"Priscilla Queen of the Desert," the stage musical adapted from Stephan Elliott's 1994 Australia-set road film, is as pleasing as cotton candy.
The show, with a book by Elliott and Allan Scott as well as a catalogue of throbbing '70s and '80s dance songs, is entertaining, but in an empty sort of way. In theater terms, "Priscilla" breaks no new ground. Its plot, use of extant songs and its execution make it seem like a mashup of "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Mamma Mia!" on steroids.
After 526 performances in a Broadway run that ended last June, "Priscilla" launched its national tour Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
Directed by Simon Phillips, the hard-working musical offers a cavalcade of costumes. Designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner spared no cost, and forsook no pun, in creating the show's gaudy, themed outfits and headgear that includes sky-high wigs and phallic lamps.
But at heart, "Priscilla" is more than a drag-queen extravaganza. It is a buddy musical with unusual buddies. The plot orbits cross-dressers Tick/Mitzi (Wade McCollum) and Adam/Felicia (Bryan West) as well as aging transsexual Bernadette (Scott Willis). An entertainer, Tick has a son with estranged wife Marion (Christy Faber). He has never met the boy, Benji.
Marion asks Tick to perform for her in the downscale casino where she works. She gets him to say yes by putting Benji on the phone. Tick promises to come see him. The father enlists Bernadette, who recently lost her partner, and Adam/Felicia, a Madonna acolyte, for a tour. The trio takes a bus across the Australian outback. Their transportation breaks down, and they meet tourists as well as anti-gay bigots before making it to their destination.
"Priscilla" re-arranges and re-contextualizes many songs in novel ways. "Don't Leave Me This Way" is slower and much funnier than I expected when it is used at a funeral for Bernadette's husband. And "I Say a Little Prayer" is similarly well-used by a cast that works hard on a project whose rewards are immediate but not long-lasting.
If the production sometimes felt a little shaky on opening night, it's because the actors and tech crew probably still are working out the kinks. And there's so much to work out, from the flying chorus of female singers (Bre Jackson, Emily Afton and Brit West) to all the costume changes.
Still, "Priscilla" leaves you with a certain rush.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390