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Review: While not exactly gold, 'Priscilla' glitters delightfully

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 7:21 a.m.
Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, Bryan West and Company in the number “I Will Survive” from “Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical.”
Credit: Joan Marcus
Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, Bryan West and Company in the number “I Will Survive” from “Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical.” Credit: Joan Marcus

As the opening song proclaims, “It's Raining Men” this week at the Benedum.

But the ab-fabulous men of the musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” are not your average guys.

Their work clothes feature items that include a thigh-high dress made up of tangerine and magenta flip-flops, a headdress of ostrich feathers in eight shades of pink, a demure chiffon dress or an oversize cupcake with brightly colored polka dots.

Not everyone has the bodies or the courage to wear these outrageously colorful and imaginative outfits. But they're a perfect fit for the drag queens who populate this remarkably upbeat and fast-paced musical.

The show at the Benedum Center continues through March as an offering of the PNC Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh subscription series.

A stage adaptation of the 1994 Australian film threads a diverse selection of disco and jukebox hits from other eras (“I Love the Nightlife,” “Material Girl,” “I Will Survive”) and an oldie classic or two (“A Fine Romance”) around a road-trip story of two drag queens and a transsexual on a voyage of personal discovery across the Australian hinterlands.

Brian Thomson speeds their journey with his inspired design of the bus that transports them and serves as a brightly illuminated revolving backdrop for the show.

The three leads and their stage personas — Wade McCollum's conflicted Tick/Mitzi, Bryan West's bitchy, acid-tongued Adam/Felicia and Scott Willis's assertive but tender Bernadette have complexities. McCollum's Tick makes the greatest journey. But it's Willis's Bernadette who most commands our interest and sympathies. Joe Hart's Bob also provides a strong, believable presence.

A huge ensemble of men and women shift from drab and intolerant boot-wearing townspeople to fabulous high-heeled showgirls and back again at the drop of an eyelash.

The show contains some heartwarming and uplifting moments and makes a statement or two about tolerance and acceptance — of others and oneself.

It also makes the case that if you don't or can't fit into the ordinary world, there's nothing wrong with pursuing happiness in a glittery and glamorous self-created universe where you do feel comfortable.

As you might suspect, the show's content and humor is guaranteed to offend or outrage some with its profanity and sexual references that range from slyly suggestive quips that may fly over many heads to clearly understandable words or gestures. Some of the costumes are skimpy or emphasize male or female body parts — real and artificial. While there's no nudity, the show displays plenty of well-toned bare male chests and shapely, shaven male legs. If any of that makes you uncomfortable, don't go.

For the rest of us, there's little here you haven't seen in cable fiction series or episodes of “Ru Paul's Drag Race.”

What you do see is extremely well done.

Costume designers Tim Chapel and Lizzy Gardiner excel at devising a succession of elaborate, fanciful, witty and thoroughly eye-popping costumes and inventing over-the-top wigs and towering headdresses.

What's nearly as impressive is the shape-shifting speed with which performers transform from simple street clothes to drag-star outfits complete with bright blue or green lip glitter.

It's most notable in “The Floor Show” number which incorporates four distinct changes that take place as a curtain sweeps over the performers in mere seconds.

While there's more style than substance to the proceedings, it doesn't affect your enjoyment of the show. These men are girls who just wanna have fun and who encourage you to join them.

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