Thursday, April 21, 2011

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

A Little Dessert in the Desert

I love the movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The performances are nearly flawless, the costumes spectacularly original, and the script and direction fresh and thrilling. And the score is inspired. Translating movies to Broadway seems to be a dicey affair, especially when transfusing in the literal vein. As a matter of course, adding no original music rarely honors either medium.

From that standpoint, Priscilla the Musical isn't "good." Compared to the movie, the script is lesser, the costumes are copies, and the brilliance of the song selection (as necessary as some of the changes were) is debateable. Despite any of that, the show is fun and entertaining. It isn't trying to reinvent the musical form. It isn't trying to out-do the movie. It exists for commercial and not creative reasons. And, quite frankly, it does more to give you your money's worth than many shows with better books and scores. Personally, I am happy the show exists.

As staged camp, they know better than to take themselves too seriously, with the exception of the terminally pensive Will Swenson (who I loved in Hair with a stalker's devotion--a stalker that was, alas, too lazy to pose an ounce of a threat, so no need to alert Mr. Swenson's security team). It is tough to make interesting a dramatic arc that journeys from ache to hurt for 2 hours. It makes the audience a little numb to the moments that are actually intended to be painful--and the movie has those moments. Beneath the wigs, wardrobe, and wackiness, the movie was about real people with real issues that exist in the real world. It revealed devastation at every stage, literally and figuratively.

All of the leads are shadows of the original, although Tony Sheldon is genuinely touching and funny. The actors tell the story with heart (and heels), and they mount the bus and invite you along for a joy ride. I was pleased as punch to climb aboard, but most in the audience on the night I attended displayed a raucous enthusiasm and nearly jumped on board. They were into it from the first spin of the disco ball.

Keala Settle as Shirley shines in a brief appearance that capitalizes on every moment. The 3 divas, big voiced one and all, offer a nice but ultimately unnecessary addition that serves more as vocal set dressing than Greek chorus. Much of the remainder of the supporting cast were attractive--all over. The buffet of bare flesh was endless and extensive, a slip of the tucking tape away from revealing their didgeridoos.
I won lottery tickets in the first row. My general opinion is that closer is better. That just works for me. At the Palace, though, the height of the stage is a bit too high for my comfort (and at 6'2" I've got more stretch than most people). You'll spend the money you save on $40 tickets on a chiropractor after the show.

I understand that they couldn't get the rights to the Abba songs that were so essential to the movie--you'll have to walk up the block to catch those. If you don't know the movie, you won't necessarily miss the songs, but what they represented is missing too. They were the payoff for a movie-long buildup. There's no climax here. As a matter of fact, there's very little huffing and puffing either. It is actually disappointing theatrically and politically. That this female impersonator's showstopping characterization is reduced to an off-handed, poorly-executed Elvis redux is silly, unnecessary, and borderline offensive. It makes one wonder why they didn't cut it entirely, as they did the ending of the movie. It felt like they had to get everyone out of their gaffs and girdles before the clock struck twelve or overtime kicked in. Interesting that the script was the clumsiest thing about the show given the height of the heels.

The show has the elements to have a nice run--flash, fun, familiar songs, and a negligible script. Safe for tourists who don't travel with a Bible, a baseball bat, or a translator.

If you are looking for a silly night in the theatre that allows you to escape for a couple of hours, this is a perfectly enjoyable show. If you are a huge fan of the movie, you've probably already seen the show. If you haven't, spend the time on the couch cuddled up with the originals.

1 comment:

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