The musical, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (@ Shubert Theatre through Oct. 9th), is based on the 1994 Australian movie starring Terrence Stamp as an aging transsexual, crossing the outback with two drag queens in a rickety, old school bus. Like the musical does, the film depended on the glitz of the wild drag costumes (and they snagged the film an Oscar!).
The very best thing about PRISCILLA (the musical) is the rock ’n roll. Where scenes in the movie were punctuated by ABBA, the musical is built on the characters delivering (and sometimes reinterpreting) a wide variety of pop songs from the ’70s and ’80’s. Three “Supremes” (Tamala Baldwin, Onyie Nwachukwu and Lindsay Roberts) even function as a Motown version of a Greek chorus.
And the costumes! Never mind the aesthetics of Stacy Stephens’ extravagant creations for Fiddlehead, the sheer volume of costumes is mind blowing. Two dozen characters parade about in at least a dozen costumes each, changing in mere seconds—which means stage manager Alycia Marucci and crew have their hands full getting everyone on and off stage with military precision.
Back to the delicious music of my misspent youth: (I just did the math; that would be my misspent middle age). Who wouldn’t groove out to the Weather Girls or Tina Turner or Cyndi Lauper or Gloria Gaynor or Richard Harris (!), the latter providing the best laugh of the silly, often hilarious, more often than not naughty book (by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott).
Andrew Giordano portrays the drag queen who sets the road trip into motion (Don’t think Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, please.) to see the child he fathered, one presumes, while dazed and confused. Giordano and Cameron Levesque, as the six year old wise beyond belief, tug on our willing heart strings, weakened no doubt by the heart pulsing disco beat of the score.
The show belongs to Larry Daggett as the girlish, older, lip syncing transsexual who finds love anew (Bob Knapp) when the bus blows a head gasket in the desert. Daggett has the love story we care about, albeit any storyline is welcome in this truthfully plotless vehicle. By the by, Brian Ruggaber’s vehicle is itself a star, packed to the gills with boas and sequins.
Arthur Cuadros’ vigorous choreography has the dancers flipping and flouncing across the stage in 6-inch platform kinky boots, with Matthew Tiberi (as the third member of the road trip), leading the talented corps in the ballet-boogie woogie. When Tiberi and the Supremes sing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” you’ll want to sing along… but don’t. Just relish the fun.