Saturday, December 6, 2014

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2014)

Back in 2006, two French post-docs introduced me to Australian culture by projecting "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" on their terrace house's wall. It was an opportunity for me to see the Australian outback (which I knew I wouldn't see as a student) and alternative lifestyles (blown up to extravagant proportions). It was fitting that I'd see it that time, while residing in the very cosmopolitan suburb of Newtown, Sydney: lots of members of the LGBT community, students from the University of Sydney (where I first enrolled for graduate school), and artistic individuals with brightly coloured hair. Definitely a lot of things to bewilder a sheltered provincial girl from the Philippines who went to live in a city far away from home and family for the first time in her life. Culture shock!

So, when I heard that an adaptation of the movie, entitled Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Musical, was being staged in Manila, I decided to watch it, for nostalgic reasons. Together with me at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre for the second gala show, were Kor, Annette, and Ate Nancy. It was girls' night out and instead of only one probinsyana, there were four! 

The cast was superb; the men in drag (and in Roman togas) were beautifully led by Jon Santos, Michael Williams, and Red Concepcion. The soundtrack, as always, was lively and engaging... brought back memories of me walking along King Street, late at night, to go back to the post-docs' home (they provided a room for me during my studentship in USyd) to the tune of "It's Raining Men" blaring nightly from the Newtown Hotel (yes, nightly! as if it's the only song in the world!). The door was kept open every performance night thus the flamboyantly dressed female impersonators on-stage (yes, I picked a term from Priscilla) were quite easily visible from King Street. It took two Sydney trips and an explanation from my professor for me to get that the Newtown Hotel catered, at that time, to the gay crowd. Now, the venue has been revamped to entertain a wider audience, as I understand it.

The theatre's LED backdrop for the musical featured scenes from the Australian outback, plus glimpses of Sydney's landmarks: the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, both of which I've visited as a student during my walking tours of the city. I've never been to Uluru/Ayers Rock, a UNESCO Heritage Site; or to Broken Hill, a mining city; or to the opal capital of the world, Cooper Pedy. But the movie allowed me to see these places for the first time and the musical allowed me to, sort of, relive that experience...

Including the most uncomfortable of them all: watching the portrayal of the Filipina as a one-dimensional character: an exotic dancer that became a mail-order bride, with very poor English communication skills. Maybe the movie just needed an Asian stereotype and got a Filipina by chance; maybe the producers encountered this Filipina type in Australia and generalised all Filipinas as such. I still don't know. Nevertheless, this character upped the shock value even further for me back when I saw the movie and drew the laughs of the live audience of the Manila staging.

What a fun, fun night! The rainbow-coloured sprinklies and icing on the very pink cake: Kor and I were picked by a cast member to dance and I got my playbill signed by the leads as well. Oh, and I got close to the orchestra pit too (where there were Korg Kronos music workstations... my current keyboard pales in comparison to those).

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on