Costumes are the co-star in Fiddlehead’s ‘Priscilla’
BOSTON – They venture where no drag performer has dared go before – impeccably attired, and ready for adventure.
The three performers at the heart of the musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” are undaunted at the thought of venturing out onto a a landscape that may not be buying what they’re selling.
The Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s second show as a resident company at the Shubert Theatre is a funny, good-hearted romp about an indomitable trio of drag performers who venture into the Australian outback. Like its principals, the show has taken a journey, originally produced in Australia before finding its way to the West End of London and then Broadway in 2011.
Larry Daggett is just right as the ladylike, older transsexual Bernadette, lonely and feeling largely forgotten, far removed from her former glory as a member of the troupe Les Girls.
Andrew Giordano has the leading man’s looks and voice and the versatility to morph seamlessly from roles such as Edward Rutledge in “1776” or Javert in “Les Miz” to this role as Tick, the drag performer professionally known as Mitzi with a couple of secrets: a wife named Marion (Val Moranto) and a six-year-old son named Benji (Cameron Levesque). Marion is the one who summons Tick and friends to put on a show at a casino she runs in remote Alice Springs, where he might finally meet his son.
Matthew Tiberi is Felicia, nee Adam, the youngest member of the trio, a sexy, flirtatious sort whose decision to test the boundaries of what he can get away with in the outback ends in disaster.
Priscilla is the name of the bus created by Scenic Designer Brian Ruggraber, a 25-foot-long, 15-foot high vehicle transporting the drag performers across the Australian outback, a place where men and men and, just this once, men may also be women.
The bus can be turned around to give us a peek into the living quarters of the performers on the road.
Bob Knapp has a nice supporting turn as Bob, a mechanic whose wife Cynthia (Lynn Craig) is a bit too much of a live wire. He ends up fixing the Priscilla and then fixing up the heart of the comebacking Bernadette, whom Bob remembers from her earlier headlining days as a member of the troupe Les Girls.
Tamala Baldwin, Onyie Nwachukwu, and Lindsay Roberts are the Divas, trio of women apparently loosely based on The Supremes who perform many of the show’s numbers and act as a kind of Greek chorus, often overlooking the action below.
The book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott mines every possible bit of comedy from the trio’s fish-out-of-water experiences, but the plot is mainly a clothes hanger on which to hang the ever-more-spectacular production numbers and costumes: many of them skimpier than skimpy, with the bodies to wear them.
Indeed, the co-stars of the show are the more than 300 fabulous costumes that director/costume designer Stacey Stephens rolls out from an assembly line, including 11 3-foot-wide headdresses using baseball helmets and traffic cones as bases and festooned with flowers, bananas, feathers and neon balls.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping is a creation worn by Giordano/Tick, featuring 150 plastic “googly eyes”, with a matching handbag and glasses.
Producing artistic director and executive producer Meg Fofonoff obviously gave Stephens a healthy budget and he took advantage of it.
For the score, “Priscilla” simply dips into the catalogue of dance/disco hits from the 1970’s and 1980’s. “It’s Raining Men,” “I Love The Nightlife,” and “I Will Survive,” are three of the 24 musical numbers that provide the backdrop to the production numbers, which feature energetic, athletic and fast-paced choreography by Arthur Cuadros.
A couple of the more unusual inclusions are John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “MacArthur Park.” The first at least shows that Stephens can design Western wear.
As a theatrical piece, “Priscilla” is slight, but, to paraphrase a song in the show, sometimes you just want to have fun. Stephens’ direction and the production values are solid while Fiddlehead, following up on its spectacular “Show Boat,” continues to prove it belongs on the Boston theater scene and in a worthy venue such as the Shubert.
The Fiddlehead Theatre Company production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. Directed by Stacey Stephens. Scenic design by Brian Ruggaber Costume design by Stacey Stephens. Lighting design by Bailey Costa. Sound design by Brian McCoy. Choreography by Arthur Cuadros. Music director Jose C. Simbulan. Executive producer Meg Fofonoff. At the Citi Preforming Arts Center Shubert Theatre through Oct. 9. fiddleheadtheatre.com.