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Arts & Culture

It's 'raining men' at Boise’s Alley Rep opener, 'Priscilla,' with big hair, sequins and a killer soundtrack

Priscilla-3 friends.jpg
Alley Repertory Theater
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert runs at Alley Rep Theater through Sunday, Dec. 19

Alley Repertory Theater’s artistic director Buffie Main knew that reemerging from 20 months of going dark due to the pandemic, she had to do something special.

“I had a different season opener picked,” she said. “And then, the longer COVID went on, the more I knew that joy would need to be at the heart of that.”

So, Main thought of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," the hit Broadway and West End musical, based on the iconic 2011 film. The score includes hits from The Village People, Pat Benatar and Cindy Lauper and anthems like “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men."

Main, along with one of the Alley Rep production’s co-stars, Jodi Eichelberger visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about their holiday offering and its themes of unconditional love, family, inclusion … and a disco soundtrack to beat the band.

“I think right now, all any of us can do is look for joy, and if we can find it, then I think we've created something we all needed. So, I'm excited.”
Buffie Main

Priscilla Queen of the Desert: the musical - Alley Rep promo video

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. As we ever so carefully emerge from… well, now nearly two years of a life without live, in-person entertainment, we’re more than a bit anxious to see what we will encounter. And oh my goodness, Alley Repertory Theater is returning with quite an offering. Buffie Main is here, Artistic Director at Alley Rep and director of their brand new musical; and the always fabulous Jodi Eichelberger, who costars in the production, which is Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Buffie Jodi. Good morning.

BUFFIE MAIN: Oh, good morning. Thank you so much for having us. We're so excited to be here.

JODI EICHELBERGER: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Ok, Buffie, how long has it been since Alley Rep has been on the boards?

MAIN: It'll be 21 months next week, so that's a long time to be off the boards and to be dark. And we are. It's been really powerful to be back, really joyful and also…it's not like riding a bicycle. So it's also been a bit challenging to get it together to do a show.

PRENTICE: So let's talk about that. What is this been like… reemerging?

MAIN: You know, I'd love Jodi to talk a bit about that. From an artistic director perspective, there's some really complicated things with COVID that changed the rehearsal room and change the sort of how the cast can bond and sort of how you're thinking about when rehearsal can happen. We extended the rehearsal process just in case somebody got sick to create space for people who are not used to being on a regular schedule with people. You know, everybody's been really isolated for almost two years, so to come back to be with people in a rehearsal process was an energetic shift for all of us and really good 93 percent of the time and the other percent of the time a bit overwhelming. And so really, being with people as we reconnect has been part of the rehearsal process and new and all good but different.

EICHELBERGER: Yeah, my last show was February 2019, and as we started rehearsals for Priscilla and I realized I haven't sung in probably a year at least. So the vocal cords, even we're feeling like I had to pull him out of a dusty corner and and shake them loose. Fortunately, the singing came back pretty quickly. It is interesting a lot of our rehearsal, we wore masks. And so in some ways when we reach the point of rehearsal where we were testing and the masks came off, it was almost like you were seeing the characters in the show rather than your fellow actors, because during the rehearsal, the actors were eyes and eyebrows, and then suddenly you had mouths as well. The other thing I think about is, you know, I get on myself a little bit. I don't have that phrasing right or that costume change didn't go perfectly or I would like to do something different here. And I just realized from some of the audience response people saying, this is the first thing I've been to in almost two years, and it was amazing to be with a group of people again and experience it that, you know, those other things seem a lot more trivial than maybe they did before when we took going to the theater for granted. And now it just means more.

PRENTICE: The worst kept secret in this town is how much of a theater nerd I am… surpassed only by how much I love film. So, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, was a breakthrough film. But Buffie, there are maybe a few people who may not know the story, so in 30 seconds or less, tell us the story.

MAIN: So the 2011 musical takes the film really very closely, which is the story of three friends crossing the desert in a crazy bus to find one of the characters tics, family, and along the way, they find each other.

PRENTICE: Jodi, this is the soundtrack of all time. I mean, the 70s. The 80s?

EICHELBERGER: Yes. Actually, just today it is a little crazy. The official Facebook page for The Village People just shared the alley rep production because we feature their song Go West in the show and to see us mentioned on The Village People social media is really surreal.

PRENTICE: Jodi, drop some titles. Tell the audience some of the songs.

