The rhythmic beat of disco-era hits as well as over-the-top neon outfits make "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" a "sunlamp for your soul," said Wade McCollum.
He is playing Tick (and his alter-ego Mitzi) in the glitzy musical stage adaptation now playing at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis through Feb. 10.
"It's an honor and a privilege to wear pieces of these incredible costumes (which won the Tony Award in 2011)," he said during the show's third stop in the run. More than 500 costumes are used -- "They're so much fun -- bright, sparkly. These costumes were not just designed, they are engineered. It's like wearing a small building."
Even with eye-popping visuals, the story has to appeal to theatergoers. It's based on a 1994 Australian charmer about friends -- two drag queens and a transsexual -- on a road trip quest through the Outback. Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp and Hugo Weaving were the trio in the movie.
"It's really a great story. We've gotten a warm reception because it's uplifting. I think people are surprised that it has some grit and shadings to the story, not just focused on aspects of drag queens performing. And it has a lot of heart," he said.
They began the national tour in Peoria.
"It played really well. We were very surprised. We said 'Holy Moly!' and freaked out when people were standing before the curtain call. People laughed a lot -- it was so fun to see 3,000 people laughing their guts out."
"I really love to be a guy who crosses bridges and barriers," he said. "Tick is not a black-and-white character. Gender illusion and drag doesn't make an excellent role for me -- but the gray area is really beautiful. Tick is a lot more complicated."
McCollum grew up in Oregon, and was part of rock bands as well as a debate champion in college. When he was 14, he knew exactly what he wanted to do after a stage appearance.
"It was very much a calling," he said. "It chose me, that's crystal clear. I knew what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life."
The cast is having a blast so far. "There is not a bad egg in the bunch," McCollum said. They are thrilled about the standing ovations, and the disco party that ensues.
"It's a magical journey." With tunes like "It's Raining Men" and "I Will Survive," what's not to like? The show is recommended for mature audiences.
At a glance
"Priscilla Queen of the Desert" musical
When: Through Feb. 10. 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3; 1 p.m. Feb. 7.
Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis
Tickets: $15-$66; metrotix.com or fabulousfox.com