Theater review: Out Front bows with ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’


“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical”

Grade: C

Through Nov. 6. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. $15-$25. Out Front Theatre, 999 Brady Ave. N.W., Atlanta.

Bottom line: Kind of a drag.

The good news about "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," a musical version of the 1994 Australian movie involving two drag queens and a transgender performer on a road trip across the Outback, is that it marks the arrival of a new troupe in town: Out Front Theatre, dedicated to producing shows by, for and about the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community — a worthy endeavor, to be sure.

Founded by Paul Conroy, a former artistic director of Newnan Theatre Company and general manager of Serenbe Playhouse, Out Front has announced an inaugural season that will also feature stagings of “A Kid Like Jake,” an intimate family drama, in February, and “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” a farce of biblical proportions, in April.

The not-so-good news, alas, is this first effort itself, which makes you wonder if the group may have bitten off more than it can chew so soon out of the gate, that perhaps Conroy should have considered starting with either or both of those smaller-scale productions before working his way up to something quite as technically elaborate or demanding as “Priscilla.”

With a script by Stephan Elliott (who wrote and directed the original film) and Allan Scott, the jukebox musical is generally well-sung by a large ensemble, although the opening-night performance was frequently marred by faulty body mics. At certain times, the live five-piece band, led by music director Nick Silvestri on keyboards, completely overpowered the singers.

The score is heavy on the disco hits: “It’s Raining Men,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “I Will Survive,” “Shake Your Groove Thing,” “Hot Stuff,” “Boogie Wonderland.” Other familiar pop tunes include “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “True Colors,” and there’s even a rendition of the classic “A Fine Romance.”

Most of the design budget seems to have gone to the costumes by Jay Reynolds — and, indeed, they are spectacularly lavish and over-the-top, in a Vegas showgirl vein. For all of their recurring appearances, a chorus of “Divas” and backup vocalists (Ally Duncan, Brianna Gilliam and Gia Nappo) never wear the same gowns twice. Their quick changes, and those regularly executed by the rest of the cast, are constantly impressive.

By comparison, however, aside from a couple of shimmering Mylar curtains and the major set piece (the interior of a bus), director/choreographer Conroy’s scenic design is fairly chintzy.

The caliber of the acting could be stronger, too. Only Justin Thompson excels, with a superb turn — and a singularly convincing Aussie accent — as Tick/Mitzi, whose journey to connect with his young son (a cute Alex Huff) sets the story in motion. Their “Always on My Mind” duet late in the show is a highlight.

Co-stars Jason-Jamal Ligon (as the sassy Adam/Felicia) and Robert Ray (as the aging Ralph/Bernadette) are simply marginal. It’s especially disconcerting that Ray, a veteran cabaret performer, speaks as many of his lyrics as he sings.

In one sense, Out Front’s debut is a modest outing at best. In another, here’s hoping the best is yet to come.