Review of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at Theatre Rhinoceros

Jordan Nickels

  • San Francisco Theatre Critic

The queens return to Theatre Rhinoceros for a limited engagement of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, after a celebrated run of the production last season. Filled with popular music and colorful characters, Priscilla brings a night of fun, campiness, and acceptance to the theater.

Based on the 1994 Australian comedy The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; the musical follows Anthony (or Tick) as he travels across the Australian desert on the bus christened “Priscilla.” Tick is performing in a show run by his ex-wife, but plans to reunite with his son, unbeknownst to his fellow queens on this trip: the legendary transgender performer Bernadette and the young, saucy upcoming queen Adam. Along their trip, they encounter loving fans as well as homophobic crowds, and learn to grow closer together as a sisterhood.

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This cast was led by the incredible talents of Rudy Guerrero as Tick, Kim Larsen as Bernadette, and Charles Peoples III as Adam. Rudy brought heart to this production in his portrayal of Tick, as well as great skill when it came to the choreography. Charles stole the show as Adam, with incredible vocal talent and enough charisma to fill three theaters. By far the star of this fabulous cast was Kim as Bernadette. He brought the perfect balance of knowledge and timid nature to Bernadette, which sprouted a beautiful relationship with Bob, the mechanic they meet when their bus breaks down. While the leading cast was spectacular, the chorus members of the show varied in their performances from comedic timing, to singing and choreography. The chorus could have come together with more cohesion in these big production numbers, but I digress, as they looked like they were enjoying themselves and were fantastic in getting the audience engaged in the show.

I was impressed by the construction and design of the “Priscilla” bus, created by set designer Gilbert Johnson, as well as the various costumes worn by the drag queens in the show. To dress a queen is not an easy task and takes a village, which consisted of Glenn Krumbholz (Headdress Designer and Construction), Larry Jean (Cupcake Designer and Construction), Daisy Neske (Diva Finale Costume Design and Execution), and Cindy Preiado (Gumbys Design and Construction).

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at first glance is an entertaining, jukebox musical filled with comedy, fabulous drag queens, and music from all the well-known gay icons of the era. However, at its core, Priscilla is a story about family, whether biological or chosen, and acceptance of people who look or act outside the norm. All three of these queens go through moments of doubt and self-discovery, learning to embrace their quirks and live as their true selves in the queer community, whatever that means to them. They also look outside their circle and realize that while there is a lot of hate and intolerance in our world, there are still good, loving people among them too. The film was groundbreaking as an LGBT-centered film about drag in the decade following the AIDS crisis in America, and a time when RuPaul’s song Supermodel was just released and the world wasn’t fully accepting of drag queens. While the world has changed, some of that negative sentiment towards the LGBT+ community still exists, and making a musical version of this film playing Broadway and around the world is so important for this community’s visibility in our cultural conscience.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert runs through June 30 at Theatre Rhinoceros, and is a heartwarming, amusing night at the theater you don’t want to miss.

 Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.