Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical | Fox Theatre

priscilla2013 sqWe even find out who left the cake out in the rain. I don’t know about you, but that question was right up there with “What is the meaning of life?” and “Who let the dogs out?” for me.

 

 

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There are shows that are more or less “critic-proof.” The Nunsense franchise is; so are productions like Menopause, the Musical or Kurves, the Musical (or perhaps almost anything with a title (Fill in the Blank), the Musical, which are popular with audiences but don’t get awards or rave reviews. Priscilla Queen of the Desert The (ahem) Musical strikes me as the wealthiest member of “The Musicals Family,” with a huge budget for costumes and various effects, especially for the title character herself, who happens to be a bus.

There is a plot, which follows the events of the 1994 film of the same title—mostly, just in a different order sometimes. It was called The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and it was quite good. Unfortunately, even all the Musicals’ money couldn’t buy a comma, so we don’t read the title incorrectly. Who is “Priscilla Queen”? But I digress.

The “Fabulous” Fox is the perfect setting for this confection which begins with sweeping strobe lights (pacemaker users and audience members with seizure disorders beware) and a deafening performance by the “Divas,” three women who descend on wires from high above the stage and hang there, singing and gesturing and moving their heads a lot. They look really dumb, but Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West are excellent vocalists. They function as a chorus, in much the same way the skid-row trio does in Little Shop of Horrors. In this opening number, they are belting out “It’s Raining Men,” and are soon joined by “Tick” (aka “Mitzi,” Wade McCollum) and the rest of the company. It’s a splashy start.

This is entirely a jukebox musical with no original compositions in the entire playlist, but the songs chosen, mostly disco, are ones often noted as popular with the LGBT community which comprises a sizeable number of its fans. And well it should, because amid all the fluff is a very positive message about tolerance and love and the power of human connection. At the top of the show, Tick, who works as a drag queen in Sydney, Australia, receives a phone call from his wife Marion (Christy Faber) with an offer to play a gig at her casino in Alice Springs, and, not incidentally, meet their 8-year-old son for the first time. Tick has kept his family a secret, but this is an invitation he can’t refuse, especially when she puts the little boy, Benji (alternately Shane Davis and Will B. Whitesell) on the line. So, Tick seeks out his associates Bernadette (Scott Willis) and Adam (aka “Felicia Jollygoodfellow,” Bryan West) to come along for the show, although they don’t know Tick’s connection to Marion at first or to Benji until they arrive.

Money is tight, so flying is out of the question. However, the trio deck out an old tour bus and take off for the long drive through the Outback. It should be noted that, while Tick and Adam are gay drag queens, Bernadette is a transsexual woman. She is the oldest and, to me, the most interesting of the three main characters. She’s having kind of a midlife crisis due to recent widowhood (her husband was much younger) and she seems depressed in general. Her old joie de vivre has disappeared, but happiness is in store for her and for them all, as one would expect.

There are bumps in the road, of course. The trio encounters bigotry and even some violence, in the tough town of Coober Pedy, although it does seem to weaken the opposition just a bit when a John Denver song (“Thank God I’m a Country Boy”) defines them. AND the performers come out into the audience and haul people up on stage to two-step and shake what their mamas gave ’em. This part is entirely gratuitous, but whatever rattles your maracas, right?

Overall, this is a good-looking show, and I had fun seeing it. I like a lot of the music, too, but parodying Madonna seems redundant. Most important, I can feel pretty good about anything that sends up the execrable “MacArthur Park” with human dancing cupcakes and umbrellas, and we even find out who left the cake out in the rain. I don’t know about you, but that question was right up there with “What is the meaning of life?” and “Who let the dogs out?” for me. And don’t leave before the curtain call is over because first, it’s rude, but second, you’ll see a Sydney landmark depicted in a most unusual and amusing way.

Major credits: The show’s book is by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott is based on the film written and directed by Elliott. The extraordinary, sometimes outlandish costumes are the work of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner; the orchestrations are by Stephen “Spud” Murphy and Charlie Hull; and the choreography and direction of the production are recreated by Ross Coleman and Simon Philips, respectively. The live orchestra is conducted by Brent Frederick. | Andrea Braun

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical runs through February 10, 2013, at the Fox Theatre.

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