REVIEW: ‘Priscilla’ queens win with a royal flush at the Aurora Fox

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Don’t over-think the thing about whether drag queens should be lip-syncing or singing. Just roll with it while Priscilla rolls along.

It’s an important lesson offered up by life, theater and the Aurora Fox Arts Center’s regional premier of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

Just roll with it.

The Fox production of “Priscilla” does raise questions, but more than anything it delivers a stage-full of high-energy, disco fun.

Based on the 1994 Aussie cult movie classic of nearly the same name, it follows three drag queens on an adventure across the Australian Outback in a bus dubbed Priscilla as they make their way to a faraway drag show in a straight and straight-laced world.

The musical is one of a growing number of cult film favorites finding new and arguably better life with singing, dancing and elaborately scripted curtain calls. “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Hairspray,” “Kinky Boots” and more are audience favorites in theaters large and small. This show, and the Fox production, are testaments to those successes.

What’s curious about “Priscilla” is that drag queen shtick is about lip-syncing diva classic songs.  But the stage show rolls out a female trio, original work and plenty of impressive disco covers. The show draws attention to this quirk even by talking and singing  about the sad death of lip-syncing on the drag-show runways. Ironically, a standout moment in the Fox production pairs aging transgender drag queen Bernadette, played by Denver-area favorite Heather Lacy, with a diva singer, played by Krisangela Washington.

Washington delivers a stunning cover of “I Will Survive” the audience won’t forget.

Maybe it’s the sensitivity of the times, but this production draws attention to a larger question surrounding Lacy’s roll as Bernadette, a middle-aged drag queen who’s a transgender woman.  Can a woman convincingly pretend to be a man pretending to be a drag queen who is really a transgender woman? Are you keeping up?

This show and others like it pivots on cliches of drag queens and the daily tribulations of LGBTQ people all over the world. You might ponder whether this Victor Victoria moment is like a white actor donning blackface to portray a black person. Knowing the Fox show casts a woman to portray a transgender woman begs scrutiny in a world learning new social ropes set out by America’s most famous transgender citizen, Caitlyn Jenner.

If your expectation is the cliche transgender woman, Lacy hits the mark only sometimes. Her alacrity in small high-heeled shoes, the easy way she turns her head and her confidence belays the stereotype. But anything else might have come off as a parody of a transgender woman.

See what I mean? Not only is it best not to overthink it. Just roll with it.

It’s so much glitter-filled navel gazing because Lacy and the entire cast are stand-out amazing, number after number in a physically demanding show.

Todd Peckham breezes through the part of Tick, a drag-queen previously married to a woman, finding his way to deal with being the father of their young son. Where the movie skated through this, the show, and especially Peckham, gives depth to the part and humanizes people many consider to be little more than cartoons.

Likewise for the youthful smart-ass drag queen, Felicia. Actor Rob Piney easily moves from being a pithy cliche to a young man both troubled and enchanted by his life. Piney and the divas have one of many moments in the show with a raucous rendition of, “Hot Stuff.”

But the moment — in a show that strings them together like pearls — goes to veteran Denver actor Sharon Kay White.  She unexpectedly cold-cocks the house with a dead-pan, slow-mo rendition of, “I Love The Nightlife.” When you can steal the show from a trio of killer divas, three drag queens in sky-high neon headdresses riding a full-size rolling bus across the stage — simply by nearly standing still in a T-shirt — you’ve got something going for you. White had the house watching the perfectly timed stunt through tears of laughter.

All of the show not only works, but it works those drag numbers and achy heart scenes like a pro. A normally sleepy Sunday matinee audience that might even have been squinty through parts of the play was fast on its feet at the end of the performance. The fondness was nearly visceral.

The rolling real-life school bus, extravagant lighting, astounding costumes, top-choreography and every perfect voice in the ensemble was a tribute to Director Eden Lane’s vision of lovable drag queens no longer relegated to the back of the bus.

From curtain to curtain, “Priscilla” is a joyous romp that seriously shows how taking the wrong things seriously can take all the fun out of life.

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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

At the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 E. Colfax Ave.

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 28

Tickets: $26-$37 at 303-739-1970 or visit aurorafoxartscenter.org