Review: PRISCILLA is a Campy Disco Delight With Heart

By: Oct. 02, 2016
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PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL is a jukebox musical adapted from Australian film director-writer Stephan Elliott's 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Adapted by Elliott and Allan Scott, the musical uses well-known pop and disco songs as the score. It tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman who make a trip from Sydney across the desert in a bus they name Priscilla to do a drag show in the resort town of Alice Springs in the Australian desert. Along the way, they encounter a slew of odd characters, homophobia and love in the most unexpected of places. The original production debuted in Australia at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney in October 2006. The Australian success of the show lead to a two-year West End production and finally the Bette Midler produced Broadway debut in 2011. The production now on stage at Zach Theatre is one of the first regional productions of the show.

Mitzi (Josh Denning) whose real name is Tick is performing at a club in Sydney when his wife Marion (Lara Wright) calls in a favor. Although they have a child together named Benji (Jackson Blackwell) they've been separated several years due to Tick being gay. Marion needs an act for a few weeks at her night club in Alice Springs. When Tick is reluctant, Marion convinces him by telling him part of her reason is their son wants to meet his father. Once he decides to go, Tick goes to see his transsexual friend Bernadette (Jack Donahue), whose real name is Ralph, to convince her to come out of retirement and join him. She decides to come along since her husband has just passed away. To complete the act, Tick enlists his friend Felicia (Anthony Vincent Toujarov), whose real name is Adam. Although Bernadette takes an immediate dislike to the over-the-top style of Felicia, the newly formed trio set off in a van purchased with money from Felicia's father they nickname "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." While Tick tells them that the trip is a favor to his wife, he omits the fact the trip it is also to meet his son. Along the journey, the trio go into a rough bar owned by Shirley (Kim Stacy) and when the van breaks down they meet Bob (Michael Miller), a mechanic from a small town nearby who agrees to help fix "Priscilla" so they can complete their journey and perform.

While the film featured lip-synching, the stage show is, with just a couple exceptions, sung by the performers. This is neatly explained with a single line that now most drag queens perform their songs live. The stage show is remarkably faithful to the source material. While it is a jukebox musical, the story perfectly fits the genre and is one of the most successful of these pieces I've seen.

Abe Reybold has done a wonderful job with this production which shines and sparkles with joy. The scenic design by Stanley A. Meyer and Jason M. Curtis is also quite good, especially the van. Barry Doss' costumes, based on the original Broadway designs of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner faithfully recreates the outlandish costumes from the film. There are over 500 costumes, wigs and shoes in this production. Matthew Webb has created a visually splendid lighting design that encompasses the entire space, audience included.

The cast is uniformly excellent, starting with the three leads. Josh Denning is sweet, touching and utterly charming as Tick and possesses a beautiful singing voice. His rendition of "I Say a Little Prayer" is simply stunning. Jack Donahue is both funny and moving as Bernadette. Anthony Vincent Toudjarov is marvelous as Felicia, the soul of camp and bitchiness. Michael Miller delivers a moving and tender performance as Bob, the man who eventually falls for Bernadette. Their scenes together will bring a tear to your eye.

The Divas (Sara Burke, Chanel Haynes-Schwartz and Abena Mensah-Bonsu), a trio that run through the entire show, are quite glorious. Ms. Haynes-Schwartz possesses a powerful pop diva voice that will raise the hair on the back of your neck.

Other stand out performances include Kim Stacy as Shirley who delivers an hilarious performance that begins from her entrance. If you remember the scene with Bob's wife, Cynthia, and the ping pong balls in the bar, you'll laugh out loud as Rebecca Lee Lerman recreates it to the tune of "Pop Muzik".

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL is a great evening of musical theatre full of laughs, flash and heart. Make your reservations now for this delightful Boogie Wonderland.

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL, Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, Music and Lyrics by Various Artists. Based on The 1994 motion picture The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert written by Stephan Elliott.

Running time: Two Hours and Thirty Minutes including a 20 Minute intermission.

Recommendation: Thirteen and older, includes adult language.

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL, playing at Zach Theatre in the Topher Theatre (202 South Lamar Blvd.). Sept. 28, 2016 - Oct. 30, 2016. Tickets start at $25 and are available online at, by phone at 512-476-0541 ext. 1, or in person at the ZACH Theatre Box Office, in the Topfer Theatre, 202 South Lamar Blvd. (corner of Riverside Drive and South Lamar Blvd.) Monday through Saturday, 12 noon - 7 p.m. ZACH Theatre is wheelchair accessible. Discounts are available for groups of 8 or more. Student Rush Tickets are $18 one hour before show time (with valid ID).


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