Theatre Lawrence kicks off new season with jukebox musical ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’

photo by: James Diemer

Jared Martin, from left, Jaryl Perkins and Louise ImMasche rehearse "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at Theatre Lawrence.

Jared Martin has learned a number of things while playing the lead role in Theatre Lawrence’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

One of them, he says, is that “wearing 4-inch stilettos and running around is hard.” (Or, as RuPaul has more pointedly put it, “Drag ain’t for sissies.”)

“Priscilla,” the stage adaptation of the 1994 Australian road-trip movie, isn’t Martin’s first time performing in drag — that was in the Topeka Civic Theatre’s recent production of “Kinky Boots,” which he describes as “quite a learning curve.” And it’s far from his first blockbuster musical — he’s been in many of those in his 16 years of acting.

But this is easily the most exhausting show — “spectacle,” to use his words — he’s been in. There’s all the singing and dancing, of course; the jukebox musical is loaded with high-energy pop songs from the likes of the Village People, Gloria Gaynor and Pat Benatar. And there are numerous, often elaborate, costume changes.

“We are literally running around (backstage) ripping one sweater off to put on a cowboy button-up and then running off to (change into) something else,” Martin says.

photo by: James Diemer

Cast members rehearse “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at Theatre Lawrence.

Darren Canady, the University of Kansas English professor who’s directing the show — his first for Theatre Lawrence — describes the cast of 17 as “sprinting through locations, costumes and characters” so that “it feels like a cast of 50 at times.”

And on top of the physical demands, there’s a not insignificant emotional component, as the show deals with issues of homophobia, complex relationships and self-acceptance.

Martin plays the lead character, Anthony “Tick” Belrose, a drag queen known as Mitzi Mitosis, who ventures with two friends — another drag queen and a trans woman — to the Australian Outback in a bus dubbed “Priscilla.” En route to perform in a remote resort area, where Tick’s estranged wife and their son live, the three travelers encounter experiences of prejudice and isolation as well as jubilant bursts of pride and community.

“There’s a moment in the show that I think all of us, not even necessarily just in the queer community have felt, this kind of — I don’t want to say fear — but we’ve all had this moment of, OK, I’m being my authentic self in public and I am terrified of what that’s going to be,” Martin says. “So getting out there in drag has definitely enlivened some of those feelings.”

photo by: James Diemer

Jared Martin, center, Jaryl Perkins, left, and Louise ImMasche rehearse “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at Theatre Lawrence.

Despite some dark moments on stage, Martin and Canady both emphasize the show’s irrepressible sense of joy, particularly in how characters who are “different” and “weird” successfully create their own family and a sense of belonging.

“It’s that process of saying, you know what, I might be marginalized in other spaces, but in my world, I matter … I matter to the people in it, and I’m going to invest in those relationships, I’m going to invest in that trip. I’m going to invest in becoming an even better person,” Canady says, “and I love that that’s there against the backdrop of this wild music and these big numbers.”

It’s a sense of fun that’s meant to involve the audience viscerally during every show, but for one particular performance — the night of Oct. 1 — audience members are encouraged to get especially involved by wearing drag or perhaps, as Canady says, “their finest disco,” and to “get as campy as they please.” He notes that there will be a station where people can take photos and “get all social media’d out.”

“Priscilla,” which kicks off Theatre Lawrence’s 2022-23 season, is scheduled to open Friday at 4660 Bauer Farm Drive, and will have multiple performances through Oct. 2. For information about tickets, call 785-843-SHOW (7469) or go online at

photo by: James Diemer

Amanda Viehweg, from left, Secily Reese and Frankie Haynes rehearse “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: James Diemer

Louise ImMasche, from left, Jaryl Perkins and Jared Martin rehearse “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at Theatre Lawrence.


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