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April Boyle

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Follow her on Twitter: @ahboyle

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Posted: August 15, 2016

‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ dazzles at the Qgunquit Playhouse

Written by: April Boyle
William Selbyas-Bernadette, Jarrod-Emick as Tick, Matthew Marks as Adam Photo by Gary Ng

William Selbyas-Bernadette, Jarrod-Emick as Tick, Matthew Marks as Adam
Photo by Gary Ng

Break out the glitter and platform shoes. The Ogunquit Playhouse is journeying across the Australian outback in a rendition of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” that dazzles the senses with over 500 outlandish Tony Award-winning costumes, 200 fanciful headdresses and a hit parade of booty-shaking songs from the ’70s and ’80s.

The Broadway musical is based on the 1994 film of the same name, starring Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce as drag queens Tick (stage name Mitzi) and Adam (stage name Felicia) and Terence Stamp as retired transsexual “Les Girl,” Bernadette. Ogunquit Playhouse has cast award-winning Broadway veteran Jarrod Emick (Tick), Broadway star Matthew Marks (Adam) and veteran performer William Selby (Bernadette) to step into their sky-high shoes.

In keeping with the film, the musical follows the three as they cross the desert from Sidney to a casino gig in Alice Springs, aboard a bus named Priscilla. It’s a journey of self-discovery as secrets are revealed and their act encounters a mixed reception from small-town locals along the way.

The Playhouse is hoisting its gay flag high and proud with this exuberant New England premiere. The musical opens with a striptease performance of the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men,” featuring emcee Miss Understanding, played by the glorious Darius Harper, who is unforgettable in a hot pink mini-dress with cascading fringe.

There’s plenty of camped-up fun to be had throughout, with the cast flaunting fantastic costumes designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner that look like they sprung from the imagination of someone dropping acid while reading Dr. Seuss.

A scene from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Gary Ng

A scene from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at Ogunquit Playhouse. Photo by Gary Ng

The ensemble members were a real treat to watch opening night, dancing across the stage dressed as psychedelic cakes with glowing umbrellas, while Emick belted out the trippy Donna Summer hit, “MacArthur Park.”

“Go West” was another standout musical number, with the costumes paying tribute to the Village People.

Even the bus is glitzed-up with a bejeweled high-heeled shoe on the roof — offering a striking platform for Mark’s performance of “Sempre Libera” — but under all the glam is a story filled with messages about prejudice, alienation, self-doubt and a heartbreaking need for acceptance.

Emick delivers a sympathetic performance as Tick, a man emotionally torn between his life as a drag queen and his obligations as a father to his young son, who is waiting for him in Alice Springs. Will his son accept him for who he is?

Tension flares between the matronly Bernadette, whose husband just died, and the vivacious upstart, Adam. Selby is well cast as Bernadette, tugging at the heartstrings as his character cautiously explores a new romance with Bob the mechanic, endearingly portrayed by Mitch Poulos. Selby also delivers priceless one-liners, giving Bernadette a feisty edge.

Marks is charming and over-the-top as Adam, boldly strutting his stuff in outlandish outfits that can’t help but make you smile.

The three stars harmonize beautifully on “True Colors” and “Confide in Me.”

Lisa Helmi Johanson, Coleen Sexton and Debra Walton deliver standout performances as the Divas in teetering beehive hairdos. They also fabulously double as Bob’s ping-pong-popping wife, Cynthia, Tick’s wife, Marion and a butch honky-tonk singer, Shirley.

Under the direction of Michael McAssey, the orchestra delivers an infectious score that has been cleverly reworked to fuel the storyline.

“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” is an unabashed adult-themed celebration of diversity, dressed up in a colorful array of sequins, impossibly high shoes, eye-catching costumes and headdresses that must be seen to be believed. Topping it all off is “Finally Medley,” featuring a laugh-out-load menagerie of Australian wildlife.

‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

WHERE: Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. (Route 1), Ogunquit
REVIEWED: Aug. 12; runs through Sept. 3
TICKETS: $47-$87
CONTACT: 646-5511;

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