Monday, October 03, 2016

Fiddlehead Theatre Company Takes Us On A Wild Ride With "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" - Through October 9th

The bus that is known as "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" has rolled into Boston and has parked itself at the Shubert Theatre through this coming Sunday, October 9th.  It is a fun and memorable ride! This compelling and flamboyant story was first released as a film in 1994 and translated to the Broadway stage in 2011. The book was written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. If a high energy disco-beat infused show can be called "sweet," then that is how I will describe Fiddlehead Theatre Company's current production.

The plot centers on Tick/Mitzi (Andrew Giordano), whose shtick as a drag queen has been using puppets to prop up a sagging act and flaccid career.  Sensing the end is near for him as a performer in Sydney, he caves into pressure from his ex-wife ("What was I thinking!") to come to Alice Spring and meet his six year-old son.  He is terrified, and recruits two other drag queens to accompany him for moral support, and to join him in performing at his ex-wife's casino in the Outback. He coerces Bernadette (Larry Daggett) out of retirement as she is mourning the recent loss of Trumpet, her most recent boy toy who died of asphyxiation while peroxiding his hair! Rounding out the roadtripping trio is Adam/Felicia (Matthew Tiberi), a self-assured and sharp-tongued rising star in the drag circuit. Bernadette and Felicia despise one another, so Mitzi is often forced to mediate between the two as they throw bitchy verbal barbs at one another during the long bus ride across the desert.

As this trio heads west toward Alice Spring, they stop along the way to perform, sometimes to the delight of the audiences in isolated mining towns, but also sometimes meeting with derision and persecution. The bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and they are rescued by crusty old mechanic by the name of Bob (Bob Knapp), who becomes a guardian angel to them while he finds himself falling for Bernadette after his mail order bride rides off into the sunset to pursue other opportunities. They all eventually arrive at their destination, and Tick/Mitzi's encounter with his young son, Benji (Cameron Levesque) is a highlight of the show.

The story is punctuated with familiar 70s and 80s disco tunes and outrageously entertaining production numbers, often with three Divas providing vocal back-up to the lip-synching drag queens. These fabulous singers are Tamala Baldwin, Onyie Nwachukwu and Lindsay Roberts. One of the best parts of this show is that many of the familiar songs are given new meaning as they are set within the context of this story.  For example, as Tick/Mitzi looks at a picture of his son, he sings "I Say A Little Prayer." As Tick and Benji bond over a bedtime story, they share a duet version of "Always On My Mind." Young Mr. Levesque holds his own vocally in this touching number. This device of giving new context to familiar songs is a powerful underpinning to the telling of this story.

Boston's own Andrew Giordano shines as Tick/Mitzi, using his powerful singing voice to sculpt a believable and vulnerable character. His chemistry with Mr. Daggett as Bernadette and Mr. Tiberi as Felicia is powerful and palpable. These three actors carry much of the show's energy and time on stage, and they rise to the occasion in their acting, singing and dancing.

Valdemar Quinones-Villanueva
Larry Daggett, Alec Varcas
"Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Shubert Theatre
Through October 9th

Director Stacey Stephens has assembled a stellar cast and supporting creative team. He also doubles as the Costume Designer, and the 300 costumes are spectacular - sometimes even breathtaking.   Some of the costumes are sumptuous and some are skimpy, allowing the chiseled bodies of the actors/dancers to be shown to full advantage. An audience member seeing this show for the first time, and without knowing what it was about, might be forgiven for thinking that they had stumbled into a bachelorette party, especially during the opening production number, "It's Raining Men." I jokingly said to a friend that I was thinking of entitling my review: "Fiddlehead Theatre Presents The Best Bronzed Buns in Boston"!

Choreographer Arthur Cuadros uses stylistic disco steps as a baseline for giving the talented performers moves that showcase their protean talents. Scenic Design is by Brian Ruggaber, Lighting by Bailey Costa, Sound by Brian McCoy, Makeup by Joe Dulude II, and Music Direction by Jose C. Simbulan.

In addition to the individuals already highlighted, the excellent cast includes Val Moranto as Marion/Shirley, Lynn Craig as Cynthia, Andrew Berlin as Jimmy/Frank, Christopher Pittman as Miss Understanding, Will Geoghegan as Young Bernadette.  Ensemble members are Stephanie Bissonnette, Valton Jackson, Tanner Lane John Paul LaPorte, Theo Lencicki, Felix Marchany, Elle-May Patterson, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, Peter Romagna, Morissa Trunzo and Alec Varcas.

"Priscilla Queen of the Desert"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Shubert Theatre
Through October 9th

On the surface, this story is about a trio of drag queens dragging themselves across the desert in a jalopy of a bus hoping to arrive safely at a distant destination.  Beneath the glitter and glamour, the real story is of a metaphysical journey on the part of several individuals struggling to discover self-acceptance, and seeking to acquire the ability to relate to others who are different from themselves. In a time when one end of our political spectrum is fomenting fear and hatred of those who are "not our kind," this story of acceptance comes as a breath of fresh air and a cup of cool water in a desert of heated political rhetoric.

This is the final week of this stirring production.  So, I advise yo to "Shake Your Groove Thing" and make your way to the lovely Shubert theatre.

Citi Center - Shubert Theatre Website



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