THEATER REVIEW: “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” at the Civic

“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was a 1994 road movie like no other, telling the story of two Australian drag queens and a transsexual who get a gig in the middle of the Australian outback and get there in a battered old bus they dub Priscilla.

But there’s something about transferring a 104-minute film to a two and a half-hour musical that sets the teeth (and ears) on edge a bit.

“Priscilla” rolled into San Diego on Tuesday night for a stay through Sunday, Oct. 20 at Civic Theatre.

The problem is not lack of talent – Wade McCollum (playing Tick/Mitzi Mitosis), Bryan West (as Adam/Felicia) and Scott Willis (as transsexual Bernadette) are terrific, as are all the other cast members, particularly the three floating divas (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West).

It’s not bad music: book authors Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott use lots of familiar songs (like “Material Girl” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” that many will at least want to hum along with.

It’s the Civic’s sound system that provided plenty of volume but very little clarity on opening night that ultimately made this a bit of a trial. Between that and the Aussie accents, it was difficult to catch many of the jokes.

Let’s face it, the show is a bit too long for its plot as it is. The conceit is that Tick’s estranged wife Marion (Christy Faber) asks him to do a show for her business in distant Alice Springs. She has an ulterior motive: their 8-year-old son Benji (Shane Davis) has never met his father.

So Tick enlists his two friends and off they go in Priscilla the bus – a wonderful creation by Brian Thomson with the unsubtle sign “Rear Entry on Request” on the back.

They encounter the usual assortment of hicks, city boys and homophobes along the way until they finally get to Alice Springs and dad meets son.

But this show is really about costumes – some 500 of them, for which Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner won a Tony Award. And they are fabulous creations. You will leave with the image of Adam on top of the van, sitting in a giant, glittery shoe, lip-synching to the operatic aria “Sempre Libera” from Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

And that pretty much tells the story here.

Kudos to Nick Schlieper and Jonathan Spencer for their ever-changing lighting design, and to the boffo nine-member orchestra.

The constant motion and disco-like lighting wore me out, but the opening-night audience loved this show, and if you’re into fabulous costumes and long road trips, you will too. I hope they can fix the sound problems for people like me who would like to know what’s being said or sung.

The details

“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” plays through Oct. 20 at San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: (619) 570-1100 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.