Two drag queens, a transsexual and a whopping 2,800 kilometres to travel across the Australian Outback. How to conquer the expanse of desert roads? The answer is obvious: a glittering fuchsia tour bus, of course. With that, you have the bare bones of the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, playing its pre-Broadway run in Toronto this month.
For fashionistas with a heart for the fantastical, the award-winning costumes–500 in all–do not disappoint. Since winning the 1994 best costumes Oscar for the original film The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner recently took the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Costume Design (the theatre world’s equivalent to the gold guy). From the glitter- and chiffon-laden gowns to the beyond-wide bellbottoms (to a notably creative frock made of neon flip flops), the costumes all rank high on the glamour scale, while still leaving flexibility for spontaneous dance outbreaks and tear-away outfit changes.
To keep pace with the eye-grabbing costumes, a steady stream of dance-worthy songs and witty remarks advance the story of the three loud-and-proud friends (played by Tony award nominee Will Swenson, Olivier award nominee Tony Sheldon and Nick Adams). Disco anthems (“Shake Your Groove Thing,” “Boogie Wonderland”) and Madonna classics (“Material Girl,” “Like a Virgin”) keep the playlist balanced between the peppy and the harder-hitting ballads with messages about acceptance (“True Colours,” “We Belong”). One of the show’s greatest strengths–awesome costumes aside–is in its ability to target issues of discrimination and homophobia while still maintaining a light-hearted touch, courtesy of a script loaded with clever wit.
Off-stage, the cast remains committed to the cause: They’ve teamed up with It Gets Better, an online video channel meant to spread hope in the LGBT community. In their video, the performers share stories about how they overcame bullying in their own lives and offer encouragement to those still suffering–proving that Priscilla has as much heart as it does glitter and confetti.