All aboard the party bus!
"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" has sashayed into San Jose's Center for the Performing Arts and invited everyone on an epic road trip through the Australian Outback. While this frenetic musical waters down some of the quirky charm that made the 1994 movie version such a gem, it's hard to begrudge any Broadway show that wears its heart on its sleeve and sequins on its tush in a cheesy coming-out party for three lovable drag queens. If you are in the mood to check your brain at the door and commence with some serious booty shaking, "Priscilla" will hit the sweet spot. The festival of glam and glitter runs through Sunday in its South Bay premiere as part of the Broadway San Jose series.
A giddy jukebox full of disco classics blares in the background as Tick (the rubber-limbed Wade McCollum), a Sydney drag star, starts to long for something over the rainbow. Then he receives a letter from his former wife, Marion (Christy Faber), urging him to get to know Benjamin (Shane Davis, Will B.), the son he has never met. Since Marion now runs a casino in the desert outpost of Alice Springs, she signs Tick up to put on a revue with his BFFs: the ladylike Bernadette (Scott Willis), a retired drag idol still recovering from the loss of his young lover, and the feisty Felicia (Bryan West), a sweet young thing with abs of steel and solid gold bon mots.
Bedecked with feathers and tinsel, they climb aboard the bus lovingly known as Priscilla and hit the road in the Broadway equivalent of a buddy picture mashed up with a heavy dose of "La Cage aux Folles." It's actually just an excuse to bop through a boisterous remix of dance club favorites, including "Don't Leave Me This Way," "I Will Survive," "It's Raining Men" and much of the Madonna canon.
Alas, fans of the film may be a tad disappointed in yet another Broadway adaptation that seems to assume that theatergoers prefer flash over substance. Stephan Elliott's indie movie (which starred Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp and Hugo Weaving) had a sense of wistfulness and grit at its core that made the Dionysian elements even more wonderfully cathartic. In the musical, which Elliott adapted with Allan Scott, the nonstop moneymaker shaking sometimes feels a tad too frenetic to be truly fabulous.
That's a pity, because "Priscilla" boasts three fierce performers in its lead roles. West makes a delightfully saucy whippersnapper as Felicia. Willis gilds Bernadette with a touch of melancholy. And McCollum is simply irrepressible as the drag queen desperate to prove he can be a good dad. With a little more attention paid to the emotional weight of the narrative, "Priscilla" would shine even more brightly.
Too often Simon Philips' production trades substance for speed, racing from one extravagant production number to another without letting enough of the wit and whimsy land. For example, the chorus singers, three glittering divas floating in midair (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West), never quite feel connected to the action onstage.
However, the real star of this show may be the costumes, which revel in eye-popping details from club kid platform wedges to topiary headdresses. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner's outrageous creations dazzle from the first flip-flop minidress to the last towering cupcake costume. No less than 500 gaudy gowns, 200 haute hats, 150 pairs of trumped-up pumps and one psychedelic bus make certain that this is one of the splashiest musicals in recent memory.
of the desert'
By Stephan Elliott and
Where: Center for the
255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose
Running time: 2 hours
30 minutes, one intermission