It's not every day that actors get to rehearse a musical in wild high heels. But the men of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" have gotten used to executing plenty of dance movements in killer boots, leading up to Millennial Theatre Group's three performances of the flamboyant and fabulous show.
"Priscilla," which runs at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the Akron Civic Theatre, is the Northeast Ohio-produced premiere of this disco-fueled musical, director Francine Parr said.
It's the last of five summer shows that the busy Millennial Theatre Group has done this summer at the Civic. Others that ran from June into August were "Sister Act," "The Laramie Project," "Next to Normal" and "(In)Dependent − The Heroin Project."
The final "Priscilla" musical fell at a great time, right after the Akron Pride Festival Saturday at Hardesty Park, where the cast, clad in rainbow-colored T-shirts, performed an excerpt from the show on the Equality stage.
"I just think it's the right timing to try to preach love to everybody,'' said Valerie Renner of the Akron Civic Theatre, producer of Millennial Theatre's shows.
In this story, drag queens Tick and Adam journey with transgender woman Bernadette across Australia in their bus, named Priscilla. They're heading west to a remote resort town where Tick will perform at a hotel as a favor to his estranged wife, Marion (Rachel Pokelsek). Along the way, this trio meets a number of strange characters, learns to accept and support each other and eventually forms a bond that will last forever.
"Priscilla," adapted from the 1994 film "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," began in Australia in 2006 and hit London's West End in 2009. It was produced by Bette Midler on Broadway in 2011.
The sparkling national tour featured hundreds of Tony Award-winning, glitzy costumes and an iconic Priscilla bus that rotated onstage. For Akron's local, young adult production, two versions of Priscilla have been created from cardboard and all of the actors will take on a pop-art, comic book-style look with their makeup in keeping with the pop-art style of the 6-foot-long buses.
The show is being produced in Millennial's usual, intimate cabaret performance style, where audience members sit on the Civic stage with the actors. Costumes are by Dred Geib and Sydney DiMatteis and custom wigs are by Alexandra Friess.
"Priscilla" tickets cost $20. For more information, call 330-253-2488, 800-745-3000 or see www.akroncivic.com.
This jukebox musical, which is full of fantasy numbers, features fun pop hits including "It's Raining Men,'' "I Will Survive,'' "Shake Your Groove Thing" and much, much more.
At rehearsal on Aug. 22 at Journey Covenant Church in Cuyahoga Falls, the 18-member cast worked on the touching Cyndi Lauper number "True Colors," in which they artfully make use of solid-colored fabric swaths that create the colors of the rainbow. The number ended with Tick, played by Jacob Shafer, being adorned with all of the fabrics.
This scene happens after Tick, Adam and Bernadette have whooped it up in full drag at a local bar during their trek, only to return to their bus to find that the townspeople have spray-painted slurs against them on it.
"I thought they loved us,'' says a distraught Adam, played by Kyle Burnett.
"Only until sunrise,'' says a sad Bernadette, played by Joshua Johnson.
Director Parr has put her own stamp on the show beyond her pop-art inspiration, including featuring five female divas in the cast, rather than the original three. These divas sing the pop songs that the drag queens are lip syncing for their acts, but the male leads sing plenty of other songs.
In one key number, "Sempre Libra," Parr uses the considerable talents of opera singer Sammy Kay Smith to perform the vocals live as Burnett's Adam lip syncs while practicing his act.
"It's usually a pre-recorded track'' for this moment in other productions, Parr said.
Here's her take on why "Priscilla" hasn't been produced locally before: "The whole thing is just a giant spectacle,'' including the over-the-top, glitzy costuming. "There's a lot of moving pieces that you have to try and figure out."
The key is to stay true to show's fun-loving spirit while bringing its message of love and acceptance of the LGBTQ community to the forefront. Choreographer Samantha Richardson gave a pep talk to the cast about the emotional healing power of theater for any number of people watching.
"Somebody in the audience needs this show,'' she told the actors.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj