Part of my job is to be a critic, so I criticize positively, and sometimes negatively, the shows that I get to see. But part of my job is also to report, and when an audience responds enthusiastically to a show, whether I find fault with it or not, I have to be honest and make mention of that fact. Such is the case with the musical remake of the 1994 movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which I think is a great film. Here, it's been turned into a so-so jukebox musical, filled with familiar tunes, mostly from the disco era, but also including some country tunes, a few 80's numbers, and a couple of 60's songs.
However, the audience really seemed to enjoy this flamboyantly over the top campfest that's filled to the rim with double-entendres, some genuinely amusing, and some real groaners (book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott). I have a few issues with the show myself, but mostly they're related to the fact that it could really use some original tunes to explore the character's feelings. The use of "Say a Little Prayer" seems particularly awkward and out of place to me. I'd also like to see the actors tone it down on occasion, if only to lend the show some sense of balance. Those comments notwithstanding, it seemed to heartily win over the crowd at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, and it does have a lot of positive things going for it.
The storyline is fairly simple. Tick aka Mitzi (well played by Wade McCollum) has grown tired of his current drag act, and he's also received a call from his estranged wife, Marion (Christy Faber), regarding the need for him to spend some quality time with their son (Shane Davis or Will B. Whitesell, depending on the performance). The idea she conjures up is that he journey through the outback to a town called Alice to perform at her Casino. Tick reluctantly takes her up on the offer and recruits two fellow performers to put together an act. He finds the Madonna-obsessed Adam aka Felicia (strongly portrayed by BRyan West), and also an old friend who's retired from the business, Bernadette (the marvelous Scott Willis). Bernadette is old school drag, preferring to remain classy while lip-syncing tunes. Naturally, Adam takes a more modern approach, flamboyant and full-voiced as he belts out "Material Girl". (The truth is, their voices blend so sweetly together that lip-syncing is completely unnecessary.) The three of them board a small bus named Priscilla, which is a character in and of itself, and head out in search of adventure, with the requisite bickering coming naturally to these distinctly different personalities.
There is also a sort of Greek chorus called the Divas (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West) who descend from the heavens (or here, the ceiling) belting out a number of the tunes in brilliant fashion. And, there's also a kind of narrator called Miss Understanding (an overly shrill Nik Alexzander). But, the real stars of the show are the outrageous costumes created by Tim Chapman and Lizzy Gardiner, and the fun choreography created by Ross Coleman. Director Simon Philip's work isn't bad, but he starts the show on overdrive and never really lets his foot off of the pedal. For me, it all comes off as one note in execution.
Audiences will definitely appreciate this amusing and tune-filled production, even if I found it lacking. So, don't let my comments deter you if you're already inclined to want to take this show in, it does have its charms, and it's colorful and generally very well performed. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert the musical plays at the Fox Theatre through February 10, 2013.