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Absolutely Fabulous

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, now playing at the Civic Theatre, is pure fun.

By Kimberly Cunningham

Absolutely Fabulous

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, presented by Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theatre downtown, is a lighthearted musical romp about friendship and celebrating diversity. The full-scale production involves more than 500 costumes, most of them in outrageously fabulous drag queen style, including 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes, more than 200 hats and headdresses, nine different styles of lashes, and more than 60 wigs. We chatted with wardrobe supervisor Gillian Austin about what it takes to bring this production to life.

What’s the most challenging aspect of navigating all these costumes? Keeping the costumes looking fresh and new for every performance.

How many costume changes are there? Around 400 changes.

What’s the quickest “quick change?” And what has to happen in that amount of time?  The quickest is under 30 seconds. It happens onstage behind a small wall that gets pushed out onstage. Two dressers take one of our leads out of a dress and bolero and put him into a Gumby costume. He also changes his make-up and puts on a huge crown headpiece.

Absolutely Fabulous

Priscilla Queen of the Desert Gumby costume

Gumby costume

Are there professional dressers backstage that help facilitate these changes? How many? In every city we hire 12 people to dress the show. In total there are 15 wardrobe people making sure the show happens.

What’s your favorite costume in the show? I have several. I love the emus in the finale and there’s a silver sailor in “Go West.”

Is it more challenging to pull this off when you are a touring show (vs. being housed at the same theater every night)? Yes-, we have to train our dressers every time we go to a new city. We also have to adjust to a new theater and the equipment they have. It also changes our backstage set-up. Sometimes we have a lot of room; sometimes we’re all on top of each other.

Has there ever been a wardrobe malfunction? Yes! We have minor breaks with costumes every night. Nothing that terrible has ever happened luckily. We did have to figure out a lot during tech. One of our actors got pulled off a chair by two dressers who were trying to make a change happen.

There are about 500 costumes in this show. How does this compare to other shows of this scale? Our costumes are very plentiful and very large. We take up a lot of floor space. One cupcake is six-feet-wide. Many shows have as many costumes as we do, but few have gigantic cupcake candle hats.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert runs through Sunday, October 20. Tickets at

Absolutely Fabulous

Priscilla Queen of the Desert Silver Sailors

Silver Sailors costumes

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