Glitter by the pound

Article by: Graydon Royce | January 10, 2013 - 12:54 PM

'Priscilla Queen of the Desert" was made from many elements -- buddy story, road trip, screechy preaching. If, however, you focus on these trees, you will miss the forest. You are unlikely to ever see so much glitz, glitter, spangles, sequins and feathers assembled on one stage. Costume-wise, this show makes "La Cage Aux Folles" look like "Twelve Angry Men."

"Priscilla," which opened a national tour Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre, won the 2011 Tony, Outer Critics and Drama Desk awards for costume design. There are more than 500 outfits, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and 200 hats or headdresses.

"This is one of the biggest wardrobe shows on the road right now, up there with the 'Wickeds' and the 'Lion Kings' in terms of volume and supplies," said Michelle Harrison, costume director for the tour. "We're using two 53-foot trailers to ship it."

Harrison will see the show launch in Minneapolis and then check in a couple of more times along the way. Most of the hands-on work is done by local crews.

"There are 260 costume changes during the show, so we just need to make sure our crews are comfortable with it," she said. "We have three wardrobe and two wig people who travel full-time, and in each city we pick up a crew."

"Priscilla" is based on the 1994 Australian film "The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert," about three drag queens who head off on a road trip across the Outback for a gig in a remote club. A gaudy confection, the movie also had a message of tolerance and acceptance; one of the queens is on a quest to find a son he hasn't seen for some time. Stephan Elliott, who also wrote the film, did the book and slapped together a mix-tape of karaoke favorites from disco to pop ballads to Madonna and John Denver (?!).

The show played in Australia in 2006 and 2007, then sailed to London in 2009. Bette Midler lent her name to a group of producers who wanted a Broadway show, and it opened there in 2011.

Critics have mostly called the show pretty wispy but with glorious eye candy. The Broadway production used 295 ostrich feather plumes in the costumes and headdresses.

Randy Buck, who is producing this version of "Priscilla," said he is comfortable using Minneapolis to launch the national tour. He opened "Showboat!" at the Orpheum in 1995 and "101 Dalmatians" in 2009.

"There are numerous components that we look for in our first stop," Buck said. "The size and quality of the venue, the experience of the local stagehands and staff, plus proximity to hotels and restaurants. Minneapolis provides that."

Harrison spoke from Peoria, Ill., as the finishing touches were being put on the touring version of the show. Much of the wardrobe was built new, although Harrison said they were able to re-use a good deal from the Broadway production. Inventory is taken every day to see how many feathers need to be re-attached, or how much glitter has chipped off the costumes. They will go through 2 to 3 pounds of glitter a month.

"My favorite scene is the finale, because we have koalas, cockatoos, lizards, pretty much everything on stage," Harrison said. "Without the costumes, it's not the grand spectacle it becomes."

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