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Set design, costumes make ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ a grand spectacle

Lead+roles+Felicia%2C+Tick+and+Bernadette+showcase+one+of+40+costumes+worn+throughout+the+performance.
Lead roles Felicia, Tick and Bernadette showcase one of 40 costumes worn throughout the performance.

Lead roles Felicia, Tick and Bernadette showcase one of 40 costumes worn throughout the performance.

Michaela Román

Michaela Román

Lead roles Felicia, Tick and Bernadette showcase one of 40 costumes worn throughout the performance.

Eric Vasquez, Entertainment Editor

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The UTEP Dinner Theatre premiered their first show of the fall season, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” this weekend exhibiting not only students’ singing chops, but their talent and capacity for costume and stage design.

“Priscilla” is set in Australia and follows three drag queen performers—Tick, Bernadette and Felicia—as they drive across the outback in a tour bus en route to star in a show at a casino owned by Tick’s wife. Although the storyline is simple enough—a trio of friends road tripping—the drag culture and music from the ‘80s disco era launches the production into a whole other world of glitter, feathers and dangerously high heels.

A “Priscilla” production demands unapologetic flamboyance, and the UDT rose to meet those demands with their costumes and set design.  Usually, the backdrop of a UDT musical remains in place. The setting is kept in a single room like the main floor of a bar or dancehall, but with a musical like “Priscilla” that covers so much ground, a change of scenery is necessary.

The open desert, the inside of a casino, a neighborhood dive bar, a long-forgotten cabaret show and a cozy backyard were some of the background transitions during the show, all the while a tour bus was wheeled off and on stage, rotating to reveal the interior whenever the characters were on the road.

If the appeal of singing and dancing to songs like “It’s Raining Men,” “I Will Survive” and “I Say a Little Prayer” doesn’t do it for you, then the scenic transitions and visual appeal will satisfy.

“Priscilla,” despite being in and of itself a fairly entertaining musical, was eclipsed by the fact that the majority of the set design and costumes were made by students: the ridiculously wide bell-bottom pants, the liquid-like silver capes, the flowing dresses and batch of rugged drunks. Lauren Peña, an English major, helped make the costumes.

“There was 234 costumes total. The lead roles, probably 40 altogether,” Peña said. “About 12 wigs total between the three (Tick, Bernadette and Felicia), and I, a whopping 5-feet-3-inches tall, was changing a 6-foot man in heels.”

Although Peña’s job prior to opening night involved sewing costumes that fit the actors, the real work comes during the show when the main characters are off stage when costume changes have to be swift enough for characters to get back on stage on time for their lines, careful enough not to tear the fabric, and precise so that there isn’t a malfunction in front of the audience.

The job is easy enough when the costumes involve suits and dresses, maybe a pair of jeans, but “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” involves wigs 3-feet tall or made completely of flowers and unitards that could rip down to the leg with one misplaced step. It takes a team of two to change the actors.

“I’m there every show,” Peña said. “And the other person interchanges. We mostly do the leads and the cast helps each other out.”

Productions of “Priscilla” continue this weekend with discount dinner shows happening on Oct. 5, 6, 12 and 13 and regularly priced shows on Oct. 7 and 14. Tickets are $34.50 for Friday and Saturday performances, $31.50 on Wednesday and Thursday performances, and $17.50 for no-dinner performances on Oct. 9 and 16. Tickets may be bought at ticketmaster.com.

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Set design, costumes make ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ a grand spectacle