Monday, March 7, 2011

WLS Theater Review: "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

A spectacle of unimaginable proportions has taken over the Palace theater! Sure, if you're looking for cultural gravitas, see Thomas Stoppard's "Arcadia" (opening March 17 at the Barrymore). If you want classic hijinks, see the Pulitzer-winning "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" (featuring Michael Park and Tammy Blanchard and opening March 27 at the Hirschfeld). But for the utmost in contemporary Broadway realness—flying chorines, impossible chapeaus, handclapping anthems—sashay down to the Palace Theater, pick up a feather boa and a sippy-cup cocktail, and join the exuberant, spectacular journey that is New York's production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
On its face, “Priscilla” is a roadtrip/buddy dramedy about growing up and going home. Tick (Will Swenson) aspires to be a good dad as he moves to reunite with wife and son. Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) struggles to accept the challenges and liberty of her maturity, and perhaps to find new love from an old admirer. Adam (Nick Adams) endeavors to escape a stridently insecure post-adolescence in order to grow into a considerate, independent man-of-the-world. The titular vehicle—a wreck of a bus christened Priscilla--is a deliciously dazzling metaphor for the friends' trek across the Australian outback. And what a trip it is! "Priscilla" does everything it can to take the audience along for the ride.

Ballyhooed showstoppers from across the decades, from “It's Raining Men” to “Like a Prayer”, are efficiently (if whimsically) repurposed to serve the storyline, maintaining a level of narrative relevance. By dressing, tucking, and twisting a dozen nightclub classics into something that closely resembles “real” American Musical Theater, “Priscilla” evades denigration as a “jukebox musical”. As each successive production number elates the often-applauding audience, a compelling narrative somehow coalesces. When music and melodrama meld, it's hard not to be swept away. Almost everyone in the rows around me left the theater with wet eyes.

With each season it seems a greater challenge to deliver that “I laughed, I cried, I sang along!” magic that theatergoers hope for from today's Broadway musicals. Priscilla owes its strength to a perfect storm of strong direction, fabulous costumes, and gratifying gimmicks as well as the aforementioned “soapy” plot and timeless, favorite songs. None of it would really gel, however, if not for the chemistry and charisma of the three leads. And thank goodness—this is not an ensemble cast, and the “big three” are pretty much the whole show. But I defy you to resist the charms of Mr. Swenson, Mr. Sheldon, and perhaps most of all, Mr. Adams.

You may recognize him from GUIDING LIGHT or AS THE WORLD TURNS, or maybe his infamous tour of duty in “A Chorus Line” when he—no joke!--drove Mario Lopez to distraction by implicitly threatening the supremacy of his guns. But Adams isn't just a perfect body and an almost-painfully-precious smile. With an MFA from Boston Conservatory and over a decade of stage experience, he has the skills to present “Felicia” as witty, vulnerable, sexy, sweet, and above all, fabulous

Perhaps his improbable adventures on-stage feel so real because Adams himself is an adorable and out gay man who is anything but ashamed—a very 2011 Broadway icon. Adams is a hands-on supporter of many charities, such as the Gilana Shira Alpert Fund and Broadway Bares, but he also confronts the sort of mundane-but-pervasive bigotry that men of his stature are in a unique position to combat. Publicly derided and denied entry to Turtle Bay, a midtown Manhattan sports bar, because he was holding hands with his boyfriend, Nick took to Twitter, Facebook, and his blog and mobilized his base on his blog. “They screwed with the wrong gay,” Adams says. Felicia, Bernadette, and Mitzi would be proud!

Here's the S.A.S.S. (Short Attention Soap Summary):
WHAT IS IT: 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” a musical based on the film of the same name, now playing at The Palace Theater (1564 Broadway in New York City).
A timeless tale of family and self-discovery, “Priscilla” is a fabulously bumpy ride. Rising star, and former soap guest star, Nick Adams is superb in his first lead role.
BOTTOM LINE: Uplifting and tons of fun, “Priscilla” also has a message. In some ways, it's the least “serious” play on Broadway, but somehow, that's an asset. Great for groups—the more friends you bring, the more fun you'll have!
VERDICT: Don't miss the bus! The sooner you see it, the sooner you can see it again!

Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a staff contributor at


  1. What about those Divas? They are the voice of the show! And, I might add, quite amazing!

  2. Thanks for the review. I love Nick Adams.

  3. Great review. Sharon, I loved the Divas too!

  4. yo i thought this was a gay thing but it sounds like my girlfriend might be into it and i like that music too thanks for the review

  5. Question: How does it compare to the movie? How similar/different are they?

    Nick Adams looks yummy! I could see some of the boys from OLTL in that role. Haha.

    Question -- how did you get your ticket? I've been thinking of going with my sister on my trip to NYC and want to get good seats. So far, I've found $77 Orch with this discount code BBOX9. Any other places I should look? Advice greatly appreciated.

  6. Hi, Blake!

    First, I would say that it's roughly the same as the movie, but the pace is quicker and some of the songs are different.

    Second, Nick is a handsome guy and he works out a ton. But he's also real sweet, too. For example, he's active in a couple different charities.

    As for casting a Ford Brother or some such, that made me laugh =) Good idea, if any of them can sing/dance/etc. I don't really know.

    Interestingly. we're having an event on May 16 in the City where David G will be just hanging out with the wls staff and some other soap stars, you should come by and ask him yourelf! It's a fundraiser we're hosting that he agreed to help us out with again this year. Here's the info on that:

    Finally, the best way to get tickets for this show, and many others, is to visit the tkts windows under the big red stairs at 47th and Broadway in Times Square. The site is They've been having Priscilla tix for 40% off which may or may not be a better deal than the one you found for orchestra seats. Although it's a large theater, mezza seats are still awesome, though, and alot less money. As long as you have good vision, there really are no bad seats--it's not like it's a stadium!

    I hope you check it out. Come back after and let me know what you thought!