After shimmying through Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand, Toronto and London, Priscilla Queen of the Desert made its exalted Broadway debut Sunday night, bringing Australia’s big, red center to the center of the musical theater universe. Concurrently running in London’s West End, Priscilla’s NYC debut earned praise for its verve and visual wizardry but some pundits, including New York Times reporter Charles Isherwood, criticized its reliance on spectacle:
“But any flickers of warmth and true human feeling in “Priscilla” are either obscured by another onslaught of gyrating dancers or squashed flat by a giant platform heel” he laments. “After a while even the festive parade of outlandish costumes, among the show’s more reliably entertaining diversions, begin to feel stale and overworked. At the extended curtain call – aptly set to the catchy ’90s dance floor anthem entitled “Finally” – you are likely to feel slightly dazed and stultified, as if you’d been conked on the head with a disco ball.”
Isherwood isn’t alone. New York Daily News scribe Joe Dziemianowicz called the production “eye-poppingly flashy (and fleshy) fun – for a while. The joyride runs out of gas because Simon Phillips’ busy big-budget spectacle works too hard to wow.”. While New York Mag offered a more balanced review, recommending it to those willing to embrace the hyperactive kitsch of it all: “Priscilla is really something of a relic, closer kin to the culture wars of the eighties and nineties: It’s a prefiguring of the gay diaspora, the marriage debate, and the question of child-rearing, not a treatment of it in the here and now. But then, if you’re at Priscilla, you’re not there for the here and now. You’re here to move your lips, and perhaps your hips, to the sounds of yesterday. “ The show’s infectiousness was also praised by Village Voice scribe Michael Musto: “the show is as thin as a bulimic egret’s feather, but when it clicks, it’s as infectious as a rabid koala because the zingers keep coming along with the costumes, and by the end, they’re all dressed like animals and dancing to a disco medley! For no real reason!”
Elsewhere (outside of NYC) The Chicago Tribune praised the show’s warmth: “Priscilla has a pulsing theatrical heart and soul, not least because its characters are inveterate creatures of the stage. As directed by Simon Phillips, who has been on this bus for years, the tone is warm and inclusive. Priscilla has a rich dynasty of queens, unfazed by any desert and very much at home on Broadway.” While Variety praised the production’s heart: “For all the glitz, though — and there is a lot of glitz — there’s a heart ticking true beneath it all, and that should earn “Priscilla” a long and profitable run at the Palace, with the merchandise stand doing big business in purple boas.”
After its stint in NYC Priscilla will next open in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Brazil and Argentina. Not bad for a couple of drag queens from Sydney.