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Follow That Bus: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Parks in Uptown

Priscilla Queen of the DesertSeeing a car in the process of being towed is not an uncommon sight in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, but In 2002, residents were startled to see a full-size Crown Victoria taxicab unloaded into the front door of the storefront at 4137 Broadway for a production of Will Kern's Hellcab. If that boat-in-the-bottle proved to be a tight fit—a new interior door had to be cut in order to squeeze it from the lobby to the auditorium—how does Pride Films and Plays intend to grow an entire mobile camper in the their Arts Center's pristine deco tearoom for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert?

"Priscilla," it must be explained, is the name bestowed on the live-in bus occupied by two drag-queens and one transsexual who set out across Australia in search of adventure, romance and happiness in the 1994 film, adapted in 2006 by Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott into a stage musical boasting a score of pop tunes ranging from the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields duet "A Fine Romance" to the anthemic "I Will Survive." Transferring the big-cast narrative to an ante-bellum New York City stage—many originally built to accommodate live-action horse races—presented formidable difficulties, to be sure, but nothing like the challenges of recreating a UK-manufactured "caravan" in a 90-seat 29 X 23 room.

"Most of the show is a road trip chronicling Tick, Adam, and Bernadette's journey from Sydney to Alice Springs, and the stops they make along the way," says director Derek Van Barham, "We see the bus when it first makes its entrance and is christened 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and later, Luke Meierdiercks lip-syncs 'Sempre Libera' from La Traviata while perched on the vehicle's roof (Tuesdai B. Perry sings it for real later). We were lucky enough to have a facsimile bus for rehearsals, and so you'll see Priscilla in some of the other musical numbers as well. She's really a character in the show, herself, with her own story arc."

Chicago is famous for retrofitting extravagant musicals to stages barely bigger than a powder room—sometimes improving upon the material—but Priscilla's drag-show mentality practically demands spectacle on a grand scale. "Our production strives to heighten the intimacy, so rather than go for a full-sized RV, we opted for a smaller version that could be assembled there in the room—but that was still functional and matched the style of the show. Jeremy Hollis and Mealah Heidenreich are working together to dress up our Priscilla in all kinds of Fabulous."

The show's opening will determine the verdict, but Barham is optimistic. "We want Priscilla's entrance to be a surprise—she's the title role, after all, and it should be her moment," he winks conspiratorially, " but I think the audience will be pleased our Priscilla."

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert runs at the Pride Arts Broadway through February 12.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Contributing Writer

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