Priscilla musical: Of sequins and stage queens

Priscilla musical: Of sequins and stage queens
Sequinned gowns, sexy stilettos, outrageous wigs and lots of make-up transform Singaporean cast member Jonathan Lim into glammed-up drag queens for the disco-musical, Priscilla – Queen Of The Desert.

It is loud, camp, festooned with sequins and it is here in Singapore. In the eight years since disco-musical Priscilla - Queen Of The Desert was put on the stage, it has travelled from its base of creation in Australia to sell-out runs around the globe, including the West End and Broadway.

The production opened here at Resorts World Sentosa on Thursday and this reporter was lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes preview the day before opening night. Even though it's a dress rehearsal, the theatre is a frenzy of activity and everything is played for real.

Around the three lead actors, the show's crew move like clockwork, piecing together intricate costumes and extravagant headgear. Everyone seems to be holding something, whether it's an item of clothing or a glittery accessory, poised to descend upon the actors. It is like witnessing an F1 pit crew - albeit with more glitter.

As soon as a talent runs in, the crew work their magic, transforming an everyday guy into a disco queen. The show, based on the 1994 Oscar-winning film The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, centres on three friends - two drag queens and a transgender performer - who travel through the Australian outback in a bus they name Priscilla.

Though he's performed the lead role of Bernadette in 40 shows in Manila, performer Jon Santos admits it's not easy. Says the 48-year-old Filipino: "One is reminded this clothing was not designed for every man. "Taking a quote from the show, 'No matter how tough you think you are, no matter how immune you've become, it still hurts'."

Santos' performance requires him to run and jump in heels, squeeze into pantyhose, wear outrageous wigs and change costumes in a flash. He has more than five different outfits to get in and out of.

The sole Singaporean cast member, Jonathan Lim, is full of praise for the backstage wizards. "They transformed me into full drag in less than 10 minutes," says the 48-year-old actor, who plays Miss Understanding.

Indeed, the changes are so fast, this reporter found it hard to change lenses to keep up with the flurry of backstage activity. Award-winning actor Michael Williams, 51, who plays the lead character Tick, tells me after the successful dress rehearsal: "It's always challenging to perform away from home... but it's good fun."

Fellow lead actor, Red Concepcion, 29, adds: "It's aways great to see how a new audience reacts."


This article was first published on Oct 19, 2014.
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