The program for Theatre Rhino’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Musical,” onstage at the Gateway Theatre in The City, lists Larry Jean as cupcake designer, and it’s a job well done.
Dancers in adorable cupcake outfits are in the “MacArthur Park” number, with the famed refrain “Someone left the cake out in the rain.”
Feathered, sequined, beaded and color-bursting costumes parading fast and furiously — created and supervised by a team including Robert Horek, Glenn Krumbholz, Daisy Neske, Cindy Preiado, Karr and David Bjorklund and worn with glee — are the reason to see this kitschy jukebox musical based on Stephan Elliott’s 1994 movie about unfulfilled Australian drag queens from the city on a road trip in the middle of nowhere in a bus they call Priscilla.
It’s an apt show for Theatre Rhino, the nation’s oldest LGBT troupe, to reprise following a successful run in 2017; it boasts semi-nudity and clever production values, and director John Fisher, music director Mark Dietrich and choreographer AeJay Mitchell and the cast seem to have fun with the iffy dialogue (“I thought you came out here to climb every mountain, not mount every redneck”) and disco tunes (“I Love the Nightlife,” “Shake Your Groove Thing,” “Boogie Wonderland”).
Still, despite the glitz, glamor and gumption, “Priscilla” has unsympathetic protagonists with no character development who embody every gay cliche.
There’s Tick (Mitzi is his drag persona), who’s married with a son he never met; the bitchy young Adam, who performs as Felicia; and the older, transgender Bernadette, a faded star from days when lip syncing is what drag artists did. In this 2018 reboot, Rhino regulars Rudy Guerrero, as Tick, and Charles Peoples III, as Adam, reprise their roles, while Kim Larsen takes over for Darryl V. Jones as Bernadette.
Energetic and game, they fill the costumes well, but still, they can’t make their characters’ transformations — yes, they somehow find acceptance and happiness at the end — convincing.
Interestingly, the most likable characters are the two straight guys: Bob (Cameron Weston), a mechanic who fixes the bus and admires Bernadette, and young Benji (Cameron Zener), who at last meets his dad, Tick, with affection.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Musical
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes June 30
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com