“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”: THE show to see by Kevin M. Thomas


There’s so much cross dressing on Broadway these days that it’s hard for something to standout any more. We’ve got “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “The Divine Sister” and “La Cage aux Folles” for starters.

Move over bitches as there’s a new set of drag queens coming to town in the form of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” The musical version of the classic Australian film has already blown away audiences in Australia and London.

I saw it when it first opened in London and thought it was one of the most entertaining experiences I ever had in the theatre. When I heard it was coming to Broadway, I planned a whole trip to see this show. It was that good.

And the American version does not disappoint. It’s funny to call this the American version as it still takes place in Australia. But missing are songs from Kylie Minogue as they have been replaced by Madonna songs…much more fitting for a run on Broadway.

While the show has been Americanized in other ways, it’s neither a good thing or a bad thing…it just makes the show more relatable.

Tony Sheldon as Bernadette in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

Tony Sheldon as Bernadette in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

Like the movie, “Priscilla” is the road story of three drag queens from Sydney who take a gig that leads them on a journey through the desert, encountering bigotry, friendship and a mail order bride whose good with a ping pong ball (yes, for you fans of the movie, even the ping pong makes it into the live show).

All of this fun set to every catchable dance song from the 1970s and 1980s – “Boogie Wonderland,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “Material Girl” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It”…the latter performed to comic perfection by Nathan Lee Graham who could have been a Tony contender if he had a few more scenes.

But when the Tony nominations come out, you will definitely see the show up for Best Musical and Tony Sheldon, who originated the role of Bernadette in Australia (and later London), will definitely be nominated for Best Actor. He is every inch a lady and is perfect in the role.

Will Swenson, so mesmerizing in “Hair,” does well in his role as Tick, the drag queen the story is really built around, but alas, he sometimes gets lost in the shadows of a cast that can’t help but shimmer.

Nick Adams plays Felicia in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" on Broadway

Nick Adams plays Felicia in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" on Broadway

In the more showy role of Felicia, Nick Adams delivers a performance that is beyond my expectations. A fantastic dancer, a great comedienne and the best singer among the three leads, he actually is more of an androgynous gender bender than a drag queen.

After seeing several sexy pictures of Adams’ perfect male physique, I wasn’t expecting to be convinced by him as a drag queen. Those arms are too masculine for anyone to think for a minute he’s a woman. His part in particular has some scenes in which he tries to pass as a woman so being feminine is vital to the role.

But whether it be a move made by director Simon Phillips or costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner or Adams himself, several of his costumes show off his manly chest and don’t even try to hide the pecs he’s packing. This makes him more androgynous and adds a whole new dimension to his character.

All in all, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is a perfect time to be had at the theatre — from the great songs and excellent choreography (which is hard to do when people are dressed like cakes) to the most colorful and fun costumes I’ve seen in a long time (from the designers who won an Oscar for the original motion picture).

For those seeking great depth in a show. This ain’t it. But who cares. Sometimes you just want to eat the frosting.

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” opened March 20 at the Palace Theatre and will hopefully be there for a long time.

See clips and get tickets at www.priscillaonbroadway.com.