Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reviews from Elsewhere: John Garcia of The Column (Dallas) on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, May 14, 2013

Priscilla Queen of the Desert touring companyA 6100-word review by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theatre Critic/Editor, The COLUMN (Dallas), distributed by e-mail


PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, the musical (National Tour)

Music and lyrics by Various Artists
Book Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Based on Stephan Elliott's 1994 motion picture of the same name
Dallas Summer Musicals
Reviewed performance on May 14th, 2013
Reviewed by John Garcia
Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor, THE COLUMN

On the television channel, LogoTV has the juggernaut hit, RuPaul's Drag Race. A competition reality show with over a dozen men in drag who scream, cry, fight, claw, and throw endless waves of "shade" as they powder and paint their faces to fierce beauty.

Priscilla Queen of the DesertThey transform their male bodies by shaving and using padding, hose, boobs for queens (you need to see the TV show to get that reference!), tons of face paint, wigs of defying weight and height, massive jewels, and an array of gowns and costumes that would make the late Liberace look "subdued"!

As for theater, drag is not a current trend by any means. Going all the way back to the Elizabethan era (including Shakespeare) and all forms of theatre, the female roles were played by young men because women were not allowed on stage.

In the scripts were notations of "Dr.A.G.", meaning "Dressed As Girl", made on the sides of the pages during rehearsals, and is probably where the term "drag" originated. There has always been a profusion of plays and musicals in which men intentionally strutted on stage in drag. And in the same vein, there have been women who dressed as men on stage as well.

Charles Busch and the late Charles Ludlam made drag into an art form on Off-Broadway with their plays. Both were pioneers in not just dressing up in women's clothes but also creating fully-fleshed real women. Even if it was for laughs, they were very committed to each role, playing them as a female, not just looking the part.

Harvey Fierstein wrote and starred in the history-making play, Torch Song Trilogy, a play about a drag queen and his quest for love, acceptance, and a child. I saw the original 1982 Broadway production at the Helen Hayes (called the Little Theater back then) starring Fierstein. For a gay play to be a hit was unheard of, especially since it debuted on Broadway when AIDS had reached the height of being known as The Black Plague. AIDS was taking the lives of so many who worked on Broadway.

Torch Song would play for an unheard of 1222 performances and won Tony Awards for both Best Play and Best Actor for Fierstein. Fiersteinwould earn his third Tony for writing the book for Herman's La Cage Aux Folles.

As for the most famous "female to male to drag queen" transformation, that would be the Broadway musical Victor/Victoria starring Julie Andrews.

For men as drag queens there is a plethora of musicals.

Broadway hits (and misses) that have men dolled up in drag finery include Hairspray, Taboo, Chicago, The Producers and The Rocky Horror Show. Past musicals include Sugar and, of course, the history making hit, Jerry Herman's La Cage Aux Folles.

While the majority of these musicals used drag to generate laughs, one musical uses it for dramatic, emotional power, Jonathan Larsen's rock/pop opera masterpiece, Rent and the role of the drag queen, Angel.

While it is not "full drag", even the Elton John musical Billy Elliot has a teen boy dressed as a girl, and the audience does not even blink. Instead they fall in love with the boy!

The Great White Way isn't the only place where drag musicals are beingcreated. Past Off-Broadway hits include Pageant the musical and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Currently there are two musicals on Broadway battling it out for this year's Tony Award for Best Musical that both have men in drag. In one corner is the Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein musical Kinky Boots, and at the other corner is the West End import, Matilda. Also, in this past season was yet another new musical, only this time it was a teen in drag, the cheerleader musical Bring It On.

Celluloid has flickered on the silver screen such drag hits as Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, The Birdcage, To Wong Foo, The Crying Game, Ed Wood, Mrs. Doubtfire, Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, Breakfast on Pluto, Tyler Perry's Madea, and any of John Waters' cult films starring the great Divine. Do we include Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs? Just the thought of a basket and lotion makes my skin turn cold, so let's not!

Then there is the 1994 hit film, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. This Australian comedy-drama (with musical numbers) tells the story of two drag queens and a transse*ual who take a bus across the Australian outback to their new gig. Along the way secrets are revealed, love is found, and there is even a son involved!

Click to read the rest of this 6100-word review at . . . .

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