So a bit of explanation is in order here, and it’s an explanation in the form of a confession. I reviewed Priscilla for a magazine (not going to say which one) and when I write for money I find myself keeping the publication’s target audience in mind.
The target audience for the magazine will love Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Most people will love Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Even the West End Whingers loved Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
I was remarkably apathetic and in some cases hostile in my personal thoughts before seeing Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I was unimpressed at the press launch, and the level of hype on the internets didn’t do much to change this. Then there was the announcement of £90 premium tickets. WTF London? I keep defending the British as being smarter than us Yanks and you have to do stupid crap like follow this bullshit policy from Broadway? You’re almost as bad as they are in Germany, charging €105 for a show on Saturday nights...
*ahem* But I digress.
I was not blown away by Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I thought it was merely OK, I smiled a fair bit and there were some chuckle worthy lines but landed few big laughs. This isn’t to say there aren’t some good things about it. For example:
-The costumes. OMFG the costumes are amazing and, to be blunt, the entire selling point of the show.
-Jason Donovan. Yeah I’ve got the CD of him in Joseph. And he’s quite likeable here. Tony Sheldon was also great and the ensemble work their arses off in a never-ending series of costume changes.
-Kanako Nakano. Steals the show in what is the trashiest scene in a show of almost John Waters proportions.
-The music. You certainly leave the theatre humming the tunes - provided you know them all in advance. To be fair, the choice of songs wasn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe: I loathe disco but there were a few good 60’s and 80’s tracks as well.
Then there’s everything else:
-The music. Seriously? Too much Kylie. This may be me, as the Aussie Madonna never really took off in the US and even the real thing hasn’t had a truly great single since “Take a Bow.” The overuse of “I Will Survive” also hurts, and then there’s an individual fear, the fact that they use Harold Faltemeyer’s “Hot Stuff.” Why do I fear that when the song’s half decent? Because Faltemeyer himself cribbed it into his own disastrous piece of shit musical Wake Up back in 2002. But more on that later.
-The sound mixing is awful. It’s a good thing people are expected to know the songs going in because everybody is either over-mic’ed to distortion or gets drowned out by the orchestra. Forget about understanding ensemble numbers.
-The book. Tick is the only character who really grows (besides Bob who’s only in the second act and seems more resigned than proactive.) Bernadette has already matured and settles in more than grows. Adam/Felicia is cocky, arrogant, and annoying at the start and manages to do...no growing whatsoever. This leads me to...
-Oliver Thornton. I have no idea what casting directors see in this man, because he is the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever witnessed on a West End stage. At first I wrote off his overacting and misuse of vibrato on pop to bad direction in that thing, but all my fears and dislikes were only confirmed here. I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke in person, and he worked on a show with a friend of mine who back up such claims, but I never want to see him in a show again.
-The lighting. To spoil here, Priscilla itself is covered in LED, and spends much of the show glowing hot pink. Hot pink and hot orange are, in fact, the default light setting for quite a bit of the show and I literally felt my eyes burning by the end - and the feeling remained the next morning. I guess it symbolises the desert because nothing else really did? The last show I saw with such a brutal assault on the eyes was also Faltemeyer’s Wake Up. See the connection? It’s a bad one.
-The sight lines are a fucking disgrace. There is no nice way to put this, because it affects so many of the seats. Theatremonkey’s chart is a good starting point, but many of the tickets that are tagged as restricted are still being charged at almost £60. The sides at the Palace have always been bad, but the real problem is the overhangs: a great deal of action takes place on top of the titular bus and if you’re in a vertically challenged position (say, behind Row K in the stalls or the rear half of either circle) you miss a number of the big moments. TV screens are available on both sides of the rear stalls to watch that segment from, but stealing a glance (the glow was distracting me in my just-behind-the-premium seat) the image suffered from lighting washout and was basically a series of glowing blobs. Get an HD camera and set the bloody thing properly.
So to be down with the current speak, the tl;dr is: Priscilla is critic-proof and the sort of show to see after a few rounds at the pub, with a group, and can be enjoyable if you turn your brain off for three hours. It didn't blow me away (I still say We Will Rock You is the best of the big jukebox shows) but it'll do just that to a lot of people. Just make sure to wear sunglasses.
Where: Palace Theatre
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, Th (Post 4 May)/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £20.25-£93.25 including Premiums, varies by day.
Concessions: None at the moment?
RZ Unofficial "Worth Paying": £30
RZ Other Notes: Rumour on the interwebs is that the balcony is closed off early in the week. Consider booking there and hope for getting bumped.