CCMT OPENS SEASON 59 WITH ‘PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT’ THE FAB JUKEBOX MUSICAL FOR EVERYONE
The rainbow bus from Australia has arrived in time for #NationalComingOutDay in the Bay Area. PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT is the ultimate drag queen road trip musical now on stage through November 9th at the Lesher Center for the Arts. The book is by Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott which is adapted from Elliot’s cult classic 1994 picture The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Contra Costa Musical Theatre opens its 59th season with this bus party. Drag queens, heels, wigs, close to a hundred costumes, martini glasses, divas, swans, dancing, Christmas garland, frivolity, and hilarity ensue the best pride celebration. “A cock in a frock on a rock” as the girls announced with glee this will be the ride of the fall!
Directed by the accomplished Derek Travis Collard who is thrilled to stage this colorful musical to celebrate CCMT’s 59th season. The struggle for transgender and queer equality is important and its wonderfull for the community of Walnut Creek. PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT is a jukebox musical full of very familiar songs like, “It’s Raining Men,” “True Colors,” “Material Girl,” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The show opens with the very sizzling “It's Raining Men” with a company of 20 lively local actors who convincingly strut, sing, and dance on stage as they play close to 30 characters. Staci Arriaga’s giddy choreography sets the tone for the sizzling winning dance numbers that are all a delight.
The story centers around Sydney Drag Queen star, Tick, played by the foolproof Christopher Boccard, whose drag name is Mitzi. Tick is a gay man who is legally still married to a woman named Marion played by the local favorite, Jennifer Stark. They have a son named Benji played by the impressive Xander Raymond. The pre teen is very interested in what his father does but has yet to meet him. Marion talks Tick into bringing his show to the casino she owns in Alice Springs.
Tick needs to recruit some friends for this show; they include Bernadette played by the impressive Michael Patrick Gaffney. The dynamite Felicia is played by the sizzling Charles Peoples III who reprises this role he played for TheatreRhino’s production. They both join Tick on a road trip to the casino. The rest is pure craziness that includes a full sized bus on stage for most of the two and a half hour musical. Each of the three travelers has a distinct personality and challenge; all benefit from the long trip across the country.
Most of the songs are sung by the actors, though some are lip-synced, as the swank divas fill the perfect iconic tunes like “Venus”. When the characters lip-sync, the divas Bobbie Barlow, Vida Mae Fernandez, Jennifer Starl and Heather Watson appear in their platinum big hair wigs in time to do the actual singing.
The performers all sing well and dance like pros and bring Arriaga’s choreography that drag queen camp feel. Visually this show can't be topped; the sets pieces were provided by Gateway Sets. The costume team creatively used 100’s of high end looks arranged by Liz Martin matched perfect with Ned Hansen’s wigs.
Martin takes credit for designing some of the frocks and colorful eye candy that stops the show. But I want to mention some of the costume crew who managed all these wild dresses: Cat Leyden, Tanya Anguilta, Leilla Azzaria, Tammy Berlin, Hope Birdwell, Marcy Bowie, Jeanne Bowman, Jolon Buchbinder, Mae Matos, Kathleen Crowley, Lynn Downland, Jenn Landu, Lynn Minney, Mat Nash, Liz Nelson, Dale Peterson, Sarah Rosette, Corine Vitale and Alex Volk.
Boccard is marvelous as Tick/Mitzi; his song “You Were Always On My Mind” is moving as the sold out opening night audience cheered generously. The award winning Gaffney is very believable as Bernadette, the aging drag queen who just wants to find love. She gets some of the best zingers “Now listen here, you mullet. Why don't you just light your tampon, and blow your box apart? Because it's the only bang you're ever gonna get, sweetheart!” Gaffneys’ professional acting and comic timing is superb and his many solos and gowns steal the show - especially “True Colors” that also features Boccard and Peoples. Bernadette was the first to pack for this road trip “I don’t need to pack - All my bags are under my eyes”.
“Is it true when you were born your mother turned around and slapped your brother” Peoples is the hilarious, young, mischievous, and sexy Adam/Felicia and is hot on stage in his lipsync solo atop the bus “Sempre Libera” and in his show stopper “Venus” with the full throttle boys who include Cy Abad, Joseph Ayers, Daniel Manzo, Scott Maraj, Marty Newton, Michael Verzos and the explosive Neal Pascua.
The ensemble is fabulous, the chorus of characters is an infectious joy, including Trixie Aballa. Jarusha Ariel, Bobbie Barlow, Vida Mae Fernandez, Rachelle King, Kamaria McKinney and Heather Watson. The girls shine and kick it high in the memorable “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” with Peoples’ and Arriaga’s clever Vegas hoedowns. The glam queen, Michael Verzosa, is the stylish star Miss Understanding, and her one number "What’s Love Got to Do With It" with the divas set the tone for the 80’s power blast of hits.
Felicia says “I here by christen this budget Barbie camper, Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert”. It's time to mention the elephant on stage - a bus named Priscilla headed to Alice Springs where a job awaits them. Priscilla is the lead in this romp; she fills the stage as it rolls along. The three leads bring the Bus to stage in the rousing number “Go West” as the entire ensemble leads Priscilla in all her glamor is led on stage. Priscilla steals the show. Kelly James Tighe’s coordinated the over the top set, it is impressive. The busy light design by Aaron Spivey glitters and pops all of the many costumes that are eye popping.
Some other highlights include the supporting actors in their many roles, the sexy funny Vida Mae Fernandez plays Bob's wife Cynthia and brings the song “Pop Muzik” to hysterical cheers as she pops surprises to the pleased CCMT audience. Bob played by the terrific Mark Flores has a wonderful solo “A Fine Romance” as he understands his feelings for Bernadette.
Young keen Xander Raymond, who is already a vet at CCMT, plays Ticks pre teen son Benji, and brings those predictable tears to the show arc of dad and son acceptance.
Sound design team Kira Daughtery, Adam Puglieli and Scott Lohman have to work closely with able music director Cary Litchford and his nine member orchestra. The talented cast sounds excellent in all the 28 musical numbers that fly at you. Collard has made this huge show full of pride, and he brings the Australian desert to the Hoffman Stage in all its color and splendor.
Stage manager Emily Steiner and her impeccable eight member running crew made sure this overwhelming party move smoothly on and off stage. At one point a chorus of paintbrushes helps the major performers paint their bus. In another sequence, the cast dances “I Love the Nightlife” that brings the camp to pure delight.
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT The Musical is a love fest hilarious night of theatre that is sure to have you tapping your feet and clapping along. It is a laugh out loud funny trek across Australia, and a tongue in cheek lovable celebration and bring a tear to your eye . Priscilla is a blast! Grab your best pink shirt or skirt and join the pride bus ride with a wonderful colorful cast. Next up at CCMT is NINE TO FIVE the musical that opens April 10th 2020. But this fall don’t miss the marvelous PRISCILLA and bring you own champaign and be ready to catch some ping pong balls.
Contra Costa Musical Theatre
Priscilla Queen Of The Desert
Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott.
Directed by Derek Travis Collard
Musical Direction by Cary Litchford.
Choreographer Staci Arriaga
Cherie Davis and Dustin Riggs
Must Close November 9th
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek CA
Running time 2.5 Hours - One intermission
Photos by Linda Carter
VMEDIA ARTS GO SEE A SHOW -
Visits opening night and John Real interviews the cast
Tick/Mitzi: Chris Boccard Adam/Felicia: Charles Peoples III* Bernadette: Michael Patrick Gaffney* Bob: Mark Flores Marion: Jennifer Stark Benji: Xander Raymond
Miss Understanding: Michael Verzosa Cynthia: Vida Mae Fernandez Shirley: Heather Watson Diva’s: Bobbie Barlow Vida Mae Fernandez Jennifer Stark Heather Watson
Male Ensemble: Cy Abad (Band Boy) Joseph Ayers Mark Flores Daniel Manzo
Scott Maraj Marty Newton (Jimmy) Neal Pascua (Farrah) Michael Verzosa
Female Ensemble: Trixie Aballa (u/s Cynthia) Jarusha Ariel Bobbie Barlow Vida Mae Fernandez Rachelle King Kamaria McKinney Jennifer Stark Heather Watson