Saturday, December 30, 2006

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert - The Musical (The SOB Review) - Lyric Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert - The Musical (The SOB Review) - Lyric Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

*** (out of ****)


Last evening, nearly three months into its ever-expanding open-ended Sydney run, I took in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert - The Musical, which to be honest can be very difficult to describe to any neophyte not familiar with the 1994 film on which it's based.

It's a sexy, silly, sometimes incoherent, über-campy, often tasteless and crude, completely over-the-top musical if there ever was one. Yet it's ultimately irresistible. And with many of the key motion picture elements roundly being eagerly anticipated and cheered upon delivery -- including the infamous ping pong scene -- the musical itself is, well, a ball.

Just when you think that the book (by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott) is teetering dangerously close to the brink of excess, you're either suddenly lurching back to some semblance of reality or finding yourself cheerfully going along for the ride wondering just how far into fantasia this tuner will dare to go.

Sure, it lacks any of the movie's truly subtle moments, and there's nary a trace of ABBA to be found (Kylie Minogue is this version's heralded icon), but with magnificently choreographed numbers by Ross Coleman of everything from the downright anti-funereal "Don't Leave Me This Way" to the celebratory "Go West" to the campy country "I Love The Nightlife" to the giddily glam "Finally," this Priscilla pulls out all the stops to ensure a good time is had by all.

Surprisingly, the one exception is the desert routine practice from the movie, but that's easily forgiven thanks to numbers like my personal favorite -- with which I finally submitted myself to the evening's wild ride -- "MacArthur Park," a showstopping number that reminded me a bit of how Mamma Mia! delightfully shoehorned songs into the show with groan-worthy lead-ins.

Part of the success of that number, as well as each of the other huge dance sequences was one delicious costume send-up after another by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, the duo whose creations appeared in the silver screen version. It should be noted here that Chappel knows something of this genre, having earlier been one half of a pair of male dancers called Earring in support of a drag queen.

Naturally, the mark of any good show is the acting. Here, Tony Sheldon offers a remarkably brilliant Bernadette, the trannie who's given up hope of ever finding a lasting love. Although the normal leads for Tick/Mitzi and Adam/Felicia were out last evening, their understudies -- David Spencer and Nick Hardcastle, respectively -- provide convincing and endearing portrayals of the other two members of the queens of the desert.

Yet it's the outstanding supporting performances by Michael Caton as Bernadette's would-be suitor Bob and Genevieve Lemon as Broken Hill's Shirley who practically steal the show. Caton offers such a genuinely heartfelt portrayal giving the show some essential gravitas; Lemon on the other hand successfully satirizes a domineering outback bigot who gets her comeuppance from Bernadette.

This is by no means a perfect musical, but it certainly is a wildly entertaining romp and just plain gay, literally and figuratively.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Priscilla Opens Down Under (October 14, 2006)
Finally! Stage Musical Version of Priscilla - Queen of the Desert to Roll into Sydney (July 5, 2006)

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10 Comments:

At 30 December, 2006, Anonymous Esther said...

Sounds like alot of fun.

I just saw the movie recently after it popped up on a list of the best movies about Australia, and I really liked it.

First of all, it's a "road" show, and I like any story that involves a journey. There are always lots of adventures along the way, and the characters always experience some type of personal transformation. And in a movie, of course, you get to see some of the landscape. You really get a sense of the remoteness of the outback.

Plus, by the end, the three main characters aren't stereotypes. They're people we've really come to know and like as individuals. We're invested emotionally in what happens to them. And I'm sure that comes through in the stage version, too.

So, was there a bus on stage?

 
At 30 December, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther,

Thanks for your question. Indeed the pivotol bus was on stage with much of the action leaping forth from the vehicle as it literally circled the stage on a giant roundtable. I should have given a special nod to both Brian Thomson's gorgeous production design as well as to Nick Schlieper's lighting design. Both added immensely to the story.

Cheers!

 
At 05 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

A post script:

Last evening, I decided to revisit the film version of this show. Ultimately, I was surprised by how faithful the stage musical version was to its source material. Seems while watching the show in Sydney, I forgot several elements from the silver screen, including the reference to "MacArthur Park" among others.

Still, watching the movie reinforced how superior it remains over the stage incarnation. Both are great fun, yet there's no contest between the two.

 
At 13 April, 2007, Anonymous Michael H said...

HI Steve,

Glad you got to see this wonderful piece of fluff and entertainment.

interesting what you were saying about the script. My Partner did some script doctoring work on it so have heard the who saga - (which I am happy to share just not in a public post)

It is still playing to good houses .

Incidently the performace you say was undersudy city with just about every one except Sheldon and Ms Lemon off.

email me if you want the fuller story -
Cheers
Michael H

 
At 17 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dear Michael H,

Thanks so much for your comments. Always great to get some inside (private) scoop but will need your e-mail address (or you can e-mail me at steve.on.broadway@hotmail.com).

The show has certainly stayed with me in a very positive fashion. I'm still happily recommending Priscilla to all my friends and acquaintances traveling Down Under and am delighted it's still running strong.

 
At 24 November, 2009, Blogger cocopazzo said...

Steve,

I saw the show in London last week and I have to say I was less forgiving of the show's flaws than you were. The film, unlike the stage show, had a lot of heart. The book of the stage show replaced the heart of the movie script with mediocre x-rated jokes and sight gags. Choreography and blocking were incredibly unimaginative and the sound design was unnecessarily rock-concert loud. I agree that the production design and the costumes were very well done. For this show to come to Broadway and suceed, it would need a new director, a new book and a new choreographer.

 
At 24 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Of course, the irony is that the show you saw in London is not the same show I saw in Sydney. From what I understand, it has changed quite a bit. I have little doubt that it would once again before it hits Broadway.

 
At 24 November, 2009, Blogger cocopazzo said...

The show has the same creative team and 2 of the 3 leads were brought over from the Australian production (including a very good Tony Sheldon) so I'm not sure how much has changed.

My main problem with the show was its emphasis on outrageousness and celebration of bad taste at the expense of letting the audience truly come to identify with the three characters by the end of the show. I must admit that the big Palace theatre was almost completely full on a Thursday night and that the audience I saw it with ate the show up with high enthusiasm which was uncharacteristic of a London theatre crowd.

The show in its current form would probably do well in a regional tour rather than going to Broadway and having to contend with the New York Times' Brantley or Isherwood.

 
At 24 November, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Trust me. What you saw is not necessarily the same show I saw.

Here is a back story to changes that have taken place since I saw the production nearly 3 years ago.

 
At 24 November, 2009, Blogger cocopazzo said...

Thanks for pointing me to your earlier article about the changes in the show. I do happen to agree with Riedel, however. The show will STILL need a script doctor if it's to go to Broadway- Harvey Fierstein or Charles Busch being naturals.

 

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