14572344_1799922476947142_2403261318361172046_nBy Manning Harris

It’s always nice to announce that the Atlanta theatre scene continues to grow: Out Front Theatre Company is a brand new theatre, and its first production is a peppy version of the musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” based on the 1994 Australian film. The show runs through Nov. 6.

Now any film or musical (and it actually had a Broadway run in 2006) with this title had better have more than its fair share of whimsicality and wackiness, and “Priscilla” certainly does.

The film may not have challenged “Titanic” or “E.T.” in box office grosses, but it was a critically acclaimed international success nevertheless, and it’s got a cult following.

Here we have two drag queens Tick/Mitzi Mitosis (Justin Thompson—outstanding) and Adam/Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Jason-Jamal Ligon) and transgender woman Bernadette Basigner (Robert Ray) embarking on a cross country trip (that’s across the Australian Outback) from Sydney to Alice Springs in a bus named Priscilla to perform a drag show at a casino resort. Whew—you got all that?

Moreover, this journey is being done as a favor to Tick’s estranged wife Marion (Megan Wartell); and Tick also wants to connect with his eight-year-old son Benji (Alex Huff) and see how Benji handles having a father in such an exotic profession. Wait, you say: I thought Tick was gay.

Gentle reader—one of the chief joys and epiphanies of this show is realizing, as Donald Sutherland once said in a film, “Things happen in this world—people don’t always have the answers, you know.” Labels are virtually meaningless. For example, Out Front has announced that it wants to appeal to LGBT folks (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). That’s fine; but Producing Artistic Director and founder Paul Conroy has added at least one other initial, and that’s “A” for allies: “Straight people who are supportive of us,” he told the AJC. And Conroy has discovered there are plenty of them around.

On their way across the Outback, Tick, Felicia, and Bernadette experience some homophobic abuse, mostly verbal; also there’s some vandalism and ugly signage left on the bus. But the trio is nothing if not tenacious; and it’s not wise to get in a verbal sparring match with Bernadette. With her years of experience, she will emerge the witty victor.

But in the main, “Priscilla” is a lighthearted romp with tons of familiar disco songs (and a fine and fearless five-member band). And then there are the costumes. Such color—such pizazz; they alone are worth the trip to support this fledgling company (thank you, Jay Reynolds). The show itself, with its very large and lively cast, gets just a bit top-heavy in the second act; pacing gets off somewhat.

But fun, pure and joyous, is the raison d’être for “Priscilla,” and in this you won’t be disappointed.

Our “back-up divas” are Ally Duncan, Brianna Gilliam, and Gia Nappo; they are vivacious, with fine voices. The music director is Nick Silvestri; Mr. Conroy does the choreography.

An enormous amount of painstaking effort has gone into this very large entertainment; by the way, I wouldn’t mind spending a night or two in that gorgeous bus; no detail of design has been overlooked.

Opening night was a sellout with extra chairs added—this bodes well for Out Front’s future. If you go, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll leave smiling.

For information and tickets, visit outfronttheatre.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.