Dancing Divas

Priscilla Queen of the Desert shows more style than substance

Priscilla Queen of the Desert shows more style than substance

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Wade McCollum, Bryan West and Scott Willis star in the first national tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo by Joan Marcus
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Wade McCollum does justice to the bizarre lyrics of MacArthur Park. Photo by Joan Marcus
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

For the next two weeks, Dallas Summer Musicals hosts a nightly feel-good dance party with Priscilla Queen of the Desert. This catchy, colorful show adapted from the campy 1994 movie feels more like Sunday karaoke night at The Goat than the national tour of a Broadway musical.

This fish-out-of-water story follows three drag queens on a road trip across the Australian outback, in order for “Mitzi” (Wade McCollum) to meet his 6-year-old son. Priscilla explores themes of identity, prejudice and friendship. But there is more style than substance in this outrageous show.

 From topiary wigs to a hot pink and orange dress made of flip-flops to an abundance of sequins and glitter, nothing exceeds like excess.

Designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who won an Oscar for the film, were hired to costume the musical, and the aesthetic is sugar-rush couture. From topiary wigs to a hot pink and orange dress made of flip-flops to an abundance of sequins and glitter, nothing exceeds like excess.

The soundtrack follows the same rule, with a hodgepodge of singalong favorites, including  “Material Girl,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “I Will Survive.” In the first act, the queens of this show soar. This guilty-pleasure show had my toes tapping and the man to my right gurgling along to “I Say a Little Prayer.” But returning to Priscilla Queen of the Desert after intermission is like trying to swallow your bubble gum when its lost its flavor.

The second act opens with the dud “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” during which handpicked audience members dance around with the cast. The show doesn’t revive until Chelsea Zeno begins spewing ping-pong balls from her nether regions (trust me, it’s more impressive than it sounds) while she sings “Pop Muzik.” Later McCollum finally makes sense of the lyrics to “MacArthur Park.”

The fluffy nature of the show shifts the heavy lifting to the performers, particularly the leads. Protagonists McCollum, Scott Willis and Bryan West do stellar turns with equal parts sass and sincerity. Dallas audiences will recognize McCollum from his stunning performance as the emcee in Dallas Theater Center’s 2011 production of Cabaret.

Similar to FELA!, the musical currently inhabiting the Winspear Opera House, Priscilla chooses to shy away from dealing with the tough issues it dances around. The rural towns the queens visit on their road trip are filled with homophobic bigots, but they dust off the subject matter like last night’s glitter. Priscilla Queen of the Dessert seems to prove that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”