This drag is a drag. Priscilla Queen of the Desert, based on the wonderful 1994 cult movie, is less a Broadway musical than a bad drag show on steroids. Wild costumes and crazy confetti replace any insight or feeling. Outrageous dress is fine, but artifice works best when it encases authenticity. The cast work hard, but the real shout-out belongs to the trainer. These guys are buffed to perfection. Priscilla is all hype and no heart.
Now at the Palace Theater, Priscilla is the story of three drag queens: aging transsexual Bernadette (a superb Tony Sheldon), Tick (Will Swenson) and body-beautiful Felicia (Nick Adams) who journey from Sydney, Australia, to Alice Springs for a gig. En route, they meet a series of misadventures.
Tick is most invested in the trip; he has a wife in Alice Springs, busy raising the young son he's never met. In the film, Tick's ambivalence and fear were palpable; here it's rendered with a sappy songfest that cheapens the experience. While many of the numbers are fun -- and the cast gives 100% -- they are ill served by the production, which is mechanical rather than meaningful.
The psychedelic sets don't help; the Dayglo appears menacing. Two scenes were particularly nonsensical: Felicia high above the audience miming La Traviata, as though opera doubles as workout music, and Tick singing "MacArthur Park." Neither advances the plot.
The Broadway musical, a mishmash of jukebox lip-sync faves, was adapted from the Oscar-winning film by Stephan Elliott, who wrote and directed the movie, and Allan Scott, who collaborated on the book. There are lots of humorous, catty quips and the first go-round of costumes is visually arresting. But as Priscilla piles on the excess dress, it retreats from its emotional core. It seems incredible, but the duo stripped an entertaining and touching story of its soul.