Wade McCollum shows off his acting, singing, and dancing in ‘Priscilla.’
by Donalevan Maines
Photos by Joan Marcus
“I was conceived in Foolish Pleasure,” says Wade McCollum, making a sly reference to the ’70s band that his father, drummer Mike McCollum, was touring with before baby Wade “came out” nine months later in Chico, California.
His father had joined another touring band, Reflections, by that time, so it was “on the road again” for the infant, presaging his journey to Houston this month as Tick/Mitzi in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical, itself an epic saga about a cross-country, cross-dressing trek Down Under.
Lots and lots of cross-dressing. The show boasts more than 500 costumes, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes, and some 200 hats and headdresses. “It’s a bundle,” says McCollum.
“In the finale,” he adds, “I wear this Marie Antoinette kind of crazy, emergency shelter semi-truck with a light metal frame and a four-foot sculptured ocean wig. It’s pretty f–king amazing.”
The two actors who play Bernadette and Adam/Felicia also wear Marie Antoinette-type costumes. McCollum adds, “I won’t give it away, but the three dresses combine into one thing. They are pieces of engineering more than a costume.”
The “pieces of engineering” won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design for Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. It followed the Academy Award they won for costumes in the 1994 Australian movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Gardiner famously accepted her Oscar in a dress constructed entirely of gold American Express cards.
McCollum says he was fourteen years old when the movie came out, corresponding in time to his own emergence as someone “nonconventional” in his sexuality. “I’m one of those stubborn fellas who don’t subscribe to labels,” he explains. “Sexuality is so fluid, and labels can be so limiting. I mean, it wasn’t easy, just being in a small town in Oregon, but Priscilla was one of those movies that’s kind of awesome to have around. It was empowering to see those people living so obviously flamboyant among their cohorts.”
In the movie, Tick’s drag name was Mitzi Del Bra, but in the musical, it’s Mitzi Mitosis—a nod, says McCollum, to how “he’s a little bit conflicted.” In biology, he explains, mitosis describes a cell’s separation into two identical sets of chromosomes. “One of the clues to my character is that it’s powerful and liberating for him to take Mitosis as his drag name,” says McCollum. “He claims the fact that he’s divided in a lot of ways.”
McCollum’s career spans way beyond musical theater, including a triumphant run as Prior in Angels in America.
But Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical shows off McCollum’s skills as a triple threat: actor, singer, and dancer. “I let myself have the most fun with ‘MacArthur Park,’” he says. “It’s a window into Tick’s inner child of joy and abandon, and it’s hallucinatory.”
McCollum says the current Priscilla tour began in, of all places, Peoria, Illinois, where it was met with surprising enthusiasm. The show’s opening night in San Francisco, he says, “was really mindboggling. Amazing—probably the best crowd response. It was fun to get that love.”
In each city, twenty-three dressers are hired—one for each actor—but in some instances, such as a thirty-second change in Act I, McCollum says, “It takes five people to help me.”
Theatre Under the Stars, which is presenting the show, noted several “fun facts” about the tour, including:
• The flip-flop dress in the movie cost a mere $7;
• The Weather Girls—Martha Wash and Izora Armstead—sold more than six million copies of the song “It’s Raining Men” after Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Cher, and Barbra Streisand all declined to record it;
• The Broadway show used 295 ostrich feather plumes in its costumes and headdresses;
• Each performance, 24 pairs of eyelashes were used;
• Each week, they went through 1,500 makeup removal wipes;
• Each month, they used 175 tubes of lipstick, 75 pots of eye shadow, and two pounds of glitter;
• The musical includes nine different styles of eyelashes, some three-and-a-half inches long.
What: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
When: September 29–October 12
Where: Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Tickets: tuts.com or 713/558-8887.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Paul Oakley Stovall in Ensemble Theatre’s Immediately Family in this issue of OutSmart magazine.