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Drag Queens Will Dazzle in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at the Durham Performing Arts Center

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The Durham Performing Arts Center will present 2009 West End and 2011 Broadway hit, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, on April 29-May 5 in its 2,700-seat, state-of-the-art theater in the American Tobacco District in downtown Durham, NC. Based on the 1994 Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this award-winning musical debuted in Sydney, Austrialia, in 2006. It features pop songs and a script by the film’s director, Stephan Elliott, and the musical’s initial producer, Allan Scott. Musical numbers include “It’s Raining Men,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “I Will Survive,” “Shake Your Groove Thing,” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

In reviewing the show’s Broadway production, The Hollywood Reporter raved about Priscilla, calling the show “funny and fabulous! Joyous entertainment with eye-popping visuals and unexpected heart!” NY-1 News agreed: “Beneath all that glitz beats a great big sequined heart!” WOR Radio likewise praised this offbeat musical, noting that “All the songs you’ve loved for years will blow you out of your seat!”

Among many other honors, the musical won the 2008 Sydney Theatre Award for Best Production of a Musical, the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Costume Design (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner), and the 2011 Tony Award® for Best Costume Design.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the story about three drag queens who are girlfriends,” says Amy Hillner Larsen, who is a swing and the assistant dance captain of the current tour.

Mitzi Mitosis (nee Anthony “Tick” Belrose) (played by Wade McCollum), a transsexual named Bernadette (nee Ralph) (portrayed by Scott Willis), and Felicia (nee Adam Whitely) (played by Bryan West) set out from Sydney on a memorable trek across the Australian Outback to headline at a resort hotel in far off Alice Springs, where Mitzi’s estranged wife, Marion (portrayed Christy Faber) works and lives with their young son, Benji (alternately played by Shane Davis and Will B.).

“The majority of the show takes place in “Priscilla,” which is the name of their bus,” notes Amy Hillner Larsen. She adds that true friendship develops between the three drag queens and various colorful characters that they meet during their epic journey.

Cast members not named above include Joe Hart as Bob, Taurean Everett as Jimmy, Nik Alexzander as Miss Understanding, Chelsey Zeno as Cynthia, David Koch as Frank, Travis Taber as Farrah/Young Bernadette, and Babs Rubenstein as Shirley.

Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Britt West strut their stuff as The Divas. The Ensemble includes John Capes, Andrew Chappelle, Alex DeLeo, Chris Klink, and Alex Ringler. Dance captain Ralph Meitzler and assistant dance captain Amy Hillner Larsen serve as swings. (Hillner Larsen says she covers all of the female roles, including The Divas, Marion, Shirley, and Cynthia.)

Amy Hillner Larsen says, “There’s a lot of heart here, and it’s a very timely story. In this day and age, people can relate to this story about friendship and acceptance. I really like the message that it sends.”

Hillner Larsen was born into her profession. “My parents are actors, so I grew up with it …. I wanted to follow in the footsteps, I guess.”

The 30-year-old New York City native adds, “I went to Wagner College, which is on Staten Island in New York City. I have a BA in theater performance from there [in 2004].”

Before joining the touring company for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in January 2013, Amy Hillner Larsen worked for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Last year, she was playing Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray on the “Oasis of the Seas” when the company was called to perform at the Tony Awards. (Hillner Larsen says she last toured seven years ago in the first national tour of Hairspray, which played Raleigh as part of the Broadway Series South series.)

“They had our company do a live segment from the middle of the sea,” she says, “and a couple of years ago, I was able to portray Tracy at the Hollywood Bowl — in front of 15,000 people. It’s an amazing venue.”

Amy Hillner married “Gigi: Almost American” actor, writer, producer, and composer Kevin Larsen on Nov. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA, where she lives when she’s not on the road. But shortly after that, she was auditioning — first in Las Vegas and then in New York — and then rehearsing in New York to perform in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

“We had a couple of days to take a quick little trip,” says Amy Hillner Larsen. “But we’re saving our honeymoon for whenever this tour concludes. We’re going to take our time, and go on a nice long trip.”

She adds, “I was looking forward to being involved in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert from the beginning of rehearsals. I’ve always been a replacement. It was really exciting to be involved in all of the rehearsals and costume fitting from the very beginning.”

The producers of the first North American tour of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert include Allan Scott, Garry McQuinn, Liz Koops, Michael Hamlyn, MGM on Stage, and Troika Entertainment. The show’s creative team includes director Simon Phillips, associate director David Hyslop, choreographer Ross Coleman, associate choreographer Joshua Buscher, original associate choreographer Andrew Hallsworth, music director Brent Frederick, scenic designer Brian Thomson, lighting designer Nick Schlieper, costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, sound designer Jonathan Deans, production stage manager Tom Bartlett, and stage manager Chad Lewis. The show also features orchestrations by Stephen “Spud” Murphy and Charlie Hull.

Amy Hillner Larsen claims the touring version of Priscilla is essentially the same as the Broadway production,” which opened on March 20, 2011 at the Palace theater and played 526 performances before closing on June 24, 2012. One difference, she says, is, “Our bus needs to be broken down to fit into a tractor trailer to be able to travel every week.

“Otherwise, it’s all the same,” she says. “There are three women, whose characters are called The Divas, and sing these classic, iconic songs while suspended in the air….”

Hillner Larsen notes, “We have all the same costumes that they had on Broadway. We have 500 costumes in the show.”

She adds, “It’s always fun to meet your new dresser. In a typical show, guys have to put on a pair of pants, a shirt, and a jacket. In our show, there’s a paintbrush costume and a cupcake costume.”

Amy Hillner Larsen tells DPAC patrons, “Be prepared to have a really great time and to really take in the spectacle of the show. It’s all music that you’ve heard before — music that will have you jumping out of your seats.”

She adds, “There’s a true heat at the core of the show … and people should come to have fun for two-and-a-half hours.”

SECOND OPINION: May 1st Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x383678807/REVIEW-Priscilla-Queen-of-the-Desert-a-fun-trip and April 25th review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x383676408/Nearly-500-costumes-in-Priscilla-Queen-of-the-Desert (Note: You must register to view these articles); May 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/01/2863475/lively-actors-cant-save-this-ponderous.html; May 1st Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interview with Scott Willis, conducted by Michelle Marsh: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/12398527/#/vid12398527 and May 1st slideshow: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/out_and_about/image_gallery/12398538/; and April 29th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh interview with Wade McCollum, conducted by Larisa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Interviews-PRISCILLAs-Wade-McCollum-Discusses-as-it-Rolls-into-Durham-20130429.

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at 7:30 p.m. May 2, 8 p.m. May 3, 2 and 8 p.m. May 4, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 5 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701. TICKETS: $42.50-$111.00 (including fees), except $17.50 Student Rush Tickets in Row P of the Balcony (sold on the day of the performance). Click here for details. BOX OFFICE: DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets. Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1732688. GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services. SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/priscilla-queen-of-the-desert. SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series. VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgfrzG3AZXM and http://www.priscillaontour.com/gallery/. PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/. DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here. PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide. NOTE: DPAC will sell $17.50 Student Rush Tickets in Row P of the Balcony on the day of the performance. Click here for details. OTHER LINKS: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994 film): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscilla,_Queen_of_the_Desert (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109045/ (Internet Movie Database). Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2006 musical): http://www.priscillathemusical.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscilla_Queen_of_the_Desert_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia). U.S. Tour: http://www.priscillaontour.com/ (official website). Tour Cast and Creative Team Bios: http://www.priscillaontour.com/cast/ (official web page). Stephan Elliott (film director/screenwriter/playwright): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephan_Elliott (Wikipedia). Allan Scott (playwright): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Scott_%28Scottish_screenwriter%29 (Wikipedia). Amy Hillner Larsen: https://www.facebook.com/amyhillner (Facebook page).

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.

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