‘Priscilla’s’ Drag Queens Are King-Size Fun

priscillatourimage1web.jpgNow that’s Vegas—with a message/lesson tossed in.

Anyone who can’t have a blast at the Venetian’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a big-time party poop (if so, what are you doing in Vegas?).

Defaulting to that gay buzzword, Priscilla is fabulous—a rollicking, eye-popping, madcap spectacle that lifts you up as it follows two drag queens and a post-op transsexual through the Aussie desert on a hot pink bus (“rear entry on request” reads its back door).

Pleasures are plentiful: lovable lead characters; incredible costumes (about 500) smothered in sequins and feathers and wild imagination (fluorescent green cupcake skirts!); a rainbow coalition of wigs and disco-era outfits; dancing paintbrushes (seriously); “angels” descending from the rafters; and witty, raunchy writing (sample exchange: “go take your hormones”; “I think I just heard a whore moan.”)

Set to ’60s-’80s hits (“I Say a Little Prayer,” “I Will Survive,” “It’s Raining Men” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”), it also deploys them cleverly—songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David would chuckle over a drag queen holding a wig and crooning, “While combing my hair now, and wondering what dress to wear now.” Plus a hilarious take on “MacArthur Park” is worth the admission price. Finally, there are gentle messages about homophobia and acceptance.

On an extended tour stop through August 18, Priscilla is likely a good fit for a largely tourist audience. Gay or straight, its sex jokes would be a riskier draw at The Smith Center.

Watching Priscilla, I reflected on HBO’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, in which, befitting the ’70s-’80s setting, gays were treated like a secret society, and the principal characters’ shadier sides were exposed—the late headliner as a promiscuous heel and his young lover as a druggie opportunist. Drawing a Vegas timeline from that to the out-and-proud, loud-and-likable Priscilla is heartening.

However, even as states increasingly legalize gay marriage and it’s championed by the president, Priscilla isn’t a pure statement of liberation yet. While many gay activists lauded its unapologetic embrace of gay pride, some accused it of caricaturing gays.

Even the show itself seems to fleetingly betray itself in a scene where goons paint “fuck off faggots” on the bus. Says one of the drag queens, sadly: “Never forget the price of our choices.” Is that the choice of drag performing? Or choice of sexuality, which is what gay-bashers claim it is, rather than a biological imperative?

Producers should reconsider the ambiguity of that line.

Remove politics, though—except the message of acceptance—and Priscilla may be the most fun two hours (no intermission) you can spend on the Strip until temps drop to a bone-chilling 80. Borrowing a phrase, you’ll have a gay ol’ time.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Bump and grind and shake and shimmy? Gimme! Introducing the first Las Vegas Burlesque Festival, set for October 10-12, with more than 70 performances scheduled at Boomers Bar and the Clarion Hotel’s Wolf Theater. Promising “opulent costumes and dazzling dancers,” the event is produced by Cha Cha Velour and includes appearances by Kalani Kokonuts and Blanche DeBris. Performer applications are available through LVBurlesqueFest.com.

I’ve already submitted mine.

Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.

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