Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'Priscilla' Dressed at the Palace - The Review

WTF?…this musical surprised me from every aspect. I think this show and ‘Sister Act’ are the two where I almost begrudgingly bought a ticket. These are hits in the West End and I wanted to know why but wondered how much improvement can there be from film to stage musical. Where ‘Sister Act’ delivered mixed results, ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ was fabulous from start to finish. Note to all, I completely avoided the stage adaptation of ‘Dirty Dancing’.

The show concerns drag queen Mitzi and friends Felicia and Bernadette who each make their own personal journeys of discovery as they go across Australia from Sydney to the outback, in a battered old bus named Priscilla, to perform their show singing their way through disco songs.

This is a cross-country adventure filled with colorful lighting, lots and lots of dazzling costumes and lively musical numbers. Songs are carefully chosen from the film and new ones added to project the feeling of the moment in the story.

I was surprised how much I like this show. An awesome moment involved the bus named Priscilla when it first appears on stage and later when it is painted pink...the house goes wild at this stage/lighting effect. The director even finds humor in the fact that a bus cannot travel on a confined stage and uses everything from street signs to road kill to mark their progress.

The cast has to be chosen well and their characters carefully modulated. These characters can become unlikable rather quickly but a balance of pathos, humor and drama in the lead roles will leave the crowds rooting for happy endings for all. Don Gallagher (Bernadette), Ben Richards (Tick/Mitzi) and Oliver Thornton (Adam/Felicia) work their characters to the edge of flamboyance but yet never exceeds it to overkill. Using the strength of the screenplay, the growth they gain by show’s end is honest and makes for purposeful storytelling. Hopefully these nuances are not lost in the transfer to Broadway. Spectacle is one thing but storytelling with meaningful characters makes it special.

It would have been too easily for things to go way over the top to the point of distraction. Yet in such a flashy musical it apparently does not cross the line. Somehow everything works. When human songbirds appear from the heavens it's okay. Unlike most jukebox musicals, the well known songs do not substitute for a poorly told story.

Note of caution: if you have an aversion to confetti, ping pong balls or country dancing, then best you be warned. For this audience member, my claim to fame is I can now say I danced on a London stage...nuff said.


All production photos used for illustration purposes only.


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