Picture this: Men decked out like giant cupcakes are cavorting onstage, each carrying a clear umbrella altered to look like a jellyfish. Given that scene, you can assume either that youve stumbled into the worlds most expensive, crazily creative childrens theater production or that youve scored tickets to Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical.
Starting Tuesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, its the latter.
Based on the 1994 Australian cult classic movie, the 2006 stage musical made its way from Sydney to London to Broadway before launching the tour that brings it to Miami. The show is about two drag queens and a transsexual widow who travel aboard a bus they dub Priscilla, journeying from Sydney through the rugged Outback to remote Alice Springs. The reasons are professional, personal and poignant.
But really? Priscilla Queen of the Desert is all about its fashion-show array of stunning costumes.
Designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who won an Oscar and then a Tony Award for their work, the 500 or so outfits worn in the musical have led costume director Michelle Harrison to dub the show La Cage aux Folles on steroids.
This show is massive, Harrison says. The costumes take up an entire 53-foot trailer. The wardrobe travels in gondolas [rolling closets], and normally a show has 8 to 20 of them. This one has 40, not including the ones that contain the wigs.
Getting the three lead actors and their fellow performers into and out of those costumes isnt routine either. Several costume supervisors travel with the show, but local union dressers are hired in each city on the tour. For a short run like Miamis Tuesday-through-Sunday gig, the locals barely have time to get used to the frenzied pace of the costume changes before Priscilla moves on. To make sure all goes smoothly, the stars meet with their dressers before the show to explain each change, in order.
Our tech rehearsals were a nightmare, overwhelming to everyone, including the heads of wardrobe, says Scott Willis, who plays the transsexual Bernadette. I talk through absolutely everything, which takes at least a half hour. But I tell them, Just breathe. The show goes on, no matter what. Everything that can go wrong has already happened. Sometimes, you just finish putting something on during a scene.
Bernadette is Willis first female character. Hes a dancer and experienced tour performer (his first was 42nd Street in 1985), but the role he has played most often is the polar opposite of his Priscilla character: Santa Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Santas a different kind of drag more hair and more padding, he says, laughing.
Because Bernadette is a transsexual, Willis is always dressed in womens clothing onstage. But thats not the case for his costars, Wade McCollum and Bryan West.
McCollum plays Anthony Tick Belrose, a guy who performs as Mitzi in a Sydney club. Hes married but separated, and its a call from his wife Marion that launches the journey to Alice Springs. West plays Adam Whitely, youngest of the trio, whose drag persona Felicia Jollygoodfellow is deliberately, provocatively outrageous. Both change from female to male to female costumes repeatedly during the show. So offstage, theyre surrounded by dressers and people wielding makeup remover wipes or lipstick, eye shadow and the like. Those dressers? Theyre good.