"Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical" is nothing if not a fierce fashion show.
South Floridians will have two opportunities to decide whether this version matches the over-the-topness and humor of Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel's Oscar-winning looks from the 1994 movie that inspired the show when it touches down at Miami’s Arsht Center April 2-7 and then comes back to West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center April 23-28.
If Michelle Harrison's opinion matters, fans will not be disappointed by the costumes of the road tour. Harrison is the costume director for "Priscilla." As such, she oversees the shipping and maintenance of the wardrobe designed by Chappel and Gardiner (who, by the way, accepted her Oscar wearing a dress made entirely of gold American Express credit cards).
"What I don't do is travel with the show," Harrison says from her studio at the Baltimore-based Troika Entertainment. "Basically, I work with the director and the design team, and they tell me what they want, and I make sure that it happens. If they want a costume of a giant cupcake, I give them a giant cupcake and everything that goes with it, from the shoes and hats all the way down to the underwear."
Plenty of conversations take place among the three wardrobe staffers, the two wig and makeup artists, and the local hairstylists and crew hired in each city. They have to make sure they have the supplies for repairs. "You can’t just run out and buy another flip-flop dress," Harrison says.
Even though she's worked on other musicals with extravagant costumes — "Cats," "42nd Street," "Legally Blonde," "Come Fly Away" — she says this show about the adventures of three drag queens crossing Australia's Outback in a bus they dub Priscilla, is on another level, with 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and 200 hats and headdresses. Every month, the show goes through two pounds of glitter, 75 pots of eye shadow and 175 tubes of lip color.
"I think it's close to 500 costumes in the show," she says. "It's not that there are so many pieces. I mean, '42nd Street' had a lot of pieces. But it's that they are so big with 'Priscilla.' We put everything in gondolas, which are these big, rolling closets. When we did '42nd Street,' we had 20 gondolas. With 'Priscilla,' we have 40.”
On each side of the stage, the road tour sets up giant shelves that rotate so some of the larger costumes can be unloaded quickly. Those big boxes of rotating shelves are then flown up into the rafters of the theater to get them out of the way. Aside from being big, many of the wardrobe pieces are heavy.
Harrison explains: "Especially the headdresses. That's something we really have to keep an eye on, because if they get too heavy, [the cast] can injure themselves, throw out a neck or a back or get pulled muscles. We make sure they are as light as possible. Although some things are just heavy, and there's no way to get around it. Like the platform boots. No way. When you put them on, you feel like you have 10-pound bricks. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you have to jump up on a bar and then jump down, it is. But I did it."
"You have to," Harrison says, laughing. "How can you not? You almost can't help it. When we first got it, we tried on a bunch of this stuff. It was so much fun. I’ve never seen so many sequins and Swarovski crystals and hats and shoes. It took us a good month just unpacking and cleaning. It was like Christmas."
IF YOU GO
When: April 2-7; 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Cost: Tickets start at $26
Contact: 305-949-6722 or ArshtCenter.org