Monday night J and I went to the Palace Theatre to see the much hoo-hahed “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert the musical. I was quite chary of seeing this show for many reasons, the first being that with as much money behind it as it has, I figured it would be the kind of wide-appeal, commercial clap-trap I usually avoid like the plague; the second being that it was at The Palace, home of the worst seats I’ve ever experienced in London. But then I saw the West End Whingers’ drooling review. My God, I thought, I may be mistaken! In fact, their review filled me with an incredible desire to drop everything and see the show. However, I was further discouraged when I read that premium seats were going for £95. I mean, Jesus Christ, what do these people think they’re selling? The only 20 seats with an unobstructed view in the entire theater? And for me, these last two months have been ones of theatrical penury as I penny-pinched in a somewhat backwards-looking attempt to cover the cost of my recent move.
Fortunately, LastMinute.com came through with a sweet little £40 sale that was *erk* a bit out of budget but doable with an extra-added dedication to home cooking and staying out of pubs. And I read somewhere (sorry I can’t quote it!) that the costumes are fantastic but likely to start wearing down quickly with heavy use and that it might be a good plan to see the show early in the run while they are still fresh. So rather than waiting for affordable tickets to pop up in another eight months or so, I was able to see the show only a week after opening night! I even got main floor tickets, though Row F seats 28 and 29 meant we were a bit far to the edge, yet not sitting under the overhang like poor 30 and 31 (though 31 got to go on stage and dance with the cast, so there ARE advantages)! However, I was able to see all of the stage clearly – even though a tiny bit of the curtain waaay up in the left corner that said “you are here” (next to a map of Australia, in the center). So, overall, I was happy with my seats.
And the crowd was good, too – the house seemed packed and everyone was very “up” – and of course there were lots of gay men there and people of both genders with bottom-lit cocktails in their hand acting like they were ready to have a good time. Unfortunately some of them appear to have not been taught their “company manners,” as the woman sitting beside me insisted on TALKING OVER THE SONG that opened the second act. Jesus Christ woman, if you can’t shut your yap, maybe you oughta stay home, huh? There are LIVE PEOPLE ON STAGE SINGING and I am PAYING TO HEAR THEM, not you. However, people were generally so cheery -laughing and radiating energy – that for once I did not turn around and give her the shit-eye because I didn’t want to ruin the mood.
But, I digress.
I have still not seen this movie despite being in many ways part of its target audience, so I was unfamiliar with the story behind it, which appears to be as follows: A mediocre drag queen (Tick, played by Jason Donovan, whom I also had not heard of, but please remember that before I moved to the UK I had also never heard of this Kylie girl), decides to drive from Melbourne to Alice Springs to meet his 6 year old son, and convinces his old friend Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), a retired transsexual of the old-school drag regime, and Adam/Felicia (Oliver Thornton), a white-hot newcomer, to join him with the promise that they will have a gig at a casino. But first, they need to cross the Outback in a giant silver bus (Priscilla), going through one after another hick town on their way to the middle of nowhere. Hilarity ensues.
I mean, seriously, that was pretty much the plot. Character development? An increase in self-knowledge? Nope, none of that here, and certainly no political statements of any sort (other than a bit of “why do these people hate us,” but even that was thin and only came up once), which was actually a bit of a relief. No, this show was all about big silly costumes, sight gags, and fun disco tunes, as performed by the leads and a cracking cast that were truly diverse. Actually, I wanna do a shout-out to Wezley Sebastian (Miss Understanding) and the other tall drag-queen looking person who were in so many of the ensemble scenes, because even at the very end these workhorses were performing every scene like they were the stars and they expected people to be watching them. It was really quite impressive!
But … really … it still wasn’t … it just wasn’t as good as Anything Goes. I mean, I realize I have different standards for musicals than other people, but I found the songs didn’t compensate for plot. I mean, it would have all been fine in a disco, but I can’t get excited about a night of watching people lipsynch to songs that have mediocre lyrics at best (though I appreciated that they had the lovely divas overhead actually singing). The opportunity to hear songs that brilliantly illustrate a story is actually a major reason I enjoy musicals, and this just wasn’t happening for Priscilla. Also, the voice of the women singers was positively tinny. I think this is just a problem with the whole “people singing through microphones” phenomenon – I mean, basically, if they’re not trained to sing to the back of the stage, they’re going to sing with this weak little head-voice that just has no power to it. This is not the kind of voice that would inspire today’s drag queens – and it sure as hell didn’t inspire me.
There was a fair bit to laugh about (such as the completely crude scene with the mail-order bride and the ping-pong balls and a hysterical pair of sagging falsies) and truly amazing costumes (the dancing cupcakes about made me cry, but basically anything that Oliver Thornton put on suddenly looked much better than it had any right to), but I just wasn’t caught up in it like I was hoping to! I’ll blame a bit of this on Mr. Donovan, whom I thought was just flat out dry and not really either an exciting performer or even a slightly gifted singer. Tony Sheldon was quite good, a perfect incarnation of the role (and an actor I’ll be watching out for in future productions) and talented as all get-out, and Oliver Thornton was just a brilliant shining star who shone across the stage with super-nova intensity, but with so much of the action focused on Tick … eh, well, I guess that’s why there were so many dance numbers. At any rate, if you’re looking for a good night out with the boys or a great hen party activity, this would probably be a great show for you to catch, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I probably just ought to go see that bare-bones Cole Porter show they’re doing at Sadler’s Wells so I can get what I need out of a night of musical theater.
(The reviewed performance took place Monday, March 30th, 2009. The bus did break down at one point and they had to entertain us while they fixed it. Remember, if you have an aisle seat toward the front of the stalls, you may get to dance on stage. Pity I missed my chance for my big West End debut!)