Good news + Bad news = Good disc! The delightful Broadway cast album of this not quite so delightful Broadway show is a fun listen. It may stay in your CD player longer than you’d expect … and get re-inserted when your spirits need a bit of a lift.
The good news is that the CD, released today on Rhino, saves you from the most uncomfortable weakness of the live experience — the show’s periodic descent to a level of raunch that is incompatible with its overall feel and raises serious questions about just who the producers think their principal ticket buyers might be.
Since it is an audio disc, the recording doesn’t include the image of Keala Settle bumping through the intro to Alicia Bridges’ 1978 disco hit “I Love the Nightlife” nor the sight of just what is popping to the sound of the British band M’s 1979 song “Pop Muzik.” Trust me, this is a good thing.
On the other side of the coin, the bad news is that a “songs from” type compilation can’t begin to let you understand the depth of Tony Sheldon’s performance as the most mature of the three drag queens traveling across Australia’s outback in this campy disco tempo’d travelogue show. Most of his charming seduction of the audience is in his body language and his spoken language, not in his moments of song.
Don’t expect a standard show tune collection. This isn’t My Fair Lady! But taken on its own terms, it is a pure pleasure.
Priscilla, based on the 1994 cult-hit Australian movie of a trio of drag queens driving a bus from Sydney to Alice Springs where their lip synching show is to play a casino, is a juke box musical in the mold of Mamma Mia! but with the juke box loaded with a hodgepodge of songs rather than the output of a single group. While Mamma Mia! delivered the catalogue of Abba set to a slender story, Priscilla delivers a diverse selection which is predominantly disco but wanders all over the map while the on-stage bus meanders all over the Australian map.
The stylistic outliers of the score range all the way from an aria from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata to the Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern tongue in cheek love song “A Fine Romance” – both delivered on stage in lip synch to pre-recorded snippets which are included in the cd.
The heart of the score, however, is the trunk load of disco and club numbers performed live, and these renditions are preserved on the disc in their full-out, up-tempo pizzazz. Music supervisor and arranger Stephen “Spud” Murphy and orchestrator Charlie Hull have energized such glitzy pieces as Madonna’s”Material Girl,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Go West” which younger folk will recall from the Pet Shop Boys but those a few decades older might connect with the Village People, and Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer’s “It’s Raining Men.”
Not all the songs that made it onto the stage made it onto the disc. Perhaps they couldn’t come up with the rights to snippets from Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” or John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”
Included are some of the numbers that set up gags in the show. For example, Will Swenson, as the drag star who puts the trip together principally to visit his former wife and their son who has grown old enough to wonder about his dad in show business, sings a slightly soulful version of Bacharach and David’s “I Say a Little Prayer” so he can warble about putting on his makeup and wondering what dress to wear. Later he does a lamentable Elvis imitation that really needs the “thank you very much” to give you a clue that he’s trying to do Elvis. Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” gives designers Tim Happel and Lizzy Gardiner free reign to bring on a chorus wearing cupcake costumes.
While you won’t actually see those cupcakes with the song on your speakers or in your earphones, the spirit of whimsy comes through on the recording.