Priscilla Queen of the Desert, playing in the old Phantom Theatre at the Venetian through the middle of August, could easily be called Jubilee!: The Gay Edition. Like Jubilee! this is not a subtle show; unlike Jubilee! it does aspire to real emotion. Tick (played by Wade McCollum) journeys to the center of Australia to find out if he can be both a drag queen and a good father, while Bernadette (Scott Willis) mourns the loss of her trophy husband and Felicia (Bryan West) searches for his own personal validation. If you can acknowledge the art, joy and yearning inherent in good drag, then the skill and exuberance of the performers will carry you past the show’s more baldly emotionally manipulative moments.
As Tick, McCollum has the unenviable job of switching between extreme glam and its emotional core. His clean baritone voice carries enough weight to do both, guiding the audience through all the necessary emotional moments. As a dancer he’s elastic-limbed, but he carries an extra grace in his arm work and upper-body isolations to keep his character alive, even in the most confining of costumes.
Willis is wistful and comedic as Bernadette, and in fine voice. West’s Felicia is a manic little puppy throughout, but still manages to imbue his character with enough yearning that the trio’s final ascent of Ayers Rock feels triumphant.
Priscilla’s costumes do, too. They make EDC partygoers look like dowdy farmhands. They’re flamboyant, clever as hell and so completely fabulous that even Liberace would look subdued next to them. Another important co-star: the familiar disco and club anthems that the gay community adopted as its own. Bringing a lot of these songs to life with the gravity and panache they deserve is the job of the three Divas (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West). Their powerful, soulful voices never waver in the show, and while Priscilla might make jokes about trilling pop singers, all of its ladies deliver the goods.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert Through August 18, Wednesday-Monday, 8 p.m., $75-$174. Venetian, 414-9000.