No conceivable sequin, or other glowing, flowing object, has been left unturned in this romping musical conundrum of the 1994 movie from which “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” was adapted by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott. It’s camp at its highest level and fits right into this Broadway season where the new standard is performers tethered and flying. Tacky, wacky “Priscilla” is razzle-dazzle to the nth degree. Remember “When Pigs Fly?” That was surely the forerunner of the brilliance in costuming that is the highlight of this production (costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner – Tony winners perhaps?).
Three Australian drag queens, ala “La Cage”, with a little bit of “Mamma Mia” style, and some Las Vegas thrown in for good measure, take off on a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs making their way through the outback in a shabby bus named “Priscilla” that changes colors and is only dimmed by the sight of the gaudy, bawdy extravagant costumes and colors. Tony Award nominee Will Swenson, seen in the recent revival of “Hair,” is the susceptible Tick/Mitzi who owns up to the fact that he also has a wife Marion (Jessica Phillips) in Alice. Marion just happens to own a Casino and inveigles Tick to come and bring his drag show to her establishment as a ruse to finally meet his son Benj, age 6, whom he’s never seen (alternating Nick Mannikus/Ashton Woerz).
In this sparkle plenty production, not a moment is wasted on the storyline, which is mediocre, but instead we’re bombarded with “in your face” dance moves and choreography accompanying the pop music that is the meat and potatoes. You’ll not have to concern yourself as to whether there’s a tune you’ll know or want to walk out of the theatre singing. There are many! From the opening “It’s Raining Men” (and that’s no lie), “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”or Tick sitting at his dressing table singing ”I Say a Little Prayer” to “Material Girl” or “I Love the Nightlife,” it’s non-stop, can you top this grooves and moves.
Swenson is accompanied by retired transsexual quick-witted queen Bernadette, a regal Tony Sheldon, who created the role in Australia, along with all-too spunky, running at the mouth Felicia/Adam, played by Nick Adams. As the three go off on their jaunt, they meet a lot of colorful folk along the way like the yahoos at the Broken Hill night spot where toughie bar owner Shirley, the hilarious Keala Settle, shakes it up with the best of them, an aboriginal (James Brown III) showing a group of tourists around in the outback, mechanic Bob (C. David Johnson) who sympathizes with the three, trying to help them when the bus breaks down and develops an eye for Bernadette, and who also happens to be married to some crazy mail order bride Cynthia (J. Elaine Marcos) whose “Pop Muzik” is more than notable as she fires ping-pong balls from some unusual body parts.
There’s a whole lotta wise-cracking going on, especially from the young spunky Felicia, with lots of sexual innuendos throughout as he flexes those big muscles. The scenic design, with the bus as focus, also adds a BIG glittery shoe (thank Brian Thompson) on which Felicia pops out into the audience to lip sync “Sempre Libre.”
The Divas, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McClesky and Ashley Spencer are kept busy, not only in the air, but on the ground as they sing live to a fair amount of lip syncing.
Add some delicious paint brush costumes to “Color My World” and dancing cupcakes with umbrellas to “MacArthur Park” and one’s senses are overwhelmed with the creativity and color. Lest we forget, the larger than life hairdos and huge platform footwear are also remarkable.
The cast gels but for a noticeable difference in the lack of strength in Swenson’s performance compared to his two drag queen buddies. He just isn’t convincing enough when it comes to pure camp.
The fabulous lighting is by Nick Schlieper, with sound design by Jonathan Deans & Peter Fitzgerald. The choreography, created by the late Ross Coleman, is now supervised by Jerry Mitchell. The whole extravaganza is deftly directed by Simon Phillips.
Get thee to the Palace Theatre on Broadway for some great fun!