"Priscilla Queen Of The Desert"
Palace Theater, Broadway
In this corner, the dazzling visual opulence of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” the outlandish British import where bitchy barbs fly like darts in a pub. The splashy musical, based on the hit 1994 Australian film, has songs that range from “I Say a Little Prayer” to “Material Girl,” “I Will Survive” and “ MacArthur Park .” Each is greeted by whoops of recognition.
The stage show basically follows the outline of the hit 1994 Australian film, made even more outrageous by treating the material like one big disco party. For those who miss the 60s and 70s, it’s a tonic.
Our heroic heroines are transsexual Bernadette and lip-synching drag performer Adam, a.k.a. Felicia. Both are enlisted by Tick, a.k.a. glamorous Mitzi, who, having been asked to visit their young son by his former wife, travel together from safe-for-gays Sydney through the less hospitable outback to Alice Springs.
Setting out in a garish bus nicknamed Priscilla, they find adventures galore with denizens either friendly or gay-bashing. Old jokes abound (“I wouldn’t need to pack. All the bags are under my eyes”) before a sentimental reunion between Tick and his son.
Not that the show shies from being open and proud, a much-needed and heartfelt cry for tolerance. But its very look is at odds with a story about brave but beset gays traveling into hostile territory. Their final triumph, climbing Ayers Rock to trumpet their survival, gets lost in all the glitter.
Chief among the eye-poppers are costumes by Tony winners Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner whose dancing paintbrushes and twirling cupcakes are witty and irresistible, as is designer Brian Thompson’s psychedelic bus. Under Simon Phillips’ firecracker direction (with an assist from Jerry Mitchell), Tony Sheldon is sensational as Bernadette and Nick Adams is a blast as Adam. As Tick, Will Swenson does less with a less flamboyant role, but C. David Johnson is wonderful as Bob, the outbacker who falls for Bernadette.
It’s all harmless. Also forgettable.
--David A. Rosenberg
March 31, 2011