Story: Tick is an Australian drag queen who performs regularly in Sydney. One night he receives a call from his ex-wife, who says she needs a favor: She’d like him to perform at her casino in Alice Springs in the Outback . She also wants him to reconnect with his young son, Benji, who hasn’t seen his father in years and has been asking about him and his life in “show business.”
Tick is filled with trepidation about having to explain his career to his son, but decides to make the trip. He enlists the aid of his friend Bernadette, a transsexual who has just lost her husband, and Adam, a wise-cracking, show-stealing drag queen whom Bernadette dismisses as vulgar. Nonetheless, the trio boards a used camper they christen Priscilla and leave the bright lights of Sydney for the clear nights of Alice Springs.
Highlights: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a 1994 film starring Terrence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving, became the basis for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical, the most successful Australian musical of all time. The book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott is as thin as a Kleenex and the music is a compilation of pop hits selected from the last four decades or so. Still, there’s a charm to the story that at least makes Priscilla bearable for its two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Other Info: Both the movie and musical garnered awards for costume design, including a Tony for the 2011 Broadway adaptation, and it’s easy to understand why. “Fun facts” from the publicity for Priscilla note that there are more than 500 costumes, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and more than 200 hats and headdresses used in the show.
One definitely notices a cornucopia of colors in the touring production, which features a trio of warblers known as The Divas (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, Brit West) who periodically descend from the rafters above The Fox stage dressed in full regalia to move the musical forward.
Wade McCollum brings a sweet poignancy to the role of Tick/Mitzi, especially as he wistfully sings I Say a Little Prayer. Scott Willis is subdued and reflective as Bernadette, who finds romance in the desert in the person of an amiable mechanic named Bob, played satisfactorily by Joe Hart.
Bryan West makes the most of his flamboyant role as Adam, aka Felicia, camping it up outrageously, which leads to some harrowing moments with the townsfolk in a couple of hamlets the trio visit along their journey. West has great fun vamping to the Madonna tune, Material Girl, as well as ‘rehearsing’ in a giant high heel atop Priscilla while lip synching to the music of La Traviata.
Chelsea Zeno has the unfortunate role of Cynthia, Bob’s Asian wife, who brings out the worst in stereotyping in the one-time English penal colony, particularly in a bizarre number titled Pop Muzik that utilizes ping-pong balls in most distressing ways. As you’ve probably guessed by now, Priscilla definitely is not for younger audiences, considering its subject matter and haphazard sprinkling of four-letter words throughout.
Nik Alexzander mugs shamelessly as a character named Miss Understanding, doing his best Tina Turner impression on his take on What’s Love Got to Do with It? Christy Faber is Tick’s ex-wife Marion, while Shane Davis and Will Whitesell alternate as his son Benji.
The eye-popping array of extravagant costumes is designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, with Cassie Hanlon contributing the considerable makeup design. Nick Schlieper and Jonathan Spencer collaborated on the lush lighting design that illuminates the action and sometimes provides surprisingly soft accompaniment, and the rambunctious choreography is courtesy of Joshua Bucher, who recreates Ross Coleman’s original moves.
Stephen “Spud” Murphy is responsible for the music supervision and arrangements as well as orchestrations with Charlie Hull, and Simon Philips directs everything smoothly enough, keeping the show moving towards its predictable if upbeat conclusion. The movable party bus known as Priscilla was designed by Brian Thomson, who also designed the serviceable sets.
Priscilla is as ostentatious as its namesake van but a pleasant enough excursion into riotous and ribald territory.
Musical: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
Group: Touring production
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through February 10
Tickets: $15-$66; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus