As the house lights dim, a huge mirrored ball descends from the ceiling and starts spinning, spilling light everywhere in the theatre. Disco music accompanies the glimmering effects, and the energy and excitement of this roaring musical takes off. It’s rare to attend a show where the audience starts clapping right at the beginning, but that’s what happens with Priscilla Queen of the Desert. This show explodes at the start and keeps “going and going and going.” But instead of energizer bunnies – it stars energizer trannies!
The story follows the plot of the 1994 movie: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which three drag queens embark on a journey through the Australian Outback, ostensibly to perform at a casino in Alice Springs. However, the real reason, Tick aka Mitzi (Will Swenson) has booked the gig has nothing to do with performing. Unbeknownst to his companions, Tick has a wife and six-year-old son in Alice Springs and the boy has now decided that he wants to meet his father. This shocking secret is the raison d’etre for the trip.
The two other drag queens have their own reasons prompting them to leave bustling Sydney to go on the road. For Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), it’s the young lover she just buried and the emptiness in her heart for the love she never really found. For Adam aka Felicia (Nick Adams), it’s his tender emotions and sensitive inner child that he hides under bitchy remarks and a brash demeanor. Together, the three face various travails and their own inner demons as they travel through the desert in their bus, named Priscilla.
Even worse than their personal baggage is the anxiety and tension created by the homophobia and drag-queen-o-phobia they encounter along their route. Still, the trip offers them all a chance to perform and bond together. What’s more, the transgendered Bernadette finds true love with Bob (C. David Johnson), who remembers her from the transvestite revue, Les Girls that she performed in some 40 years before!
This Broadway musical is filled with non-stop, foot-tapping pop songs, 500 sensational costumes, and an ultra-talented cast. Priscilla, the bus, is part set, part character. It gloriously revolves on the stage, with special lighting effects highlighting its journey, as it rolls, sputters and stops at different Aussie towns.
The audience is treated to flamboyant Tina Turner, Madonna and Village People musical numbers that are rousing and fun. Songs include “It’s Raining Men,” “Like a Virgin,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “I will Survive,” and a host of other popular hits from the disco era. The extraordinary costumes – and amazing “instant” costume changes – will delight and surprise you. They are original, playful and outrageous, from dancing paint brushes to dancing cupcakes; to wigs, pants, and oversized shoes and boots that are colorful, bold and brassy. The costumes were designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner who won an Academy Award for the film version, and various awards for the live musical.
Australian actor Tony Sheldon is sensational as Bernadette; his sensitive portrayal totally connects with the audience. Nick Adams as Adam/Felicia is charismatic and vocally exciting. Will Swenson as Tick/Mitzi always hits the mark. These three stars aren’t well known to American audiences, but have solid careers in Australia. However, one of the producers is extremely well known and gets above the title credit with “Bette Middler presents.”
We are also treated to the powerful voices of three “floating” divas (Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia Mccleskey, Ashley Spencer) who literally hang above the stage at various points of the drag queens’ trip, providing vocals for “Say a Little Prayer,” “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
For theatre goers who “just wanna have fun,” Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the ticket. No question, this could be a popular show in Las Vegas, where transvestite shows are often featured, but never with the extraordinary flair and outstanding stagecraft of “Priscilla.”
At the end of the show, the audience jumped to its feet, applauding the talent, splash, and spectacle of this extremely entertaining night of live musical theatre. It’s easy to love – just follow the bus!
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
1564 Broadway (46th & 47th)
New York,NY 10036
Book by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott, based on the Latent Image/Specific Films Motion Picture, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., written by Stephan Elliott.
Directed by Simon Phillips
Choreographed by Ross Coleman
Music supervision and arrangements by Stephen (Spud) Murphy
Production supervisor, Jerry Mitchell
Bus concept and production design by Brian Thomson
Costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner
Lighting by Nick Schlieper