Way out in the Outback

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday June 7, 2017
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Rudy Guerrero, left, Charles Peoples III, and Darryl V.<br>Jones play three drag performers who set out on an adventure through the<br>Australian outback in Theatre Rhino's "Priscilla Queen of<br>the Desert." Photo: David Wilson
Rudy Guerrero, left, Charles Peoples III, and Darryl V.
Jones play three drag performers who set out on an adventure through the
Australian outback in Theatre Rhino's "Priscilla Queen of
the Desert." Photo: David Wilson

It's an undertaking both ambitious and audacious, and while the results are wildly uneven, Theatre Rhino has gotten "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" up on its feet " and its high heels " with such an enthusiastic embrace that affection easily flows back from the audience. The musical, based on the 1994 movie, must be one of the theater's most expensive ventures, from a replica of the tricked-out tour bus nicknamed Priscilla to the large cast that is forever changing into such a bizarre bazaar of costumes that you might wonder if there isn't a sweatshop operating in the Eureka Theatre's basement.

The original film was a low-budget Australian production that gradually found a worldwide audience with its story of three depleted professional drag performers who team up for a final grand adventure. Aboard their festively festooned old bus, they leave queer-friendly Sydney for a gig at a casino resort on a route that takes them through dusty towns populated mainly with Outback rednecks. While at first he keeps it secret from his colleagues, tour organizer Tick has a personal agenda for making the trip.

The musical mirrors the movie in important plot points, but an oddly stocked jukebox has been raided for songs that are shoehorned into the story with varying degrees of logic. Theatre Rhino uses prerecorded musical accompaniment with a full-orchestra sound that can highlight weaknesses in the cast's vocal abilities. In solos, the three leads can get by in their efforts, with sincerity often providing a compensating factor. When more of the cast is pulled in, usually in the big disco numbers, the fuller sound provides more leeway for any imprecision.

John Fisher's direction isn't exactly tight, either, but within his traffic-cop duties he provides room for the performers to find the humanity in their roles. Rudy Guerrero plays Tick, the impetus for the on-the-road adventure, with an authentic Aussie accent and commitment to his story's deeper emotional components. As the senior member of the trio, a recently widowed transsexual, Darryl V. Jones brings a matronly gravitas to Bernadette, and delivers several ballads in heartfelt fashion. A spry if unpolished Charles Peoples III plays the flirty and flitty Adam, the most outrageous of the trio. Much of the humor in the show falls to bitchy wisecracks, and timing and delivery can be a problem all around.

Most of the other actors play multiple roles, and there are several who stand out in their showcase parts. Cameron Weston exudes warmth and kindness as Bob, an auto mechanic in the middle of nowhere, who fixes the broken-down bus and becomes enamored of the stately Bernadette. As Bob's mail-order wife, Crystal Liu scores big laughs with her sweet-and-sour demeanor and a certain performance skill honed in sex shows for tourists in her homeland. Mary Kalita quickly creates an inviting character in a brief appearance as Tick's sort-of-secret wife who runs the resort in Alice Springs.

AeJay Mitchell's choreography is an eclectic and high-energy mix of styles, from hoedown stomping to a melange of disco-esque steps that the cast performs, if not in graceful unison, with a brass and bounce that rattles the floorboards. The scenery is minimal, except for the massive rotating bus that is an impressive feat in Gilbert Johnson's set design.

And then there are the costumes. Oh my, the costumes. Robert Horek is listed as costumier, but there are multiple additional credits for design and construction that will give you some idea of the uncategorizable phantasmagoria of apparel: headdresses by Glenn Krumbholz, Gumbys by Cindy Preiado, diva finale by Daisy Neske, and cupcakes by Larry Jean.

Cupcakes? Well, someone did leave the cake out in the rain, and doesn't that deserve a full-blown musical number with frosting and sprinkles on the top?


"Priscilla Queen of the Desert" will run at the Eureka Theatre through July 1. Tickets are $15-$40. Call (800) 838-3006 or go to therhino.org.