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Lavish, hi-tech 'Priscilla' opens at Camelot Theatre

Artistic Director Shawn Ramagos and the creative team at Camelot Theatre pull out all the stops for “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.”

“The story is so iconic,” Ramagos says. “Audiences know the story from the film and from Broadway. It has to be done right for that reason.”

The musical is an adaptation of writer and director Stephan Elliott’s 1994 comedy film “The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.” It tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman who travel across the Australian Outback from Sydney to perform a drag show in a remote casino in Alice Springs.

They travel aboard a lavender bus, named Priscilla, and encounter humorous situations and characters while expanding their perceptions of love and friendship.

The musical uses well-known pop songs — “It’s Raining Men,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Hot Stuff,” “I Will Survive,” “I Love the Nightlife” — to drive the action.

“The songs in this show are what make it so fun,” Ramagos says. “They are the centerpoint of the story. The playwrights (Elliott and co-writer Allan Scott) chose music that spoke to the culture of the time. It’s jam-packed with ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s dance music.

“Tiny book scenes were written that carry the drama from one musical number to the next, but for the most part the show is a sing-through musical.”

The Tony Award-winning musical previews Thursday, July 12, opens Friday, July 13, and runs through Aug. 8 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Preview tickets are $20. All other tickets are $29 or $36. Drag Night — come in costume to compete for prizes — will be July 14. A benefit show for Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice will be Wednesday, July 18. Tickets and information are available at camelottheatre.org or 541-535-5250.

Lots of lavish costumes and bling, multilayered video projections, a nine-piece orchestra, a large ensemble and a bus the likeness of Priscilla promise to make the Camelot production meet even the highest expectations.

“Many theaters opt not to present this show because it is detailed and requires so many costumes,” Ramagos says. “I know what it takes to pull off a show like ‘Priscilla.’ I don’t think Camelot has ever had a show that requires so much.”

Ramagos came on board April 1 at Camelot. He co-directed “Spotlight on Tina & Janis” with Roy Von Rains Jr. and “Barefoot in the Park” with Brianna Gowland. “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” is his first solo direction of a big musical at the community theater.

“Very early on, we decided we were going to do ‘Priscilla’ right,” he says. “We’ll have the bus onstage, and we have 450 different costume pieces with quick changes that are just seconds long. The costumes are big, show-like and include everything from cupcakes to emus, kangaroos and koalas. The show is set in Australia, so there are animals from that region. It’s extremely detailed.

“Video will be projected onto white panels and a cyclorama to give the scenes framed, multilayered effects,” he says. “If there is a scene in the bus moving down the road, the projection moves to make the bus look like it’s tracking down the highway.”

For the orchestra, a rehearsal room at the rear of the stage was renovated to provide an orchestra pit.

“All music from now on will be played by live orchestras,” Ramagos says. “This show is not only a huge undertaking, but we’ve transformed our space to suit future productions, as well.”

Ramagos studied in a conservatory program at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, then he studied directing and acting at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

“I took a kind of internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando, where I learned lighting and pyrotechnics. It’s a bit unconventional, but I feel it’s the best of both worlds. I got the hands-on experience I need to survive in the entertainment industry.”

Later, he worked as a designer and director at Marigny Opera House in the French Quarter in New Orleans, he says, along with Theatre Baton Rouge and New Venture Theatre before he applied for the position of artistic director at Camelot as part of a nationwide search.

“I think I was chosen for the job because I’m an artistic director and I have design and technical background,” Ramagos says. “They get a designer and a director in one.”

Scott Ford plays Bernadette in Camelot’s production of “Priscilla,” Zachary Horn plays Tick, and Mitzi and Evan Sheets plays Adam and Felicia.

“The three leads do the most quick changes, and sometimes they go from male to female,” Ramagos says. “The entire ensemble is busy just because they are in all of the musical dance numbers.”

Costume design is by Darby McCue; assistant costume designer is Theresa Baldwin.

“We’ve made all of the costumes in-house,” Ramagos says. “Darby and her team started working on this show as soon as I got here.”

Ramagos is set designer, Brian O’Connor is sound and video designer, Melanie Marie is choreographer and dialect coach, Karl Iverson is music director and Bart Grady is lighting designer.

“I hope people come out and notice the improvements we’re making and give us feedback,” Ramagos says. “That’s what community theater is all about. There’s a new call for high quality and high-tech shows, and we’re making that commitment to a higher standard. There will be a drastic change.”

Evan Sheets, left, Scott Ford and Zachary Horn appear in Camelot Theatre's production of "Priscilla: Queen of Desert," opening Friday, July 13. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune