It all began as a movie in 1994 called “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” It then became a stage musical in 2006 in Sydney, Australia and then expanded to productions in London, Toronto, New York, Sao Paulo and other locales. Beginning in January of this year, it began a national tour in the United States. St. Louis is the third city on the schedule, so it is safe to say that “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” has legs, in more ways than one.
You should know that Priscilla is a bus, not a person. One side of the bus shows up on stage as the interior, where we see the characters inside while they’re traveling, the other side of the bus is actually a computerized light wall that is used to good effect in this very colorful show. The bus turns 360 degrees several times in the show. (Even the tires move.)
The reason for the bus trip drives the storyline, which is written in a very shallow fashion, especially for a production of this genre that can use a strong narrative grip. A group of gay drag performers from Sydney leave for a gig at a casino in a very small town. The reason for the long trip is so one of the performers, Tick, played convincingly by Wade McCollum, can visit his 6-year-old son who lives with Tick’s wife from days gone by. The child has been asking about his Dad. The child is seen briefly in the beginning of the show and again near the end.
On the road they run into all manner of problems, both mechanical and human, until they finally arrive and Tick and his son are reunited.
“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is not nearly as much fun as “Mama Mia,” the show it has been compared to the most. Although the cast is well-chosen and talented, both as actors and dancers, the selection of musical numbers seem forced into the story and don’t always work. At the beginning of Act II, audience members are encouraged to come up on the stage for a number, which completely blurs the impact of the musical’s book. This isn’t “Blue Man Group.” There were sound issues and there is a lot of lip-syncing going on in certain numbers. All that said, the show has a celebratory tone and outlandish overall design in costumes and production values. It is unabashedly pro active for what it is, and it is out to give the audience a good time. In that, it is successful. It will be on stage at The Fox thru February 10th.