“Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical”

by Lorna LuniewskiOn June 3, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” opened to a packed house at the Noel Ruiz Theatre at CM Performing Arts Center (CMPAC) in Oakdale. By the first number, the musical had the audience clapping and singing to the classic tunes.Based on the hit movie, with book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, the story of three friends, drag queens by trade, who travel from Sydney, Australia to a small desert town to perform at a casino, is both poignant and laugh out loud funny. Their mode of transportation, Priscilla, a colorful bus, is a character all by itself, garnering cheers when it first appears on stage.Opening the show, The Divas (Debbie Hecht, Samantha Rosario and Krisbel Brenes Sandi), complete with bouffant hairdos reminiscent of 1960s girl groups, belt out “It’s Raining Men,” along with Tick and Company, setting the stage for a good time. They appear throughout the play, sometimes as the singers behind the lip-syncing main characters, creating some of the best moments.The story begins when Tick, played by Timothy J. Conway, gets a call from his estranged wife inviting him to meet his son for the first time. She also offers him a chance to put on a show in the small town of Alice Springs. Tick enlists his two friends, Bernadette, played by James Murano, and Adam/Felicia, played by Patrick Grossman, who is also the CMPAC artistic director.On one stop along they way, the trio, dressed in full drag, start a dance party in a local bar, singing “I Love the Nightlife” with Shirley, played by Janelle Primm. When they get back to the bus, they are saddened to find a homophobic slur has been painted on the side. The gasp and boos from the audience were audible as the actors moved aside and the words could be read.Priscilla breaks down the next day and Tick, Bernadette and Adam find themselves at the mercy of the locals, but meet Bob (John DiGiorgio), a mechanic from a small town who agrees to help them. Happy to be accepted, they break into the disco anthem “I Will Survive” as they celebrate.After a short intermission, Act II begins with a rousing chorus of “Thank God I’m a County Boy” that had the audience clapping along. We then get to meet Bob’s wife Cynthia, the outstanding Nana Tatebayashi who steals the scene singing “Pop Muzik” while sharing her talent of popping ping pong balls. As part of the Company, Tatebayashi’s talent shines even before her solo.The friends eventually make it to Alice Springs where Tick meets his son Benji (Alexander Yagud-Wolek), and in a very touching scene the two sing “Always on My Mind.” Knowing his son accepts his lifestyle, Tick (as Mitzi), Bernadette and Felicia perform “We Belong” along with The Company, before a medley of songs in the finale.The leads, all talented on their own, really shine in the numbers they have together including “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “True Colors,” “Color My World” and “I Will Survive.”Alfonso Lora as Miss Understanding, channels Tina Turner with “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” complete with Tina’s hair, famous legs and energetic dance moves.Priscilla is a great “character,” rolling along, turning to show the inside of the bus and lit up and sparkling by the final curtain. It is a platform for a platform, a glittering high heel shoe that Felicia sits in, dressed in an outfit as glittery as the shoe itself, lip syncing to “Sempre Libre” while the bus twist and turns.Other standout scenes include Tick finding that someone (literally) “left the cake out in the rain,” and he begins to sing “MacArthur Park,” joined by Bernadette and The Company; and Felicia and The Divas singing “Hot Stuff,” while she tries to meet a man, only to be chased when it is discovered she is a man. Bernadette steps in and kicks one of the attackers, eliciting cheers from the audience.The staff was friendly and Rachel was there to take our drink orders before we even sat down in the VIP section, where drinks and snacks are included in the ticket price.The cast is talented, the songs are rockin’ and the costumes are everything you would expect: bright, colorful and over the top. “Priscilla Queen of The Desert” runs through July 8. Hop aboard and get ready for a fun ride!Noel S. Ruiz Theatreat CM Performing Arts Center931 Montauk Hwy.Oakdale, NY 11769631-218-2810www.cmpac.com TICKETS: Adult $29/Senior $27/Student $22/Children 12 and under $18/VIP $40Wednesday Evening: Adult $26/Senior/$24/Student/$20/Children 12 and under $16/VIP $40