Eye-popping costumes aside, Uptown Players' Aussie musical is kind of a drag
Audiences at Priscilla Queen of the Desert have two options: try to glean a message about the difficulties faced by the queer community, or enjoy a sparkly, feathered, sometimes cupcake-adorned fashion show set to a disco soundtrack.
Your best bet at Uptown Players is to go with the second choice. Though based on the 1994 film, which was a campy road-trip flick that nonetheless packed heart along with its high heels, the stage musical is more like a sexually confused mash-up of Thunder From Down Under and a Lady Gaga concert. Using eye-popping outfits from the Florida-based Costume World Theatrical (Suzi Cranford and Jessie Chavez "adapted" them for Uptown) and sets from Gateway Set Rentals, director Ann Nieman's end result is a bedazzled feast for the eyes.
But like most of us after a hard night out, it's also a little rough around the edges. Underneath all those sequins is a youthful chorus that's full of enthusiasm but not yet polished with its delivery. The offstage band, led by music director Kevin Gunter, likewise plods its way through a jukebox score packed with such tunes as "I Love the Nightlife," "It's Raining Men," "I Will Survive," and "Shake Your Groove Thing."
Also sometimes missing the mark, musically at least, is Kelly Groves. His Tick (or Mitzi when in drag) is endearingly wide-eyed, but his acting can't always make up for the miffed notes that clang harsher than the show's racially insensitive scene involving an Asian woman and a ping-pong ball.
Luckily, Groves' character mostly sticks to the old-school drag tradition of lip syncing, and his source vocalists — a trio of glamorous women called the Divas — are divine. Led by Dana Harper, who was a top 20 finalist on The Voice, the sultry girl group is rounded out by Uptown favorites Laura Lites and Beth Lipton.
Joining Tick on his journey across the Outback are the fit and feisty young drag queen Felicia (Blake McIver, bright as a ray of sunshine) and a classy transsexual named Bernadette (Jack Donahue, taking regal to the hilt).
They're all headed to perform at the casino owned by Tick's wife (never fully explained) and to meet Tick's 8-year-old son (developed even less). Along the way they encounter plenty of homophobia and even pick up a traveling buddy (Sonny Franks, playing the straight man in more ways than one) as their rickety RV, Priscilla, continually breaks down.
The movie's original writer and director, Stephen Elliott, here pairs with Allan Scott for the book, and the result is mostly quips and catfights between songs. Most of the time it's like an overly long drag brunch, but if that's all you're expecting, then raise your champagne and toast to the outfits.
Uptown Players' production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert runs through July 29 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.