NEW YORK — Few people warn you about the downside to being a Diva. Like, for example, all that glitter.
"You have no idea," says Jacqueline Arnold, shaking her head.
Arnold, one of three Divas in Broadway's "Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical," says she found the silvery stuff all over a shirt while unpacking on vacation. Ashley Spencer, a fellow Diva, says glitter still shows up in her clothes even after doing laundry.
"It will live with us forever," Spencer says, in mock horror.
Jacqueline McCleskey, the third Diva, is beginning to worry about the medical implications down the line. "When we start having respiratory problems, we'll know — it's the glitter," she says.
Arnold, imitating a doctor, solemnly announces: "She's shiny on the inside. She's radioactive!"
Glitter may be one inconvenience to being a Diva, but Arnold, McCleskey and Spencer cannot find many others. The three are giddy as they prepare for the March 20 opening of their musical based on the 1994 film about three drag queens driving across Australia in a beat-up bus.
The musical's creators dreamed up the Diva roles specifically for the show, tasking them with belting out iconic dance floor hits while the three main actors — Tony Sheldon, Will Swenson and Nick Adams — lip sync.
That means the Divas, who range in age from 20 to 40, get to sing such songs as "It's Raining Men," ''I Will Survive," ''Finally," ''Material Girl," ''Shake Your Groove Thing" and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
"I have to put my seat belt on and get ready for the ride because it's just going to be a whirlwind," says Spencer, who was a finalist on the "Grease: You're the One That I Want!" reality TV series. "A lot of these songs I was infatuated with growing up. I know these two were as well."
Infatuated is correct when it comes to Arnold: She had a childhood obsession with Madonna and remembers sneaking to school at age 10 wearing black lace, fingerless gloves, a long skirt with suspenders, a tank top with a lace tank top over that, a lace bow in her hair and a cross around her neck. For makeup, she wore electric blue mascara and eyeliner, and lip liner with pink iridescent lip gloss.
"I was the hottest thing you've ever seen in your life," says Arnold.
Dressing up these days isn't a problem in the high-energy show in which 19 cast members burn through two dozen songs and 600 costumes, many with sequins, feathers and huge wigs. The Divas alone wear 28 costumes between the three of them and have four flying sequences in which they hang as high as 30 feet off the stage.
"There really isn't a time when we're not changing and singing," says Spencer. "We're constantly moving."
"It's a lot to look at," Arnold adds. "You're like, 'Good God. I need to see that again.' Oh, right: Those are dudes back there dressed as chicks, with Vegas headdresses and leotards and their legs are stunning — and I hate them sometimes."
Already a hit in Australia, New Zealand and London, the three Divas jumped aboard the show last summer in Toronto as it prepared for its Broadway run. It has been a little Americanized, with a Kylie Minogue tune giving way to one by Madonna and some lingo changes. But the joy remains.
"I do this for free at a karaoke bar," says Arnold.
Arnold and McCleskey auditioned together and got the word from their agents that they'd both nabbed the Diva roles on the same day, which was a good thing since they've been roommates for eight years in New York.
McCleskey has been on Broadway before, with roles in "Hair" and "Tarzan," but for Arnold, it's her big debut. "I am like a kid in a candy story, for real," she says. "I really cannot express how incredibly humbling and fortunate I realize that I am to have this as a Broadway debut."
Spencer was on Broadway in "Grease" and "Hairspray" but this will be the first time she's originating a role. She almost didn't get it: Two other actresses cast as the third Diva pulled out.
"They did a great job of bringing in the right people for this job. We're all a little coo-coo, loco — but in a good way. We like to have fun," says McCleskey. "As you can tell, the three of us joke around a lot."
Stephen "Spud" Murphy, the arranger and musical supervisor, says he found in the three exactly what he wanted — a trio of "full-bodied, up-front, in-your-face" singers who could blend their voices as well as sing solos. And they're quick studies.
"They're great. Any time I wanted to change anything, they're so fast. They just lock into each other. There's no extra need to work on the blend," Murphy says. "They think as one now, which is absolutely fantastic."
The three Divas recently enjoyed a rite of passage for Broadway stars: posing with the billboard for the show in Times Square. Tourists spotted them looking at themselves and began furiously photographing the trio.
"It freaked me out, just a hair," says Arnold.
The three actresses say the message of the show — tolerance and respect for all people, gay or straight — is something that attracted them to the show, along with the chance to belt out great songs.
"I hope America is very accepting of the story and I think the music is definitely going to help people relax, and take a step back and calm down and just listen and watch," McCleskey says.
Arnold agrees, and also points to the theme of reinvention that runs through the musical. "It's truly about being able to come into your own and what that means to an individual," she says.
"She's deep!" McCleskey says, teasingly.Comment on this story
"That was deep," Spencer agrees.
"I cannot stand either of you right now," replies Arnold with a smile.