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'Priscilla' takes a cultural ride

Musical based on 1994 film about transsexual drag queens will make its latest tour stop at Segerstrom Center.

October 15, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani

Starring in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical" hasn't only given Bre Jackson a stronger vocal range and frequent flier miles.

She's also primed to offer encouragement and advice.

Take, for example, the concertgoer who met her after the show ended, admitting that he had a visceral reaction upon seeing a homophobic slur spray-painted on the side of the onstage tour bus. The indignity struck a nerve because he'd been on the receiving end of similar words growing up — a period when he was afraid to be himself.

"I was able to tell him, 'Be who you are. There are people who love you,'" Jackson said.

The 21-year-old Detroit native makes up a third of the show's divas, who sing — in mid-air. She is joined by Brit West, 26, and Emily Afton, 28, as they belt out numbers, which the musical's drag queens lip-sync 20 to 50 feet below, onstage.

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"It's probably the best entrance of my career," West said. "Who else gets to drop in at 50 feet and open with 'It's Raining Men?' It doesn't get better than that."

Based on the 1994 movie "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" — which started out as a sleeper, but has since attained cult status — the musical spotlights two drag queens and a transsexual woman traversing the Australian Outback in a dilapidated bus nicknamed "Priscilla." Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott based their book on Elliott's screenplay.

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The bus travels on

"Priscilla" opened on Broadway in March 2011 and closed in June the next year. Actors are now a few weeks away from the conclusion of the show's first national tour.

The company kicked off in Minneapolis on Jan. 8 — making stops in St. Louis, Chicago, Miami, Houston and elsewhere — and it will be curtains down in November in Seattle.

Before that, though, guests in Costa Mesa can take in oversized cupcakes, dancing paintbrushes, emus and even a dress made of flip-flops at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from Tuesday through Sunday.

"There are some great dance numbers in this production along with a very talented cast, and there is a real sense of exuberance throughout," said center President Terry Dwyer about the musical, which launches the venue's 2013-14 Broadway season. "Not to mention, there are hundreds of spectacular costumes to behold.

"What really is at its core is the story of enduring friendships and family bonds. It's a show that is fun and funny, but it also touches the heart."

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