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'Priscilla' takes stage in Pittsburgh premiere

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09

Priscilla

photo by Joan Marcus

Cast members of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" perform "I Will Survive." The musical will perform at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh March 5-10.

The Benedum Center will soon be filled with dancing koalas, Elvis impersonators, giant cupcakes and more when "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" takes the stage.

The Tony award-winning musical, based on the 1994 movie "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," will make its Pittsburgh debut March 5-10. The musical premiered in Sydney, Australia in 2006, eventually making its way to Broadway in 2011.

The story follows two drag queens: Tick, also known as Mitzi Del Bra, and Adam, also known as Felicia Jollygoodfellow, along with their transgender friend Bernadette Bassenger

When Tick receives an offer to take his drag show to a small venue in the Australian outback, he jumps at the chance. The trip will not only be a chance for him to perform, but it will also be a chance to reunite with his long-estranged son, Benjamin. Tick convinces Felicia and Bernadette to take the journey with him, and together the performers trek through the Australian outback on their huge pink bus named “Priscilla.” Along the way, they encounter a colorful cast of characters, as well as communities, who are not so tolerant of Tick and his fellow drag queens.

The musical score for the show is filled with popular disco songs, including “I Will Survive,” “Material Girl,” “It’s Raining Men” and “Shake your Groove Thing.” 

Cast member Ralph Meitzler, a swing ensemble member, dance captain, fight captain and understudy for Tick, calls the show an “incredible spectacle” that combines popular songs, elaborate costumes and special effects. 

“I think the great thing about this musical is that it’s extremely well-rounded,” said Meitzler in a phone interview Friday. “It’s so much fun. The audience has a blast, and they know all the songs.”

Much of the “spectacle” comes from the Tony-award winning costumes. According to Meitzler, some of the wardrobe choices include eight foot-wide cupcake dresses, huge skirts with streamers made to look like paintbrushes, a feathered black swan costume for a man who dances en pointe, as well as cockatoo, koala and kangaroo-inspired ensembles.

“The hard part about it is they’re so elaborate, the audience doesn’t get the full effect,” Meitzler said. “I wish we could take still photos and just press pause so the audience could see…the detail and the magnitude of these costumes.”

The costumes are part of what junior musical theater major Tray “Trayoncè” Wright enjoyed when he saw the show performed on Broadway.

“It’s so amazing,” said Wright in an interview in Lawrence Hall on Friday.  “Everything [was] gay, glittering, bright and sparkling.”

Sophomore dance major Alyssa Taglia, who also saw the show on Broadway, appreciated the costumes too.

“They’re very glamorous and rhinestoned,” said Taglia in an interview in Lawrence Hall on Saturday.

Taglia hopes that the tour includes the costumes and props used in the Broadway production, “so the audience gets the full effect that they would on Broadway.”

Underneath the costumes and special effects, Meitzler said he believes that what makes this show a production to see is its heart. 

“A lot of musicals throw out all of this stuff…and then nobody really cares about the story,” Meitzeler said.  “At the heart of it, [Priscilla, Queen of the Desert] really is a great story.”

Wright enjoyed the musical for its party atmosphere and music.

“The music is so fierce, it’s really disco and really fun,” Wright said.  “Going to see Priscilla is like going to a party.”

According to the Cultural Trust press release, students who wish to buy tickets can purchase them through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust box office at 655 Penn Ave., over the phone by calling (412) 456-4800, or online at www.trustarts.org.

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