as Tick/Mitzi, Scott Willis as Bernadette and Bryan West as Adam/Felicia.

"You fall in love with them every night. They are so stunning, and it’s a giant party atmosphere. Between the fast-forward costume changes and flying Divas, how could you not love it?"

"Priscilla Queen Of The Desert" begins its national Feb. 26 through Mar. 3, 2013 at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia. For more information go to The Kimmel Center website. Other cities on its national tour are Pittsburgh, Chicago, Miami, Tampa Bay, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Durham, NC, Austin, TX, Dallas, Los Angeles, Denver,Houston, San Diego and Seattle. For dates and more information, visit the tour’s website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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