EICHELBERGER: We have some Pat Benatar: “We Belong,” we have Cyndi Lauper. We've got “I Will Survive”.

MAIN: “It's Raining Men.”

EICHELBERGER: Yes, the audience has got their arms up in the air and they're moving them around and clapping and. Smiling and so it's a really different experience to be performing several different, you know, music from all sorts of sources and in and have it woven together in a story.

PRENTICE: Buffie, your safety protocols are not unlike Broadway's new protocols, right?

MAIN: We are vax checking at the door. We are asking people to wear masks. And one of the things our board of directors decided was we think theater going forward will have some of these safety protocols for a long time, and we want to keep our artists safe and our audiences safe. And so let's just go. Let's check at the door. Let's put on our masks and enjoy the show. And at the end of the day, if somebody gets sick for a show like Ali Rep, that's that's going to be really hard on us. So it's going to potentially take the show out. And so it's worth the safety precaution, both because that's what we want for each other in our community, but also it's what's necessary for the play to happen.

PRENTICE: You opened Thanksgiving weekend. What was that like? It was probably more than just an opening of another show.

EICHELBERGER: Well, seeing the odd gather was pretty special and there was a different energy out there. Just sensing like this is the first time a lot of these people have experienced anything together. I mean, it was also very stressful for us because there are so many elements in this show. I think one of the interesting things about this and you know, Buffy sometimes asks my opinion, but not always is. I probably would have told her this show is too big, you know, for for the group stage for that house, it's just such a big show. But the thing that happens with that is this you're experiencing a big show in an intimate way, which is so fascinating. And I think that's part of why there's so much charge in the room because it's like everyone has a front row seat to their favorite rock concerts. It's just and you and we feel it on the stage too. Whereas on a big Broadway stage, you know, there's a significant amount of distance between you and the audience. I mean, you feel their energy, but this feeling this energy was was very different.

PRENTICE: I saw the show in New York, and as Jodi said, it was huge. I didn't know there were this many sequins in the world. Did you just picture this in your mind's eye at Alley Rep?

MAIN: You know, I had a different season opener picked out; and then the longer COVID went on, the more I knew that it would matter that joy would need to be at the heart of that. And so the cool thing about Ali Rep and Boise, where it is right now is we have this plethora of incredibly talented people. And when you bring them together, magic happens. And that's all I knew. I knew we had the talent to do this show. It is more complex for us in the context of costumes and makeup and music than we've ever done before. And so I'm always pushing Ali up in that way. And on this one, I think I definitely pushed us into the I had to put gas in the bus to make sure we would get off the stage. So I'm acknowledging that. But I think what happens when we challenge each other in this period of time is that we keep creating more and we keep creating better. So I'm excited about what's there because the sound of the chorus is incredible. The costumes are so creative. There are a lot of sequins and there is some crazy hair. You have never seen hair like this on the stage, both in wigs, both in real. I think it's magical and it hits exactly where we needed. I think right now, all any of us can do is look for joy, and if we can find it, then I think we've created something we all needed. So I'm excited.

PRENTICE: Ok. Give us the performance schedule. What are the dates in December?

MAIN: Ok, so we opened Thanksgiving week and now we go back on the boards on Thursday, December 9th. We run that weekend, the 9th, 10th and 11th, and then the next weekend, the 16th, 17, 18, and we close on the 19th of December. That's a Sunday matinee. So just in time for everybody to shift into their holiday garb and holiday singing, so we will take you all the way to Christmas week.

PRENTICE: Indeed, it is a family show, Jodi. It's certainly about a family. It is about relationships and about what. We have what we think we have lost and what we find again.

EICHELBERGER: Yes, it is. And you know, a lot of it is very contemporary too. And when I'm playing a character, I have to find things that I have in common with that character to use as a resource. And you know, there's a very poignant part of the show where my character says to another one, you know, the city is dangerous, but it's but it's where we're safe. And I have to say that even in Idaho today, my husband and I don't feel entirely safe traveling to more remote parts of our own state. And so it's not an issue that's buried in the past. It's not. It's still a concern for LGBTQ plus people about where can we be, where can we be ourselves? Where can we show our true colors?

PRENTICE: He is Jodi Eichelberger, costar in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. She is Buffie Maine, director of the production and artistic director at Alley Rep. Happy holidays, guys, and have a great run.

EICHELBERGER: Thank you so much.

MAIN: Thank you, George. We love your hidden theater secret. Your secret's safe with us.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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