Toronto critics largely upbeat on musical

The Broadway-bound musical version of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” rolled into Toronto to face out-of-town critics last week, and the show’s producers can likely breathe a little easier. Many of the reviewers had fun, despite any reservations they may have had.

Even the less enthusiastic critics loved the over-the-top costumes from Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, alums of the 1994 pic that inspired the tuner. The show’s performers — led by Tony Sheldon, Will Swenson and Nick Adams — also scored praise, particularly Swenson as drag-queen/dad Tick.

Musical, about three cross-dressing performers on a road trip through the Outback, launched in Oz before finding a berth on the West End, where the show’s been playing since March of last year.

“Priscilla” opens at Gotham’s Palace Theater on March 20. Will the big, splashy tuner have an equally long stint on the Main Stem?

Here’s what the Toronto critics said:

  • Writing in Daily Variety, Richard Ouzounian saw a hefty chance for Broadway success. “The tuner version of the 1994 film arrives in very good shape indeed,” he wrote. “Light years superior to the London production in terms of production standards, pacing (it’s 30 minutes shorter) and the emotional honesty of the leading players, this entry stands an excellent chance of an extended Gotham life after a bit of nipping and tucking.”

  • The Toronto Sun’s John Coulbourn found plenty to look at: “‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical’ is true to its roots in much the same way as the old Classic Comics were to the novels that inspired them — which is to say, it hits all the high notes of the tale in a highly visual way,” he wrote. The show’s entirely subtlety-free, he opined, but that was okay by him, and he suspected it’d work for a lot of other aud members. “Shiny as a zirconia sunburst, and deep as a dime, ‘Priscilla’ turns theatrical convention into theatrical confection at every turn — a show that gives you a good time but still makes you think you might want to take her home to meet mama anyway,” he wrote.

  • In the Globe and Mail, J. Kelly Nestruck gave the show three out of four stars. The critic gave a big thumbs-up to Swenson, but missed the visual contrast of the film’s rugged Outback locations. Still, he wrote, “What more than makes up for that is the sensational super-sizing of the costumes.” He was less entranced, however, by what he saw as the wobbly tone. “This is, not surprisingly, a show that delights in the outrageous and the flouting of convention — but it also remains oddly chaste for all that, a nod perhaps to too-tender middle class sensibilities that can ultimately make or break a musical like this.” But for all that, he concluded, “there’s no denying that Priscilla is infectious, giddy entertainment.”

  • In a more downbeat reaction, Now Toronto’s Glenn Sumi gave the production three out of five N’s, the paper’s version of stars. For Sumi, the costumes were great, but they were also the show’s most successful element: Chappel and Gardiner’s “eye-popping work — twirling green cupcakes, dancing pink paintbrushes and enough sequins to start a galaxy of gay — is much more memorable than Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s unfabulous book.” He didn’t much care for the way the familiar songs were worked into the narrative, or for what he saw as its heavy-handed style. “Instead of character, plot or even theme, we’re given a medley of pop tunes (heavy on ’70s disco) that assault us with their messages,” he wrote.
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