With the world right now full of gloom, terrorism and investigations, it sure would be nice if there was somewhere we could go to just escape and feel good. Luckily for us, the Unicorn Theatre is here, providing that much-needed diversion with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It’s the musical stage version of the 1994 cult classic film, a movie that was a lot of fun. The stage version provides us even more.
Like the movie, the show is set in Australia and is about a married but estranged drag queen, Mitzi, who decides to do a show at his wife’s resort and visit the son he’s never seen. He grabs two friends, the flamboyantly annoying Felicia and Bernadette, an aging transgender woman who has a more-weary view of life. They embark on a road trip with lots of makeup.
In this musical, the songs are not original. Instead, the show is kind of a musical revue, in which well-known songs are used to provide color to the situations being depicted. The songs are all famous and worthy of karaoke – I was tapping my foot to the music almost the entire time. (The show opens with a sassy version of “It’s Raining Men.” Yes, it’s that kind of show.)
With the large ensemble cast, there is a lot going on, but a few things stand out. Damron Russel Armstrong plays several disparate characters, from a Tina Turner-esque drag queen to an aborigine outback guide to a whooping country boy. In addition, while there are almost 30 songs in the play, the show-stopper is when Vanessa Servero does a semi-stripper version of “Pop Musik.”
But one of the most interesting elements is Kansas City superstar Ron Megee. Although he is often the star of shows he is in, he takes a much more supportive role in this play. In the role of Bernadette, Megee shows a tender and subtle side of himself that we don’t often get to see on stage. It’s an impressive performance.
Of special note is the scene where Mitzi bonds with his son (Aiden DeLaHunt Villegas, who plays the son, Benji, will turn into a formidable actor as he grows up). It is a surprisingly poignant counterpoint to the rest of the show and helps to make this more than a basic musical revue.
On the whole, the play is extremely upbeat and cheerful. Sure, there are a couple of moments where prejudice rears its ugly head, but it’s nothing that friendship and pink paint can’t cure. It’s impossible to just sit quietly for the whole show while the songs flow through the theater. Indeed, at the performance I attended, the audience finally gave up on being politely quiet and were openly clapping along with the final number.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a frothy, feathery fairy tale. It won’t make you question society or the meaning of life. But this well-acted, well-sung musical will help you remember that life can be fun and uplifting. If there was ever a time when we need to be reminded of that, it’s now.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. JUST EXTENDED! Now running to July 2.
The Unicorn Theatre,
3828 Main Street Kansas City, MO 64111