Review: “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” Book by Stephan Elliot & Allan Scott. Music & Lyrics by Various. Directed by Simon Philips. Choreography by Ross Coleman. With Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, Bryan West, and Joe Hart. Now through November 17, 2013 at The Paramount.
I think the header pretty much says it all. More than one person at The Paramount Theatre for Tuesday night’s opening of the touring road production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” the kinda hit Broadway musical based on the beloved 20 year old Australian film of the same title, remarked that it was a VERY Gay night of musical theater…which says a lot. The content was gay, the songs were gay, the characters were gay, many in the cast are gay and the audience was gayer than a picnic basket in the orgy room at Steamworks. I went to use the men’s room during intermission and it was cruisier than Pony on a Saturday night. This show is G.A.Y. almost to the point that you might need to V.O.M.I.T. It’s real gay.
But, while I’m not a fan of juke box musicals, and “Priscilla” doesn’t have an original tune to its name; it’s a steady stream of beloved homo scented hits from the past including “It’s Raining Men”, “Go West”, “I Love the Nightlife” and “Finally”, it’s still a list of your favorite guilty pleasure musical treats. The musical makers, which include the film’s original director/writer Stephan Elliot never stray far from the original source material. The musical staged version of Priscilla is almost exactly like the movie with a couple of twinks, er, tweeks here and there. Of course, the problem arises that the sweet, tender little film was a neat and tidy 100 minutes long and the stage show is a good 45 minutes LONGER…it feels a bit padded and over long. The charms of the film are overwhelmed by the demands of musical theater where everything must be carefully formulated. It doesn’t kill the show, but it’s a bit of a slog by the of the night.
Still, it’s hard not to have a good time at “Priscilla”. It has a proven Hit Parade score, adorable gay characters, and, best of all, those gorgeously adorable and fabulous Academy Award and Tony Award winning costumes from Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel…every iconic look from the film has been recreated and dozens more new designs added. Every greedy wanna be drag queen, scenester and fashionista in town would love to get their mitts on these outfits, shoes, wigs and head pieces. PLUS, there are some amazingly fast costume changes in this show; always a treat for the fans of the “fast & the furious” quick drag change. And, the famed “Priscilla” herself, the bus that carries the trio of drag queens across the Australian desert is also faithfully and fabulously recreated by Brian Thomson. It’s a gaudy extravaganza of a show despite the fact some of the other set pieces actually look a bit cheap and thrown together.
Acting wise, the trio starring were all strong assets with fine work from Bryan West as the bratty Adam/Felecia and divine work from veteran actor Scott Willis as Bernadette, the transgendered elder stateswoman of the group. Mr. Willis played the role very convincingly as a transwoman, with great sensitivity and subtlety. I thought Terence Stamp was very good in the film version, despite Mr. Stamp’s complete inability to dance, but his interpretation of Bernadette was decidedly more masculine than Mr. Willis’ sweeter, gentler work.
Oregon native, out gay actor and recent SGS interview subject Wade McCollum made for a convincing Tick/Mitzi in role that has been redefined by the theatrical creators to become the central role of the show as Tick faces his own nerves at meeting and interacting with his son from a prior heterosexual relationship. At times, that plot thread feels a bit heavy handed and awkward…it seemed to work better in the context of the original film set in the early 90s than it does today. The musical is set as a contemporary show with the use of cell phones but the material of the show is definitely very Nineties in regards to the attitudes held by the characters in relationship to each other and society in general. Mr. McCollum has the tricky task of navigating these confusing waters and he does a fine job of it, trying to make sense of a character that seems to be a bit of a self-hating homosexual uncomfortable with himself and his sexuality and masculinity. It’s not very subtle writing but the actor makes us care enough about Tick to go along for the ride. Another plus: Mr. McCollum has an awesomely muscular gym toned body which gets displayed a lot in this show…after all, you need to some beef to counter balance all the frothy fruitcakery that’s center stage the majority of the time.
Who’s this for?
Fans of the movie. Fans of camp. Your average “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewer. Crazy costume aficionados. Most homosexuals who enjoy some or all of the aforementioned…their straight allies who ditto.
Who’s this not for?
Bigots who hate all the aforementioned. Non bigots who hate juke box musicals. Musical theater fans who prefer better written musicals.