'Priscilla' not quite a gay old time 

click to enlarge The glitzy 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' is at the Orpheum Theatre.
  • The glitzy 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' is at the Orpheum Theatre.

Men dressing in women's clothes, familiar songs, and a story based on a cult-classic movie do not necessarily make a successful, satisfying musical.

Despite neon and sparkles, never-ending unique costumes and a high-energy cast, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical" is just a drag — figuratively as well as literally.

Onstage at the Orpheum Theatre, the Broadway tour of the jukebox musical adapted from writer-director Stephan Elliott's 1994 film about two drag queens and a transsexual on a road trip in a bus they christen Priscilla, is all boom and bluster — literally. This theatergoer got hit in the head by a ping pong ball that flew offstage during a number set to "Pop Muzik."

Only in "MacArthur Park" — in which a cake is indeed left out in the rain amid a chorus line of dancing cupcakes — does the bombastic style work.

But mostly, from the opening "It's Raining Men" to the closing "Finally" (featuring screechy vocals by three divas decked out in feathers and flying in harnesses), it's a shrill, inexplicable affair packed with lame gay jokes and uninspired choreography reminiscent of the Village People and "Solid Gold" (which admittedly were fun decades ago).

Though no fault of the competent performers, the over-the-top characters and their plight — to get from Sydney across the Australian desert to a small town in time to put on a drag show — are unsympathetic: Tick, a married man with a son he never met; Adam, a bitchy Madonna impersonator; and Bernadette, whose star has faded since lip synching drag artists have gone by the wayside. Only Bob, the nice mechanic who shows up and helps when the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, is likable.

Even the well-known songs aren't likable, from the disco hits ("I Love the Nightlife," "Boogie Wonderland," "Hot Stuff") to the forced sentimentality of "Always On My Mind" and "True Colors."


Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical

Presented by SHN

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday

Tickets: $45 to $210

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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Leslie Katz

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