“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ September 19, 2013


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” based on the 1994 award-winning film, explodes all over the huge ASU Gammage stage filling it with bubbly entertainment.  The touring production of the London and Broadway musical hit is delivered by a talented troupe of dynamic performers who squeeze every bit of delightful diversion out of this enjoyable confection.

“Priscilla” is not a great musical; it is mostly about entertainment.  Three drag queens, Mitzi, Felicia, and Bernadette, who is really a transsexual, go on tour through the Australian outback bringing their amusing impersonations to the provinces.

Below the surface extravaganza, there are two touching stories.  In one, Bernadette falls in love with an outback mechanic, Bob, who keeps the entertainers’ rickety and dilapidated bus going so it gets the performers to their engagements.

The other tender saga comes from female impersonator Tick, also known as Mitzi, who is married but separated from his wife and son, Benji.  The pair live in rural Cooper Pedy where the troupe’s tour takes them.  Will Benji understand and tolerate his flamboyant father?  The other impersonator, Adam, known as Felicia, doesn’t have the colorful background of the other two but gambles unsuccessfully on rural men.

What “Priscilla” delivers is a huge entertainment wallop.  The score features pop music hits most audiences will recognize like “It’s Raining Men,” “A Fine Romance,” “Hot Stuff,” “We Belong,” and “I Will Survive” among the two dozen standards “Priscilla” boasts.  The show tells what it’s like to be a female impersonator and what can happen when people aren’t tolerant of drag queens, but these heart-tugging details are thrown in while the musical dazzles.

“Priscilla” looks almost as spectacular here as it did in the original London production I saw several years ago.  Like most shows at ASU Gammage, though, the initial dialogue had the lyrics evaporating into the acoustically challenging theater but, as “Priscilla” progressed, things improved dramatically indicating that adequate sound checks prior to the opening performance didn’t occur.

The show’s cast is superlative and the orchestra sounds just as good as London’s bigger ensemble.  Wade McCollum’s Mitzi is lovingly sincere about creating a relationship with his young son while he entertains blazingly.  Scott Willis touching Bernadette works beautifully and Willis’ makes the evolving relationship with Bob a tear jerker.  Bryan West is colorfully flashy as the glitzy Felicia.

The opening night audience loved the show so when word-of-mouth gets around, there won’t be many seats left.  “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” plays through Sunday, September 22 at ASU Gammage.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A