‘Priscilla’ Will Bring a Different Gay Vibe to the Strip

priscillatour0065r.jpgCampy Central.

Consider that the de facto moniker of the Venetian. Once home to the mondo-melodrama of PhantomThe Las Vegas Spectacular, it will soon house twin camp-fests when Rock of Ages is joined by Priscilla Queen of the DesertThe Musical, which will sashay into the property for an 11-week run beginning June 18.

Yet another jukebox musical, this one rife with disco and pop classics (“It’s Raining Men,” “Material Girl,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”), Priscilla is a feathers-and-sequins-stuffed show following two drag queens and a transsexual. Journeying to a gig in the Australian desert, they encounter a host of wacky characters, including a butch lesbian. Among the themes touched upon: homophobia.

Therein awaits an intriguing issue: How will Vegas tourists receive this out-and-proud, over-the-top comedy—neither a smash nor a flop on Broadway in 2011-12? Drag shows—which Priscilla is not, per se—have a long, respected tradition here (particularly Frank Marino, currently headlining the Quad’s Divas Las Vegas), their gayness confined to visual outlandishness with no storylines that could deliver social statements and stir the sexual-identity pot. Even draped in a party vibe, Priscilla takes that leap—not stridently, but definitively.

Gay rights and same-sex marriage are in the thick of our public discourse. Gay advocacy groups have both embraced Priscilla for its unapologetic depiction of a subset of gay life—and attacked it as a purveyor of flamboyant stereotypes that could undermine political progress.

Whether all this turns off some ticket-buyers—you know, the more conservative tourists who commit the debauchery here they don’t want the townies back home to know about—could be crucial to Priscilla’s box-office performance. Though it was a quickie run largely playing to locals, the gay-themed La Cage aux-Folles last summer was the least successful of The Smith Center’s visiting musicals.

(La Cage’s box-office lethargy might also be attributed to being packaged and advertised separately from the marquee Broadway Series. Or maybe most of Las Vegas had already caught umpteen airings of The Birdcage on Cox Cable.)

Few cities match Vegas for its liberal-to-libertarian—hell, anything-goes! —aesthetic and that would seem to auger well for a have-a-blast musical that wears its gay pride on its frilly, sequin-embedded sleeve. Yet it also steers us into provocative territory amid a polarized moment in American life.

Perhaps that’s too much Social Significance to lay on a minor musical that just wants to rain men and raise the fun level in a city that lives for that. Besides, when it comes to campy-bordering-on-cartoonish characters, the glam-grande dames of Priscilla must bow down in awe before Rock of Ages’ mullet-topped metal-heads.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Finally, a genuine “strip” postscript: On May 1, magic meets mammaries when the Plaza hotel undrapes Centerfolds of Magic (yes, we’re serious), billed as the first Vegas show starring topless female prestidigitators. Then (hold onto your G-string) ex-Beverly Hills 90210 star Ian Ziering—nearly AARP age at 49—will do a guest-grinding gig at the Rio’s Chippendales from June 6-30.

Heads up, Convention and Visitors Authority. New slogan? “Vegas: Land of (Magical) Tits and (Elderly) Ass.”

What Broadway musical should hit Vegas next? Tell us in the comments.

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Signature Accomplishment


Signature Accomplishment

By Steve Bornfeld

Camelot by Signature Productions 2 and 7:30 p.m. (schedule varies) through May 11, $25-$30, Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center, 1771 Inner Circle Dr., 878-7529, SignatureProductions.net. What’s wrong with this Broadway-level, professionally polished, premium-$129-per-ticket picture: