If you have never seen or even heard of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, then you probably haven’t been born yet. The 1995 movie is a classic Australian film icon and the stage musical is one in itself with many Aussie icons thrown in for good measure.
The stage show is written by the film’s writer/director Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. It is a Jukebox Musical with just about every Drag Show anthem of the 70s, 80s, and 90s dropping from the sky as if raining men. The musical aims to entertain audiences by being glitzy, sparkly, gaudy, bright and breezy, hilarious and at times thoughtful. Basically what any Drag show worth its weight in makeup, beaded eyelashes and lip syncing should be. This production has all of the above and occasionally more. Certainly enough to have the second night audience standing up and dancing during the final bows.
Director Gordon Combes and Choreographer Sarah Williams throw gallons of glitter and glitz and ‘over the top’ness at the audience. Sometimes a little too much – the funeral number is extremely over ‘over the top’. Combes’ and Anne Humphries costume designs are quite fantastic and, in part, based on the original professional production. The ‘Australiana’ finale costumes depicting everything wonderful about our country are hilarious and extremely appropriate. However, the three leads (Vonni Brit, Billy St John and Benjamin Johnson) looked more like Barvarian milkmaids than symbolising the Sydney Opera House. Jillian Gulliver musically directs a very tight and appropriately loud (this is Disco music we are talking about) band. Their energy levels match those of the cast . Throw in Matt Ralph’s very appropriate lighting design and Combes’ corrugated iron looking set design and you are ready to roll.
The titular bus, Priscilla, was a slight disappointment on her first appearance, looking rather one dimensional. But, when it was revealed how three dimensional she really was, she flew into gear.
This show requires energy and boy, do we get it in spades from all. The pace is never slow, with no gaps in storytelling nor scene changes – a well oiled machine throughout. The ensemble, in particular, are Fabulous, Dahling!! Three of these must be pointed out as wonderful examples of how to hold and audience in their hands and steal the show: Sean Wright as Drag Queen Miss Understanding, Nadine Wood as Broken Hill publican Shirley and Chany Hoffman as Cynthia, that Asian lady who can do fascinating things with ping pong balls. Wright is the very first person the audience sees and sets the tone perfectly for the night ahead, even letting us get our camera fingers working to take shots of him before we have to turn our phones off and put them away. I have directed Wright and had no idea who was behind the make up till I checked the program – he was that good and very convincing. Wood is just plain hilarious as bogan publican Shirley and if you don’t split your sides at her, then you must be clinically dead. After Wright and Wood heat us up in Act One, Hoffman finishes us off in Act Two with her ping pong ball skills (and we won’t mention what she can do with a chair) – brilliant ‘bring the house down’ skills. The other supporting cast and ensemble fill their roles dutifully.
Whilst overall enjoying the three leads, this reviewer had slight performance problems with them. Former Les Girls star and trans woman Brit tended to deliver too many of her lines to the audience as if she was still compering at that famous Drag institution. As Tick/Mitzi Mitosis, St John is too over the top ‘gay’ – it needs to be believable to us that he once fathered a son, and with all his ‘mincing’ I certainly wasn’t convinced but his singing voice is ideal. Johnson as Adam Whitley/Felicia Jolly Good Fellow acts the role well and can certainly move, but his vocals didn’t seem strong enough.
All this aside though, this production is thoroughly enjoyable and certainly does what it set out to do – entertain and make us all happy.
Photo credit: Proshots