Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon, Nick Adams and company
in Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical
(© Joan Marcus)
Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon, Nick Adams and company
in Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical
(© Joan Marcus)
Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, now at Broadway's Palace Theatre under Simon Phillips' direction, comes at its audience with more theatrical guns blazing than almost any show in recent memory. Indeed, Priscilla -- which premiered in Australia five years ago and arrives via stints in London and Toronto -- often resembles a Las Vegas revue more than a traditional Broadway show at its chorus-boy's heart.

In this give-'em-the-old-razzle-dazzle musical, three minutes rarely go by without featuring a number built around a hit pop tune, including The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men," Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer," and Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife." Almost every ditty is choreographed within an inch of its you-go-girl life (the dances were created by the late Ross Coleman and are now supevrised by Jerry Mitchell); splashed with Nick Schlieper's lighting; and amplified for ear-splitting effect by Jonathan Dean and Peter Fitzgerald's sound design.

Above all, the show is extravagantly costumed by Oscar winners Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (including six out-sized, cupcake-like ensembles that glide through during the show's second-act "MacArthur Park" extravaganza.)

However, there is also a story on stage, and librettists Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott deserve points for keeping intact the narrative bones from the 1994 film (entitled The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), which provides the show's source material. Drag performer Tick, also known as Mitzi (Will Swenson), enlists older transsexual pal Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) and spunky young drag queen Felicia, also known as Adam (Nick Adams) to accompany him on a trip from Sydney to Alice Springs in a tarted-out van named Priscilla.

The reason for the journey, which takes the cross-dressing buddies through such bona-fide Aussie towns called Bumbaldry, Cockburn, and Top Ryde, is that Tick has been asked by his remarkably understanding, casino-owning wife Marion (Jessica Phillips) to finally meet his six-year-old son, Benji (Nick Mannikus at some performances, Ashton Woerz at others), whom he left behind to pursue his ultra-gay life in the big city.

Not surprisingly, during the weeks-long journey, the three travelers deal with intercine squabbles, run into problems with unsympathetic outbackers, and meet a wide variety of local characters, including a tough-talking bar owner (Keala Settle), an aboriginal tourist exploiter (James Brown III), oh-so-handy mechanic Bob (C. David Johnson), who takes a shine to lovelorn, middle-aged Bernadette, and Bob's crazed soon-to-be ex-wife Cynthia (J. Elaine Marcos), whose memorable "Pop Muzik" turn features ping-pong balls fired from between her supple legs.

The principal cast, led by the indefatigable Sheldon, Adams, and Swenson, give the routines their all, and then some. Meanwhile, literally hanging about the proceedings are the Divas (Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey, and Ashley Spencer), who provide much of the show's vocal power. As for the ensemble, as active as they are while facing the audience, they must expend at least as much energy during the backstage costume changes.

While the show will likely prove to be a crowd-pleaser, it can be difficult to tell whether all of those offering a standing ovation at the curtain call actually enjoyed what they saw -- or are simply surrendering out of sheer exhaustion.