‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ Review ~ Clear Space Theatre


Stomping its high heels through Rehoboth Beach in fabulous fashion, and leaving a trail of glitter and feathers in its glorious wake, Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical is the perfect piece of theatrical summer fare, one that manages to both entertain and enlighten with its musical pastiche of pop songs and some pristinely-crafted performances.  As put on by the Clear Space Theatre Company in Rehoboth Beach, it’s a thrilling component of that company’s trifecta this season (which also includes ‘Chicago’ and ‘Shrek’).

The source movie from 1994 is a piece of gay history, and the musical is rightly reverential. Anyone who loved the movie is certain to love the musical (and if you’re looking for a dose of the original motion picture soundtrack, show up early to soak it all in). Essentially a road trip movie (one of the most difficult to transition into musical form), Priscilla somehow defies the odds and succeeds, largely due to its ingenious bus construct and the possibilities such construction affords. Far more than that, however, is the collection of impressive talent on hand to deliver the music and the message.

Awkwardly and endearingly leading the drag queen charge is Jeff Kringer as Tick/Mitzi. Bearing the burden of the centerpiece impetus of the whole show, he must maintain a steadfast steadiness, and still bring home the heart of the winding tale. He manages to do both in a role that Hugo Weaving made so indelible. A tough act to follow, but Mr. Kringer manages to do so with winning and earnest charm.

Bringing a fiery foil to the evening in a fiercely flamboyant turn as Felicia/Adam, Connor Cook struts some serious attitude and gives some lovely vocal prowess to a scene-stealing role. He also manages to suss out some subtle levels of depth and vulnerability to the character, even if seems to be all about those gams.

Simultaneously grounding and elevating the work is the spellbinding performance of Christopher Peterson as Bernadette. In a role that veers from supreme pathos to gut-busting hilarity, Mr. Peterson lends it the sophisticated gravitas and skill to make the over-the-top character wholly relatable and touching. There is a dignity and nobility to Peterson’s expert work here as well, something that is essential to making the entire evening work.

The main trio shines thanks in large part to the ensemble of powerhouse performers, who turn this performance of Priscilla into a thing of exuberance, grace, excitement, and virtuosity. They even manage to fit in a spectacular aerialist bit that drops a breathtaking bit of Cirque de Soleil through the ceiling of the theater (courtesy of the lithe and limber Troy Lingelbach). Somehow it all works, and the patchwork of pop tunes eventually coalesces into a message of love and acceptance, of overcoming self-doubt, and of trusting in friendships new and old. That’s a story that never gets old, and it transcends the mesmerizing power of a man in a frock.

{Priscilla: Queen of the Desert runs through September 3, 2016 at the Circle Space Theatre.}

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