Beneath all the glitz and glamour of this highly entertaining musical pastiche, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which aptly is running at the Palace Theatre, beats a heart that pulses with love and understanding. It’s not just a show about drag queens. It is a show about the human spirit that can overcome just about anything in high heels, fountains of feathers, and false eyelashes.
The Wow! Factor comes into play about every ten seconds as one incredibly costumed production number after another has you wondering where and who to focus on. It’s a visual extravaganza unlike anything seen on the New York stage in recent history. Las Vegas yes. But even Priscilla outdoes Vegas with the imaginative slew of costumes created by Tim Chappel & Lizzy Gardiner on display here. I mean paint brushes and cupcakes that outdo even Disney and showgirls that are more fabulous than those at the Lido in gay Paris.
Which brings me back to the simple yet effective storyline on which all this fantastic fabulousness is fastened.
Tick (Will Swenson) has been asked by his ex-wife Marion (Jessica Phillips) to help put on a show far from his life in Sydney (he is a drag queen called Mitzi), in Alice Springs Australia where she has a casino and lives with their six year old son Benji (Ashton Woerz). He tries to back out but when his son who knows nothing of what his father is or does makes him promise to come, he agrees – asking an old friend Bernadette, a dignified and classy drag queen of a certain age (Tony Sheldon) and the much younger, buff and promiscuous Adam (drag name: Felicia/Nick Adams) to come along for the ride and to help with the production.
Three drag queens on a bus called Priscilla. A bus that should be nominated for some sort of award as it is a major player in this musical. Designed by Brian Thompson who also did the sets, Priscilla all but sings. It is a marvel of design and engineering and is put to exquisite use by director Simon Phillips.
Three drag queens that are each in search of happiness. Along the way they meet up with some local discrimination offset by great musical numbers that are an eclectic collection of disco, Madonna, opera and of all people Jerome Kern. It’s a great score culled from many composers and shoehorned into the slight but surprisingly moving storyline. It’s sort of a gay Mamma Mia!
Will Swenson is all high energy, charm and introspection and delivers some of the more reflective scenes with great sensitivity especially with his son. Double jointed Nick Adams with his manly physique delivers his sarcastic quips (just about every gay joke ever said finds its way into the script by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott) with ease as well as expertly lip-syncing “Sempre Libre” atop Priscilla in all his glory. Tony Sheldon is phenomenal. Playing for real and for keeps. He is all woman at all times and we love him when he falls for the mechanic Bob (C. David Johnson) who repairs their broken down bus en route. Their scenes are truly touching.
On top of everything else, quite literally, are three divas (Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey, Ashley Spencer) who sing hanging from the raters of the Palace Theatre and add super vocal power, humor and get to glam up with each appearance. Nathan Lee Graham as Miss Understanding rocks those rafters too.
The non-stop and inventive choreography is by the late Ross Coleman which is supervised by the very talented Jerry Mitchell.
To sum up, see this wonderful feel good musical and be Wowed! over and over again. And take a tip from those three drag queens who encourage us to be ourselves, find happiness and above all to survive. www.priscillaonbroadway.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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