'Priscilla' is a Campy Romp in the Outback

Three drag queens embark on a journey of self-discovery in Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s production of “Priscilla, the Queen of the Desert,” closing this weekend at the Broward Center. Credit: Rodrigo Balfanz.

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate the last few days of pride month and you’re not headed to New York City for Stonewall, you can find plenty of campy, gay fun at the Broward Center, where Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” runs through Sunday.

The 2011 Broadway adaptation of Stephan Elliot’s 1994 indie film is the story of three Sydney drag queens who embark on a journey of self-discovery aboard a pink bus (dubbed “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) for a performance in the heart of Australia’s rugged outback.  

Mitzi (George Pellegrino), whose real nickname is “Tick,” accepts the invitation from his ex-wife and resort manager Marion (Shelley Keelor) in order to finally meet his 8-year-old son, a Benji (Braydon Labgold-Carroll). He enlists his friends Bernadette (Michael Ursua), who has finally undergone the “chop,” and ditzy Felicia/Adam (Kyle Laing) to join him on the trek.

Along the way, they confront their personal demons, roughneck ranchers and bewildered Aboriginals, accompanied by a soulful Greek chorus of divas (Carla Bordonada, Nyomi Braaf and Rebeca Diaz) and a high-heeled chorus of dancing paintbrushes, cupcakes, psychedelic Gumby dolls and more. All perform to a toe-tapping musical score heavy on ‘70s disco hits and ‘80s gay anthems and backed up by music director Anthony Campisi and a six piece band. There’s even an obligatory disco ball hanging from the ceiling of the Amaturo Theater.

Under the direction of Patrick Fitzwater, who doubles as choreographer, the cast offers uniformly energetic and simultaneously sincere performances, but let’s be honest, the real stars of the show are the outrageous costumes and flamboyant production numbers.  

Oh, and don’t forget that bus! We’ve heard she’s a real diva.

If you remember the movie, all the classic looks are there—the flip flop dress and rubber wigs, colorful jumpsuits and flowered helmets, 3-foot-tall ostrich headpieces and even Bernadette’s scary slinking lizard. For the Broadway production, Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardner took home a Tony Award with the addition of the aforementioned paintbrushes, cupcakes and more, all adorned in lots and lots of sequins and lamé. The rented costumes used in this production are all replicas of those designs. A team of expert backstage dressers, led by costume supervisor Rick Peña, had the most challenging roles of all, keeping dozens of quick changes under control. (The show requires more than 600 costumes. 

Unfortunately, the glitz and glamour often overwhelm much of the character development that was a centerpiece of the film, but that’s OK for a piece of feel-good theatrical fluff like “Priscilla.” The lessons of self-love and acceptance are never lost and, given the current state of public discourse in this country, a much-needed escape from the inescapable poison on TV.

Only a few performances remain, so don’t miss this fun and entertaining show. Get your tickets today and don’t forget to wear your dancing shoes.

Slow Burn Theatre Co. presents “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert the Musical” through Sunday, June 30 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $47 at BrowardCenter.org.