“Priscilla” Still Tasty in Regional SF Production

by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev

The latest production by Theatre Rhinoceros is a bold choice. But since the theatre company is celebrating its 40 year anniversary and is still the longest running LGBT theatre in the world, some times bold can be beautiful.

Their latest production, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” has a cult following so to take on a show that first wowed film audiences and then took on Broadway and large stages worldwide, comparisons will definitely be made, especially with this being the show’s first regional production.

A regional production is one put on by a local theatre group versus a touring company which takes the same production usually throughout the country. The difference being, the touring company is usually backed by the original theatre producers while a regional production is comprised mostly of local talent – on stage and behind the scenes.

To take on “Priscilla,” which had the most grandiose and elaborate costumes of any production I have seen, is ballsy. There is no way that the quaint Eureka Theatre, where the current production takes place, can have the elaborate over-the-top sets and costumes that the original production had.

Having seen it in London, on Broadway and with the touring version, when I attended The Rhino’s production, I had to keep my high expectations in check as there is no way they could deliver a multi-million dollar production in the more intimate setting at the Eureka Theatre.

With all that being said, at the end of the day, “Priscilla” is still a fun and joyous show that celebrates family, diversity and big disco numbers.

The story of three drag queens taking a road trip through the outback of Australia in a bus called Priscilla remains fun and fresh and a lot is due to the great performances of our three leads Darryl V. Jones, Rudy Guerrero and Charles Peoples III. They play well off of each other making it hard to isolate one as the best performance. 

The fourth star, however, is a great surprise – especially on such a small set. Priscilla herself is a scene stealer. This production obviously doesn’t have famous backers like Bette Midler, who was one the Broadway producers, but they really spend a great deal of their budget on Priscilla the bus, knowing that’s one spectacle that should not be skimmed on. Kudos to direction John Fisher and scenic designer Gilbert Johnson for bringing the bus to life.

The costumes for the most part are also very nice. It’s very hard – impossible actually – to come close to the original costumes that won an Oscar and a Tony Award for best costumes. Four people took on the challenge here and do pretty well. Newbies will delight in the fun frocks, but I do miss the more over-the-top costumes from the original – but if you didn’t see it, you may never know. I would like to say, and perhaps it’s due to the actor having an injured foot or can’t wear heels, but the character of Bernadette (Jones) is in wedges most of the show. I don’t know any drag queen who wears wedges on stage – especially the same pair throughout most of the show.

The only other criticism with this production is the final number they do at the casino. They use this as a Rhino original moment and change the staging of the final number to be a spoof of “The Poseidon Adventure.” I was with a millennial who had no idea what that movie was but more importantly, the speeded-up music in that scene makes no sense in this context. It was a delight in the original but leaves you dumbfounded here.

When I first reviewed “Priscilla” on Broadway, I said it was such a happy uplifting production that it was as tasty as the icing on a cake. This is still fun, but more of a cupcake. Still tasty but smaller.

Still, if a night out of fun with high energy music, big costumes, good performances and to get you in the mood for Gay Pride Month, you should check out “Priscilla” through July 1. Get tickets and info at www.therhino.org.