[Herald Review] ‘Priscilla,’ much more than just a gay show

By Korea Herald

Musical is over-the-top glitz and glam, but doesn’t fail to tug at heartstrings

  • Published : Jul 16, 2014 - 20:45
  • Updated : Jul 16, 2014 - 20:46
In Korea, where homosexuality is taboo, musical fans, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, have displayed much interest in queer themes.

An indication of this, many imported queer musicals have had successful runs here. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Thrill Me” are still showing, while two more ― “La Cage aux Folles” and “Kinky Boots” ― are to open later this year.

Still, a gay story can be a risky bet in this market, as recently evidenced by malicious remarks heaped on Jo Kwon, a member of K-pop group 2AM who plays a drag queen in the Korean production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” which opened last week.

The comments came after promotional images of him in character as Adam were released to the media right before the show’s opening.

“You might think that it is just a gay show. But ‘Priscilla’ is a sincere musical that portrays family, friendship and love,” Jo said via Twitter. “Stop criticizing and just come watch it.” 
A scene from the ongoing Seoul production of “Priscilla:Queen of the Desert” (Seol&Company)

On the show’s opening night on July 10, the audience packing LG Arts Center seemed thoroughly entertained by its over-the-top glitz and glam, eye-popping spectacle and familiar pop and disco tunes, minus uneasiness, if any in the first place, toward the three main characters who happen to be drag queens with one transexual.

Adapted from a 1994 Australian movie of the same title, the musical follows the adventurous journey of drag queens Tick and Adam and transgender Bernadette through the Australian outback.

Traveling aboard their neon-pink bus, “Priscilla,” the three encounter various strange characters, as well as incidents of homophobia, while Tick struggles to prepare himself for the looming reunion with his 6-year-old son, Benji, at the end of the trip.

Although the show draws much attention with its Tony Award-winning costumes (a whopping 500 of them), 60 wigs, some dreadful-looking heels and the life-size bus covered with 30,000 LED lights that rotates on stage, at its core it’s about family, friendship and love.

By the time Benji meets his not-so-ordinary father and innocently informs him that his house has a spare room for Tick and his future boyfriend, the show has warmed the hearts of the audience members.

Audibly, the show is a medley of hit pop songs from the 70s and 80s, many of which are familiar to Korean audiences. They include “It’s Raining Men,” “Hot Stuff,” “True Colors,” “Material Girl” and “I Will Survive.”

Making the ongoing production more convincing and wildly entertaining is the talented Korean cast that includes Go Young-bin, Kim Ho-young and Kim Dae-hyun, who have previously taken up queer characters in the 2012 production of “La Cage aux Folles.” Singer Jo, too, shows off his impressive acting chops, impeccably portraying the young, flamboyant Adam.

“Priscilla” runs through Sept. 29 at LG Arts Center near Exit No. 7 of Yeoksam Station on Seoul Subway Line No. 2. Ticket prices range from 50,000 won to 130,000 won. For details, visit www.musicalpriscilla.co.kr or call 1577-3363.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)