At the taffeta barricades with Priscilla Queen of the Desert | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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At the taffeta barricades with Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Drag entertainments help transform public opinion, one sequin at a time.


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On NPR the other day, somebody was pointing out that the U.S. consensus on same-sex marriage has gone from negative to positive with a speed unprecedented for such a controversial issue. Demographically, it's a seismic shift. Pundits and scholars searching for the reasons behind that shift would do well to study entertainments like this 2006 jukebox musical and the 1994 movie that inspired it. The tale of two drag queens and an aging transsexual who take their glitter show on the 1,200-mile road from Sydney to Alice Springs, Australia, Priscilla is part of a long string of sympathetic pop explications of gay life that have made it easier for everybody to talk about the love that dare not speak its name. Angels in America may be the masterpiece on late-20th-century homosexuality, but Priscilla is one of the agents for change.

The secret, of course, is fun. Simon Phillips's touring production has an angelic girl group floating down from the flies. Its leads are endearing, its chorus engaging, its playlist runs the sweet kitsch gamut from "It's Raining Men" ("Hallelujah!") to the 1966 Petula Clark hit "Colour My World." And the all-important costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner are a technicolor stitch. Meanwhile, there are poignant moments like the one in which our heroines return from an all-night outback blowout to find their bus vandalized: Beatrice the transsexual reminds her companions that in some places dress-up is tolerated "only until sunrise."

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