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'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical' Puts the Pomp in Pompadour at Pantages Theatre
The over-the-top musical theatre bastion of Australian drag camp that is Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical has finally made its way to Los Angeles after its 2006 debut in Sydney.
With help from Allan Scott, Stephan Elliott adapted Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical from his 1994 cult film counterpart, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This reviewer can guarantee that the musical-ized rendering of Priscilla is, by far, the campiest, tackiest, and most lavish thing to ever grace a stage this side of the Vegas Strip (making even Beach Blanket Babylon and Lucha VaVOOM look tame). Production stills do not do this show justice. For those able to surrender to the easy task of glamorized indulgence, the musical offers a menagerie of impressive costuming, fun staging elements, a well-spring of gender-bent popular music, and a large, multi-talented cast.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, Priscilla follows two drag queens (Tick and Adam) and a sagely transwoman (Bernadette) on a road trip through the Australian Outback. The trio encounters homophobic attacks, unexpected kindness, emotive exploration, and ever-deepening friendship—all while belting out classic drag show fare in mile-high hair. Elliott's musical theatre take on the script is markedly more sentimental and upbeat than the film, although the dialogue has been updated with more jokes and music.
Wade McCollum leads the Priscilla cast as Tick. With constant poise and presence, McCollum brings a distinctive, endearing affection for his character and the narrative to the stage. Scott Willis discerningly contrasts ethereal femininity with the heaviness of perceptive wisdom for the role of the Bernadette. Bryan West is brilliant as Adam and an audience favorite. West perfectly executes his role, bringing finessed vitality and spunk to every gesture, dance step, and line. His rendition of Madonna's "Material Girl" (surrounded by a chorus of beautiful, flexible, young men) is well worth the price of admission. Other cast notables include a small army of prissy, melody-commanding sirens—Nik Alexzander (as Miss Understanding); as well as Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West (collectively known as the Divas).Under the direction of Simon Philips, Priscilla is an action-packed non-stop sequin fest filled with precise, audience-aware timing, decadent costume changes, and fluid choreography. Philips deserves a serious high five just for conquering the dizzying logistics of this production. What Priscilla lacks in organic emotion (not that any musical actually has that quality), it compensates with sheer grandeur. If you threw Lisa Frank stationary, Busby Berkely, and an assortment of club drugs in a blender, you would end up with the Priscilla-worthy concoction of boisterous staging that Philips, Brian Thomson (set sesign), Tim Chappel (costuming), and Lizzy Gardiner (costuming) have wrought.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical is playing at Pantages Theatre through June 16. Tickets ($25 to $140) are available online, at the box office, or via phone at (800)982-ARTS.