Priscilla premieres on Broadway

When Priscilla premiered in Sydney in 2006, very few people would have thought that the show would eventually end up on Broadway.

When Priscilla premiered in Sydney in 2006, very few people would have thought that the show would eventually end up on Broadway.

In fact, some critics even suggested that the show would even struggle in Melbourne, such was its connection to Sydney.

Succeed in Melbourne it did, and Priscilla has exceeded everyone’s expectations, so much so that its opening in New York this week was largely ignored by an Australian media more interested in Prince William’s visit to Queensland or the latest news on Charlie Sheen.

Priscilla’s debut in New York has garnered some Australian media attention, but it hasn’t received the attention it should have. After all, an Australian musical making it all the way to Broadway is an incredible feat.

Some would say an Aussie musical about drag queens in the outback making it to Broadway is an even bigger achievement.

Whilst critics in New York have been a little underwhelmed by the tuner, they have been lavish in their praise of the wonderful Tony Sheldon in the lead role of Bernadette, and audiences seem to be lapping the show up, with good numbers in previews and a solid box office advance.

In the New York Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz said the show had a “thin plot”.

“As is, Priscilla, adapted by Elliott and Allan Scott, is another movie plopped onto the stage without developing the plot or relationships. Energy was spent on finding ways to blast confetti and Ping-Pong balls, and to ensure audience participation. But those tricks, along with crass one-liners, a trio of gravity-defying girl goddesses and a tricked-out bus can’t keep you from noticing what’s missing,” Dziemianowicz said.

He added: “Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (who won an Oscar for their work in the film) share credit for the real star attraction: the 500 costumes. At their best, the clothes are truly awesome. At their worst, they are dehumanizing. Throughout Priscilla the three leads don’t look male or female but like bizarre aliens. Call me a party pooper, but that was enough to make this supposed frolic a drag.”

In the influentual New York Times, Charles Isherwood said: “But while it is performed with gleaming verve and infusions of bawdy humor — Tony Sheldon, who has been with the show from its Australian debut, is particularly winning as the gracious-lady transsexual Bernadette — Priscilla feels monotonous and mechanical. It lacks the narrative complexity of La Cage (egad, did I just write those words?) and isn’t as impishly clever as guilty-pleasure indulgences like Mamma Mia! and Xanadu, similarly ditzy musicals inviting audiences to take a mindless boogie down memory lane.”

Some reviews have been better, however, including The Chicago Tribune.

The reviews are likely to be a concern for producers, who need a positive reaction from critics to ensure a long run.

That said, the show opened in Sydney and London to less than wonderful reviews, and survived strongly in both cities.

The journey for Priscilla does not end in New York, with productions planned for elsewhere in the world, including Italy, in the near future.

The show’s long-time Australian co-producer, London-based Garry McQuinn, told the Sydney Morning Herald before the Broadway opening that while poor reviews would probably not kill the show, they could damage it.

”We don’t have a great track record of impressing reviewers,” he said.

“We tend to get a bit of snobbishness about the jukebox aspect or the thin plot or something like that, which is kind of ironic when you compare it with some of the other shows that are on here.”

According to the Herald, McQuinn will return to London this week to begin putting together a touring production of Priscilla and to finalise the expected opening of the show’s first foreign-language production in Milan next year. It is expected to be the first of several foreign-language productions.

Below: The show’s launch in London.

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