Playwrights: Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
At: Morton College Campus ( Building A ), 3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero. Tickets: 708-656-1800 or
JPACTheatre.com; $20. Runs through: Sep. 30
Peek under the hood of PriscillaQueen of the Desert: The Musical, and you'll find a parred down story with familiar juke-box hits, all designed not to pull focus away from Priscilla's crown jewel: spectacle. We could care less about the content of those pop songs, or how the traveling troupe gets from point A to point B, but there had better be copious costume changes, elaborate wigs, and top-notch choreography. Jedlicka Performing Arts Center has a lot of ambition, but gets overwhelmed in the tricky business of costumes, wigs and stagecraft.
It's almost as if, instead of developing an ideal show for their space and performers, Director Michael Nedza, Music Director Justin Amolsch and Choreographer Britta Schlicht were content to mimic the spectacle of slicker versions of Priscilla, ignoring their own chance to create something original with home-spun charm.
For the uninitiated, PriscillaQueen of the Desert is an Australian drag extravaganza in which struggling Sydney drag queen Mitzi Mitosis ( Joshua Heinlein ) leaves to reconnect with his estranged wife and son and perform in their backwater town. He recruits Bernadette ( Micheal A. Kott ), a retired trans performer, and bubbly Felicia Jollygoodfellow ( Michael Costanzo ) to join him. They pool their resources and buy a run-down bus that they dub Priscilla, and travel through one inhospitable town after another in a journey of acceptance, love and being first to climb Ayers Rock in full drag regalia.
This production is an odd choice for Jedlicka. While the musical proudly advocates for many on the gender and sexuality spectrum, those it honors most are white and male. It does a disservice to actors of color with roles such as Cynthia ( Madison Piner ) and Jimmy ( Larry Trice ), who are both painted as insensitive stereotypical caricatures.
For our trio of queens, Joshua Heinlein, Micheal A. Kott and Michael Costanzo, performances are spirited, and singing voices are fantastic. This is also true for the trio of divas that act as the vocal power for every frenzied lip-synch, Stephanie Boyd, Rachel Elise and Krista Porchetta. But drag can be an unforgiving art form, and is hard to pull off without careful prep-work and support from your crew behind the curtain. When Jacob Gilchrist ( Chicago's own 'Mikki Miraj' ) enters flawlessly as Miss Understanding, a bar is set, but never exceeded thanks to numerous wardrobe and sound malfunctions.
One of the hidden strengths of drag performing is the ability for performers to ditch a malfunctioning wig, or broken accessory with bravado as if to say "you didn't come here for the glitter, you're here for me." I hope, with time, that this cast can embrace the diva within against this rough theatrical terrain.