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"Priscilla Queen of the Desert" Arrives at the Palace Theatre
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"Priscilla Queen of the Desert" Arrives at the Palace Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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MGM On Stage,
Darcie Denkert and Dean Stolber
et al. Present:

Queen of the Desert

the musical
(Priscilla Website)
based on the Latent Image/Specific Films Motion Picture
Distributed by MGM Inc.

Book by Stephan Elliott & Allan Scott
Directed by Simon Phillips

Starring; Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon
Nick Adams, C. David Johnson

Palace Theatre
Broadway and 47th Street

With: James Brown III, Nathan Lee Graham, J. Elaine Marcos,
Mike McGowan, Jessica Phillips, Steve Schepis, Esther Stilwell,
Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey, Ashley Spencer,
Ashton Woerz
An ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

Choreographer: Ross Coleman
Music Supervision & Arrangements: Stephen “Spud” Murphy
Production Supervised by Jerry Mitchell

Bus Concept & Production Design: Brian Thomson
Costume Design: Tim Chappel & Lizzy Gardiner
Lighting Design: Nick Schlieper
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans & Peter Fitzgerald
Orchestrations: Stephen “Spud” Murphy & Charlie Hull
Music Director: Jeffrey Klitz
Musical Coordinator: John Miller
Developed for the Stage by Simon Phillips
Casting: Telsey + Company
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Advertising: SPOTCO
Director of Marketing: Nick Pramik
Technical Supervisor: David Benken
Production Stage Manager: David Hyslop
Flying by FOY
Makeup Design: Cassie Hanlon
Associate Director: Dean Bryant
Associate Choreographer: Andrew Hallsworth
Assoc. Producer: Ken Sunshine
General Manager: BJ Holt
Exec. Producer: Alecia Parker

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 25, 2011

I could see Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical, again and again, with a different friend each time, just for the joy of the shared laughs and songs. Yes, the audience sings along to “It’s Raining Men”, “I Will Survive”, and “Hot Stuff”, what could be more fun. And, this isn’t small stage shtick, rather large stage saturnalia, with bejeweled sets, sequined costumes, giant, colorful platforms, wigs like bouquets, and dancing cupcakes and paintbrushes. What’s more, all this glitter is the décor for men, Australian drag queens, with a bus named Priscilla that drives onstage and almost never leaves. Priscilla circles around, with its exterior a high tech kaleidoscopic screen and its interior a gaudy, wildly appointed bar, where one can make exotic cocktails and pull a boa from a trunk.

Will Swenson as Tick (Mitzi), Tony Sheldon as Bernadette, and Nick Adams as Adam (Felicia) are the stars of this show, with three Divas (Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey, Ashley Spencer) that sing the songs that the cast lip-syncs and that the audience sometimes joins. Tick used to be straight, or so it seems, and before he moved to Sydney, he fathered a son, Benji (Ashton Woerz) with Marion (Jessica Phillips), who owns a casino and stage in far-away Alice Springs. When Marion contacts Tick, whose stage name is Mitzi, he’s dressing in frills with his partners, Bernadette and Felicia. Bernadette, retired and recovering from his youthful lover’s death, needs to get away, and Felicia will not be left home alone. How convenient for Tick to have his ex-wife willing to welcome this trio and for her to have a stage for them to do what they love most, gyrate to lip-syncing Divas in chorus girl costumes, wigs, and heels.

Traveling from Sydney to Alice Springs, Tick, Bernadette, and Felicia pass through spots like Broken Hill, The Middle of Nowhere, The Back Beyond, and Coober Pedy. They find danger in bars, and fight back like tigers, but one character becomes a keeper, Bob (C. David Johnson), who swaps his wife for Bernadette and never looks back. Of course the show has a predictable happy ending, with Felicia and Tick moving in with Marion and Benji, so Benji has an auntie and Tick has a home with benefits. This musical is based on the MGM film of the same name, by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. Simon Phillips directs to generate emotion, energy, enthusiasm, and electricity in each of the feverish scenes. The music, of course, is not original, but the orchestrations are, and the fact that so many songs are emblazoned on the brain kept the audience jumping up to a karaoke carnival. Stephen “Spud” Murphy supervised music and arrangements, Jerry Mitchell supervised the production, and Jeffrey Klitz and John Miller are listed for direction/supervision of music as well. Ross Coleman’s choreography, from dancing cupcakes to high kicking Divas atop the bus, was exceptional and awe-inspiring.

Technically, this show is superb, thanks to Brian Thomson’s “bus concept”, what a feat,
costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, lighting by Nick Schlieper, and sound by Jonathan Deans and Peter Fitzgerald. C. David Johnson, as Bob, Bernadette’s savior, had one of the hardest roles, working against type, and mastered the challenge with aplomb. All three leads, Mr. Swenson, Mr. Sheldon, and Mr. Adams exuded boundless vivacity and flair, with Mr. Sheldon particularly in gender-bending sultriness. Mr. Adams has athleticism and elasticity that riveted the audience to his every dance. And, Mr. Swenson, previously seen in Hair, is just as magnetic and muscular, although here his story is more compelling, more theatrical. Jessica Phillips and Ashton Woerz are well cast as Marion and Benji, never overpowering the leads, that’s for sure, but singing in fine form. Tick and Benji sing “Always On My Mind”, and almost bring the house down. But the numbers that did bring the house down, sung by the leads and Divas, were “Go West”, “Shake Your Groove Thing”, and ‘We Belong”. This is a show that should enjoy a long run. Kudos to all.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at