Actor Scott Willis, who plays Bernadette in the show, holds one of the high-heeled boots a character wears during a backstage tour at the Buell Theatre
Actor Scott Willis, who plays Bernadette in the show, holds one of the high-heeled boots a character wears during a backstage tour at the Buell Theatre through Sept. 15. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

Talk about having an ample wardrobe.

The 500 costumes worn in the national touring production of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical," fill a semi-trailer truck.

That's a lot of sequined gowns, ostrich-plumed headdresses and platform boots, sister.

For those unfamiliar with the movie and Broadway show — where have you been? — this is the story of three friends who take a road trip in their bus, named Priscilla. No ordinary trio, the travelers are a pair of drag performers and a recently widowed transsexual on their way to a gig at a resort in Alice Springs. In their trek across Australia, they learn a lot about life and love.

The show features a hit parade of songs heavy on such disco-drag classics as "It's Raining Men" and a bounty of colorful costumes to sashay in while dancing to them.

Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardinerearned an Academy Award for the movie costumes and a Tony for the Broadway show, and for good reason. From the iconic flip-flop dress to the swirling cupcake outfits complete with candle headdresses, the show is a visual riot.

And quite the challenge for the actors and crew, as we learned during a backstage tour earlier this week.

Bryan West, who plays Adam (his drag name is Felicia) said he needs the help of five people to get into the skintight outfit he wears for his "Sempre Libera" operatic performance in a giant platform shoe atop the bus.

"There's more choreography behind the scenes at times than on stage," West said.

The show's outrageous footwear — swim flippers with heels, platform sneaker-socks that go with cheerleader outfits, marabu feather-topped boots — are among West's favorite costume pieces. (He was also happy to discover what women have long known — heels make your legs look longer!)

Gillian Austin holds a sequined dress worn in "Priscilla Queen of the The Desert The Musical."
Gillian Austin holds a sequined dress worn in "Priscilla Queen of the The Desert The Musical." (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

But like all great divas, West as Felicia has suffered for his wardrobe indulgences. "Sequins will cut you," he said knowingly. "And it hurts when your skin gets caught in a zipper."

Speaking of zippers, Scott Willis, who plays transgender Bernadette, broke one earlier in the tour while wearing one of his favorite "Priscilla" costumes, the floral blue chiffon number with a six-layered skirt.

"There wasn't time to even stitch it back together before I had to go on," said Willis. He was careful not to expose his back to the audience, and the next zipper that was installed was thick and sturdy.

Like many of the costumes, the blue dress was originally worn in the Broadway show and is lovingly cared for and repaired when needed on the road. "There's no more of the fabric available, so we have to make it last," Willis said.

This glittery peacock headpiece, among all the other pieces of the show’s 500 costumes, required a semi-trailer all their own for transport.
This glittery peacock headpiece, among all the other pieces of the show's 500 costumes, required a semi-trailer all their own for transport. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post )

Gillian Austin, the wardrobe supervisor who travels with the show, said a crew of 15 attends to the costumes for each performance. A dozen people are hired locally to assist with the production, and additional artists work on wigs and makeup.

With all the singing, dancing, set changes and about 20 costume changes for the three principal actors and numerous ones for the other performers during the show, the pace is demanding, Austin said.

"It's like being shot out of a cannon," West said.

Tall canisters of oxygen stand at the ready backstage when performers need it, but the lead actors say it's not the altitude making them short of breath during shows.

It's the corsets.

Yes, like women of yore, the three male leads all wear torso-trimming corsets at various points in the show to give them svelte figures.

As West admitted, "At times, I'm fighting for breath to squeeze out those notes."

Suzanne S. Brown: 303-954-1697, sbrown@denverpost.com or twitter.com/suzannebro

Priscilla queen of the desert the musical

A Denver Center Attractions production. Written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. Directed by Simon Philips. Featuring Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, Bryan West and Joe Hart. Through Sept. 15 at the Buell Theatre, 14th & Curtis streets. 7:30 p.m Tuesdays-Sundays; 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays(No evening performance Sept. 15). Tickets, $35-$105, at denvercenter.org or 303-893-4100.