I had work in the city and decided to bring my wife, Elena, out for dinner and theater. Elena and I are avid theater fans, but for some strange reason we only seem to go to Broadway shows when it’s pouring rain. (Last year, she and I went to see Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in—you guessed it—A Steady Rain.)
So at first, this looked like a rainy theater night like any other. We came out of our hotel and were dropped off at our favorite pre-theater Italian joint a block from the show. When we got to the theater, Elena went to the bathroom. Absolutely no line. Then I went to take a leak, only to find that the line for the men’s room snaked down the hall. “Strange,” I thought to myself. I checked the Playbill and saw that Bette Midler was producing the show. “Damn,” I muttered. “How the hell did I get myself into this?”
We took our seats. Just before the lights went down I looked back and realized the huge Palace Theater was packed and buzzing. The usher should have provided me with a seat belt along with the program.
The lights went down, a huge disco ball lit up, and the guy across the aisle from me started dancing in his seat. What the hell?
Three hefty singers dressed in silver, doing a Soul Train sisters act, descended from the rafters, belting out “It’s Raining Men” as a swarm of men took the stage, strutting their stuff. My alarm turned to fear as an amazing female impersonator did a stirring rendition of Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
Onstage, I had never seen such an amazing display of pecs and ass, all displayed in a gender-bending rainbow of humanity (and about a foot from my face). The crowd was exploding like at a Stones concert in their heyday. Elena was right with them and I admit it: I had a shit-eating grin on my face too.
I have always liked queens and been fascinated by crossdressers. It forces me to re-examine the artificial limitations I put on my own manhood. What aspects of being female are OK to co-opt as my own—and will actually make me a stronger man?
Watching this show, the crowd—meaning me—deals with the disorientation of watching guys who look amazing in a dress but have bulging biceps and bulging bikini bottoms. Again, what the hell is going on here?
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is about three drag queens on a road trip across the Australian Outback. The customs, music, and staging are all elaborate and fantastic. Center stage is the bus (with a sign on the back that read “Rear Entry Optional”). And then there are the characters: Tick/Mitzi, motivated by the trip to meet his 6-year-old son for the first time, the washed-up Bernadette in search of love, and the truly amazing dancer Adam/Felicia, who boards the bus in search of fame.
Along the way the boys—er, girls—have to face violent homophobia and perform such crowd favorites as “Like a Virgin,” “I Will Survive,” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was originally a 1994 film that earned a Golden Globe nomination and, I am told, still has a cult following. When it was first brought to the stage in 2006 in Sydney, it became the most successful musical in Australia, ever, before moving to London, Toronto, and now Broadway. The show officially opens March 20.
Tony Sheldon has played Bernadette throughout, logging 1,200 performances. His comedic timing has brought down the house again and again. During the show, I became intrigued with Bernadette’s true sexuality. “Are you sure she’s a guy?” I whispered at Elena, unconvinced that any male could move so much like a woman. As if on cue Tony allowed his true baritone to shine through the Bernadette facade when he’d slap the other gals back into line during a moment of crisis.
In the final scene, Tick meets his son and then implores his mother not to let him know about his true identity. He goes off to a casino show to perform as Mitzi, only to find his boy in his dressing room. The resulting conversation hits the universal theme of a lost father and a son’s unconditional acceptance of his dad, who has come back to give fatherhood a go.
When I walked into the theater, I had no idea what the show was about. But once it started I loved every minute of it. When the boys hit the high notes of the finale I stood with my (mostly gay) brethren, hooting and hollering for some amazing dames (and some damn buff dudes). But I was also cheering for a dad and his son.
For me, Priscilla was a Good Men Project Magazine kind of story. The best kind: one about the search for being a good father and a good man while coming to terms with deepest truth of self. It was a story about love, about art, and the pure joy of life lived courageously.