Those who are intimate with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Stephan Elliott’s 1994 sleeper hit film about two drag queens and a transgender woman braving the Australian outback, will certainly enjoy this stage adaptation. And the uninitiated (who can that be?) will also be drawn in by this jukebox musical with its lively score, hilarious dialogue and outrageous costuming.
The book, by Elliott and Allan Scott, follows the film for the most part, but it wisely makes some departures that are appropriate for the stage. Fear not — the most memorable lines and incidents have been retained.
The score is comprised of various familiar pop and disco tunes, which is appropriate, since drag queens (as Felicia declares) “dress up in women’s clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people’s songs.” Only here, the cast performs all of the songs live, backed by Andrew Hendley’s excellent orchestra. And they do a bang-up job of it.
They’re all helmed with an emphasis on energy and comedy by the Woodlawn’s artistic director, Christopher Rodriguez, who also choreographed the piece.
Ronald Watson, John Berring and Jesse Beere are terrific as Bernadette, Mitzi and Felicia. Watson brings a welcome Tallulah Bankhead vibe to his performance, and Beere literally bounces off the walls as the overenthusiastic Felicia.
Mark Hicks and Hyeyoung Michelle Lee shine as Bernadette’s paramour, Bob, and his shrill mail-order bride, Cynthia (the one with the ping pong balls). Jimmi Nelson Reid and Landon Levy are also effective as Mitzi’s loving ex-wife, Marion, and his accepting son, Benji. Young Levy’s sweet duet with Berring is a surprising highlight.
The Woodlawn’s ensemble does its usual outstanding job, and Krystal Newcomer gets her moment in the spotlight as Shirley, the horrible outback bar owner (complete with dangling bra straps), who sings a riotous version of “I Love the Nightlife.” Darcell Bios brings the energy as the Tine Turner-ish Miss Understanding.
The company at the Woodlawn has pulled out all the stops to bring Priscilla to its stage for its debut. Benjamin Grabill’s shocking pink set is enhanced by Chris Muenchow’s lighting and Ben Farrar’s sound and projection design. Kudos also go to Brandi Stillwell’s makeup, Richard Solis and Henry Lozano’s outrageous headpieces and Ron Hammett’s wigs. The quantity and quality of Rose Kennedy’s always-reliable costuming is totally off the hook for this show.
Priscilla: Queen of the Desert plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through Nov. 3 at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling the box office at (210) 267-8388.
SPECIAL PRISCILLA EVENTS
- PRIDE NIGHT — Oct. 25
- PRISCILLA HALLOWEEN WEEKEND — Oct. 25-27
- ALS NIGHT — Nov. 2
Photos by Siggi Ragnar.