Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical (review)
Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
SCREEN to stage adaptations, artists in drag and unoriginal scores (though not necessarily combined) are very much a part of the current West End scene. Which surely begs the question, is there really room for more of the same? The answer, I think, is yes – if it’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical we’re talking about.
Based on the Academy Award-winning film, Priscilla tells the story of Tick/Mitzi (Jason Donovan), Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) and Adam/Felicia (Oliver Thornton), a trio of Sydney-based drag queens, who take their show to Alice Springs in a battered old bus nicknamed Priscilla.
And advance publicity described what follows as a heart-warming, uplifting adventure, with the friends discovering more about life than they could ever have thought possible.
It’s also slick, sassy and visually stunning, the latter due largely to Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s extravagant and colourful costumes. And the script, with puns aplenty and double entendres galore, is nothing short of outrageous. However, its delivery is such that it never comes across as offensive.
There are also moments of genuine tenderness when, for example, Tick’s young son accepts him for what he is. Their duet, the Elvis classic Always On My Mind, is guaranteed to soften even the hardest of hearts. It’s a scene that could so easily have seen Donovan as just another Elvis impersonator but to his immense credit he delivers the well known lyrics in a voice that has changed little over the years. And he can belt out a number – as with Macarthur Park (you know, the bit about the cake in the rain) – along with the best.
There are also fine performances from Sheldon who looks simply great in a dress, and Thornton, whose blatant campness demonstrates his versatility as an actor – his previous roles have included Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera and Enjolras in Les Miserables.
Special mention must also go to Clive Carter whose interpretation of Bob, a red-blooded heterosexual male with old fashioned values (despite his young mail order bride), makes him a man to be reckoned with; and the three gloriously clad divas, who spend the greater part of the show suspended on wires above the stage, singing the songs the trio mime to during their act.
And lastly, but by no means least, there’s Priscilla herself. Gliding effortlessly round the stage in a full 360 degrees, she’s as much a part of the set as she is the set itself.
Not being familiar with the film, I can make no comparisons. As I saw it, Priscilla is a musical that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is high on entertainment value. At last night’s opening performance, it received a well-deserved standing ovation, the first I’m sure of many. So, if you’re thinking of a trip to the theatre in these lean times, Priscilla is definitely one of the West End’s many excellent productions worth considering. Just don’t take granny without her smelling salts!