Priscilla Queen of the Desert

It is, indeed, raining men at the Palace Theatre in New York, currently home to Priscilla Queen of the Desert. This splashy, movie-to-stage jukebox musical chugs (and, sometimes, like the titular bus, clunks) along for a colorful night of theatre.

You know, dear readers, that a show like Priscilla isn’t exactly my kind of show. But, it stars Will Swenson, who I loved so much in Hair, and it’s Tony season so on Monday night two friends and I headed over for the camp-fest that is Priscilla. And I have to tell you: I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it, either, but entering into Priscilla’s world with the appropriate expectations made for an entertaining romp.

At rise, Tick/Mitzi (Will Swenson) is a drag performer who promises the son, Benji, he’s never met that he will travel from Sydney to Alice to see him. Benji’s mother has offered Tick a performance slot at her casino in exchange for his making the trip. So Tick enlists the help of Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), older than Tick and a pioneer in Australia’s drag performance scene, and Adam/Felicia (Nick Adams), who is younger than Tick and more than a little flamboyant. (For those who know the performer, I think you’ll agree that in Priscilla, Nick Adams is being Nick Adams. He’s “fabulouuuussss!” and he’ll be the first to tell you.) The three set out across the Australian outback in Priscilla, each in search of love, in some form or another.

Punctuating the story (with book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott) are a plethora of bouncy disco hits and Madonna songs, including “It’s Raining Men,” “Material Girl,” “I Will Survive” and “Hot Stuff,” among others. During intermission, one of my friends commented that everything felt a bit disjointed. I didn’t share that feeling during act one, but during the first few numbers in act two, I think Priscilla made a wrong turn into Disjointown.

That doesn’t really matter, though. The point of Priscilla, in my opinion, isn’t to tell a compelling linear story. (Although, the Tick storyline is sweet and I like Swenson’s tender moments toward the end.) The point of Priscilla is to put on a fantastic spectacle, and that’s a test which the divas on and off stage pass with flying colors—verily.

Brian Thompson’s “bus concept and production design” (as it’s called in the Playbill) is gloriously full of Technicolor. Priscilla turns and rolls and drives through Australia, sometimes opening up to let us see the fantabulous that is the inside of Tick, Bernadette and Adam’s traveling home. Nick Schleiper’s lighting design helps to colorize the bus.

Most impressive though were Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s costume designs. Without exaggerating, I think every time a character walked on stage s/he was wearing a different costume. (Well done, backstage quick-change dressers!) These exquisite pieces of wearable art range from the functional to the absolutely fabulous, and spare no expense at their outrageousness. But I’d expect nothing less, of course.

Perhaps meant to be guardian angels, three divas, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey and Ashley Spencer, intermittently ascended from the sky to provide a vocal assist to the drag queens. The beautiful, ethereal women have terrific pipes – and even better wigs!

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is big and loud and pops off the stage. It’s not a deep, emotional musical and it doesn’t really express much other than style but it is a fierce feast for the eyes. And the pop tunes will definitely get stuck in your head – like it or not!

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  1. I didn’t abhorrence it. I didn’t love it, also, but incoming into Priscilla’s priscilla queen of the desert tickets world with the appropriate expectations made for an enjoyable prance.


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