Gender-bending ‘Priscilla’ sashays onto Seattle stage

  • By Alice Kaderlan Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, November 7, 2013 8:49am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Although it’s a sparkling musical with great songs, sets and costumes, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” is definitely not a family show.

“Probably no kids under 13 or 14 should see it,” said Wade McCollum who plays the gender-bending lead role of Tick/Mitzi.

“There are some racy elements and a lot of swearing although the show is a lot of fun. A good place for families to start is to see the movie, which is much darker, then decide about seeing the musical.”

Some of the most explicit scenes in the show involve a character simulating a racy act with ping-pong balls and another one about an attempted hate crime. McCollum said that in almost every city where “Priscilla” has been performed, some members of the audience have never seen the 1994 movie and are negatively surprised initially.

But McCollum said it doesn’t take long for them to be captivated by the spectacle, the great tunes and what he calls the “relatability” of the characters.

“By the end of the play they find themselves caring for these people and hoping they find happiness,” he said. “That’s the beauty of theater, where you have the ability to evoke empathy in people who didn’t come for that but wind up having a more compassionate viewpoint.”

Lest it sound like “Priscilla” is a political play, McCollum is quick to point out — and critics and audiences agree — that this is a great romp. The show includes some of the biggest pop hits of the past few decades, like “It’s Raining Men,” “I Will Survive,” “Material Girl,” “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

It also has fabulous sets and Tony-Award winning costumes — 500 of them — which have been described as “oceans of sequins and geysers of feathers.” It also has a first-rate cast that plays up the campiness while keeping the characters real.

In the midst of its over-the-top glitz and glam, “Priscilla” has a touching human story at its core that has resonated with audiences around the country.

Tick (McCollum) and his cohorts have been invited by Tick’s ex-wife to perform their drag act at her resort. As they drive an outrageously colorful bus from Sydney to Alice Springs, Australia, they meet an array of locals, some of whom aren’t especially receptive to their lifestyle.

Tick has a powerful personal reason for wanting to make the trip: to see the 8-year old son he barely knows.

“This man is very complicated,” McCollum said. “There is this rich inner life that he’s struggling with — how to allow all of his lives not to be mutually exclusive. By the end of play he is able to feel accepted by his son, who doesn’t care if his father’s a drag queen. He just wants a dad.”

One of the main characters in the show is Priscilla herself, the bus of many colors. Continually re-costumed in dazzling lighting effects, it’s a wondrous creation that gives this high-octane drag show extra oomph.

The show opens Nov. 12 and continue through Nov. 17.

Tickets are $30 to $85 and available at stgpresents.org. The Paramount Theatre is at 911 Pine St., Seattle.

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