On the night I watched Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a musical based on the 1994 Australian movie, the audience was irrepressible. Later, I saw complaints from other attendees on my Facebook feed about patrons in the front row who’d stood up, waved their hands, sung along with the musical numbers and yelled out an occasional line just as the performer on stage was about to speak it. These people were actually seated right in front of me, and I understand the irritation: Their antics were distracting, and often overpowered the dialogue and action.
But on the other hand, their drunken exuberance did set the right tone for the show. Written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, Priscilla isn’t exactly a top-notch musical. The story is limp and sentimental. The score isn’t original. It’s a karaoke affair — though with a live band and occasional actual singing —comprising a string of songs ranging from “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” to “I Say a Little Prayer,” “A Fine Romance,” “MacArthur Park” and, of course, because the stage is full of divas, “I Will Survive.” Add to that the fact that the acting in this production at the Aurora Fox is uneven and the Australian accents are all over the place.
But if Priscilla doesn’t inspire as a memorable musical, it does work wonderfully as a romp, a party, a prolonged giggle, a whole-hearted celebration of pan- and multi-sexuality, a festive parade of feathers, sequins, staggeringly high heels, black beaded eyelashes and enormous head dresses. All that, plus ping-pong balls whizzing out of a completely unexpected place (a smashing turn by Jenna Moll Reyes).
Tick/aka drag queen Mitzi, sympathetically played by Todd Peckham, has been summoned by his/her onetime wife, Marion (Melissa Morris), to meet the young son he’s never seen. She also wants Tick to perform at her club in remote Alice Springs. This entails a long trek across Australia, much of it through desert, so Tick enlists two friends. One is Bernadette, a transsexual, played here by a woman, Heather (or, as she calls herself in the program, H.) Lacy, as a wise and kindly adviser. The other is sexy youngster Adam/Felicia (a very appealing Rob Riney). They buy an old bus, name it Priscilla, and proceed on their adventure, encountering threat, mockery, unexpected camaraderie and even, for Bernadette, love, in the person of Bob — a fine, low-key performance from Mark Rubald. Sharon Kay White’s brief, raucous performance as down-to-earth Shirley, a bar owner they encounter on their travels, stops the show.
This ambitious production with its large cast, multiple musical numbers and complex technical challenges, is the first in Colorado directed and choreographed by Eden Lane, producer of In Focus With Eden Lane for Colorado Public Television. She has done a tremendous job. The big numbers are tuneful, catchy and hilarious. The three beautiful divas who serve as the chorus add a lot to the evening’s pleasures, particularly when Krisangela Washington unleashes her rich, gorgeous voice. In short, the place is filled with joyful life through the entire evening, and it’s worth joining the party. But if you do, please remember that it’s not about you: It’s about these folks on the stage singing, dancing and giving their all.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, through May 28, Aurora Fox, 9000 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, aurorafox.org.