Last night was the first preview of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert on Broadway, and from a casual theater fan’s perspective, it felt more like a wildly successful opening night! Stephan Elliott’s book is an incredibly faithful adaptation of his 1994 film, and the award-winning costume designers are on board for the musical as well, so the brash, ballsy flavor of the movie and the bright explosions of color are definitely present and accounted for.
The production fired on all cylinders. The moment three divas are lowered midway to the stage on wires, you know you’re in for something fabulous. I loved how the bus was used, as Priscilla is practically a character in her own right, and how lighting was incorporated both with that set piece and the backdrop. And the show is definitely lighter in tone than the film, making sure to retain all the risqué, tongue-in-cheek one-liners.
As someone who must’ve watched the movie a hundred times when I was in college, I was really interested to see how the story would translate to the stage. How do you condense and adapt three drag queens on a bus ride through the Australian Outback? For the most part, the musical does it beautifully.
I was a little disappointed that a lot of the music changed, but understand that ABBA wouldn’t work in light of Mamma Mia!, and other numbers worked better onscreen than they might live. Nick Adams‘ Adam and Tony Sheldon‘s Bernadette flowed beautifully off the screen and onto the boards, with the “meat” of the show focusing on impulsive Adam’s misadventures and world weary Bernadette’s yearning for love. Will Swenson as Tick is perfectly adorable and a fantastic singer, but, for being the main character, Tick gets a little lost. Primarily because a lot of Tick’s issues are internal, quiet — something that Hugo Weaving could portray in the movie with his eyes and facial expressions thanks to tight camerawork — and big, colorful stage productions can drown out the subtlety. I wanted more about Tick and his relationship with his son, Benji, and a few more nods to Tick and Adam’s undercurrent of attraction. Consequently, I did feel a little like we traveled to a resolution on a wave of costumed razzle-dazzle. But overall, it was a fantastic show, and I definitely want to see it again!
We were all on our feet by the end, cheering — and that’s pretty much the best endorsement of all!