Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spotlight on Theatre Coming Our Way: Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical

(Guest review by Shephard Summers, roving theatre geek)

Currently playing The Palace, London’s West End

Starring: Ben Richards (Tick/Mitzi), Don Gallagher (Bernadette), Oliver Thornton (Adam/Felicia), Ray Meagher (Bob), Portia Emare (Diva), Charlotte Riby (Diva), Emma Lindars (Diva)

2010 Olivier Awards for BEST NEW MUSICAL, Best Actor Tony Sheldon and Best Costume Design (Tim Chappel & Lizzy Gardiner).

With Jukebox musicals, I always go in not knowing what to expect, but with an open mind (as with any new musical really). Priscilla was a pleasant surprise! From the get go, the tone was set: this is not to be taken seriously, and you should sit back and enjoy: the music, the costumes, the fresh (and sometimes surprising) arrangements to familiar songs. If you’re not familiar with the movie (where have you been?), the plot is simple: 3 drag queens driving a tour bus into the Outback of Australia to reunite father and son, bumping into colorful and rustic Aussie characters along the way.

Production values are not spared with fantastic costumes and set pieces, and the familiar dance & pop songs fit into the original movie's plot surprisingly well (my favorite is the odd and funny way they used "Don't Leave Me This Way"). Actually, the entire production is full of surprises. It will be interesting to see if the NYC production retains these sensibilities, or milks more of the movie's serious moments (mostly implied or pantomimed in the London production).

We were a little late to the party, as it’s been playing to sell-out West End crowds for a while and has replaced most original cast. But the current London cast is so solid, if I didn’t know better, I’d assume they were the originals! Great voices! The Divas were fantastic, as was Adam, Bernadette and Tick. Sadly the London cast hasn’t been recorded, so only the Australian cast is available on CD. Such a shame. Same fate that befell Mamma Mia. I’m guessing it has to do with all the rights to all those old songs. Let’s pray they cough up some dough and record the coming Broadway cast, because it looks to be a solid one (Will Swenson from HAIR and Olivier-winner Tony Sheldon from Priscilla’s original London cast)!

I’d be surprised if this didn’t tour or come to LA after NYC. The odd characters and story mesh with favorite songs we love to hear on the radio with theatrical flair. If you liked the movie, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the production. And not unlike the queen of all Jukebox musicals, Mamma Mia!, half the fun is seeing the cleverness and humor with which they wedge these familiar songs into the plot, vocally backed by zaftig flying divas in harnesses and an on-stage hot pink neon tour bus.

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