by Stefania Clerici
“True colors are beautiful, like a rainbow” sang Cyndi Lauper in the 80s…and true, spectacular and multi-coloured are the sets, lights, costumes and music of the musical “Priscilla, la regina del deserto” (Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical) which opened in Italy last Wednesday, December 14, at Teatro Ciak Webank in Milano, christened for the occasion, Priscilla Palace.
Based on Simon Philips’ 1984 film of the same name, and after its début in 2006 in Sydney, followed by productions in London, Toronto and New York (in March of this year), Priscilla has finally arrived in Milan after two years of planning, announced the director of MAS Italy, producer Daniele Luppino, just before the beginning of the show. A “Pink Carpet”, cocktails and feather boas for all, set the tone for the opening night.
In the theatre, in front of an audience of 1600 which included the entire cast of the original Australian production, various Italian showbiz lovvies, journalists and musical fans, the director Dean Bryant confirmed the backstage rumours: with irony and honesty he revealed that during the last days of rehearsals they had encountered serious technical problems with Priscilla, the name of the pink bus, central to the design concept. In fact, the rotation of the wheels was slow and the multi-coloured led lighting sometimes did its own thing. He assured the public (though I imagine he was addressing the journalists) that in the next performances these problems would be resolved, and underlined the fact that he was sorry that they had been forced to cut one of the most famous scenes in the musical, the number set on a giant stiletto shoe. But even without this information, the shoe lived up to all expectations, a feast of costumes, wigs and famous hits.
The show boasts an incredible roster of 80s pop and disco, 25 numbers in all, including “I Will Survive”, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, “Hot Stuff” and “Go West”. And there was no lack of references to music divas either, with nods to Tina Turner, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Cyndi Lauper and even Maria Callas (a choreographed “Traviata” to the voice of the soprano, but a distinctly postmodern flavour).
Priscilla, tells the tale of three friends, Bernadette, Mtzi Del Bra and Felicia (stage names of Ralph, Tick and Adam), a transsexual and two drag-queens, who leave Sydney aboard an old pink bus to get to a gig in Alice Springs, where they are to do a drag show.
During this physical journey they also embark on a mental voyage where they get to truly know each other, rekindling their friendship and relations with their loved ones. They encounter hostility but also gain new friends along the road which will bring important changes to their lives.
The show, with a cast of 27 young actors, dancers and singers, is sometimes kitsch but never vulgar. At its heart it recounts real life and the true value of feelings, through a story about prejudice, speaking of universal themes such as love, tolerance and peace. The director, Bryant says “It talks to all those who sometimes feel an outsider, but in an exhilarating way, without being vulgar. Certainly, there were scenes in the film that we have softened, but there is nothing shocking, nothing that you don’t see every evening in television.”.
The three central roles are played by actors who bring a baggage of experience with them (in Italy it’s not always so!): the singer Antonello Angiolillo (A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast) plays Tick/Mtzi Del Bra, Simone Leonardi (also Beauty and the Beast) is Ralph/Bernadette, and Felicia/Adam is played by Mirko Ranù (Grease). The three Divas who give voice to the songs are Elena Nieri (Grease), Loredana Fadda (Peter Pan) and Valetina Ferrari (We Will Rock You).
The 495 costumes, 261 costumes changes, 60 wigs, 200 headdresses, 150 pairs of shoes, and 23 tons of scenery (6 tons for the bus itself), resulted in a whopper budget of more than a million euros. Certainly Priscilla is already one of the biggest happenings in the Milan theatre scene this season, and will run through until the end of April.
Tel: 02-27225 www.priscillailmusical.it – firstname.lastname@example.org
Per pubblico organizzato e gruppi: tel. 02-27225 email@example.com
Teatro Ciak Webank.it – via Procaccini 4 Milano www.teatrociak.it – tel. 02-29006767
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.