You Will Survive ‘Priscilla’ and Shake Your Booty, Too: Review

Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon and Nick Adams in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert." Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

There’s a bus onstage at the Palace Theatre, where Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli once ruled.

And while no one’s singing a remix of “Over the Rainbow,” there’s more than a Technicolor dose of Oz on display in the raucously winning disco musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

Oz, of course, is Australia, where Tick is ready to call it quits on a less than glamorous life as a drag queen in Sydney.

Opportunity knocks when the woman he married seven years ago in a strange flight of fancy calls from the boonies -- in this case, the desert resort Alice Springs. It’s time, she says, for him to meet his son and by the way, she’s in desperate need of a drag show at her club.

That’s totally believable, isn’t it?

Surely as believable as the two comrades in charms that Tick recruits. First up is Bernadette, a somewhat long-in-the-tooth transsexual who could make a rousing Lady Bracknell down the street in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Then there’s Adam, aka Felicia, a heedless young stud who looks as good in a miniskirt as he does in a jock strap. Soon they’re off on a trans-continental trek that makes “Ishtar” look like a romp.

Disco Hit Parade

On the road to Alice, an unending parade of disco hits unfolds, each one glitzier and more resplendently iridescent than the last.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It” demands a herky-jerky faux-Tina Turner; “Like a Virgin” a similar take on Madge.

Act I ends with the inevitable “I Will Survive.” Act II kicks off with “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” worthy of Tommy Tune. The aerobically exhausting choreography is by Ross Coleman, the hypnotic orchestrations and musical supervision are by Stephen “Spud” Murphy and the staging -- campily sentimental -- is by Simon Phillips.

Maybe none of their contributions would matter without the sheer giddy-making blitzkrieg of costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. There are cupcake skirts and cowboy boots and more falsies than a convention of Victoria’s Secret models. Nick Schlieper’s blazing lighting is a character in its own right.

So what if Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s crude book, based on Elliott’s film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” panders to a crowd that doesn’t need winning over? The first act works too hard and Will Swenson’s voice seems to be on the verge of going on strike.

Nevertheless, he’s pretty winning as Tick; so is Nick Adams as Felicia.

A cut above, for bringing tremendous heart to a predictable role, is Tony Sheldon as the touching Bernadette. Hats off too to C. David Johnson as lovable Bob, the man of Bernadette’s dreams. Bring your dancing shoes.

At the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, near 48th Street. Information: +1-877-250-2929; Rating: **1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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