Priscilla Queen of the Desert - the musical

Feel-good musical based on smash hit film. Featuring a sequence of top stars in the lead role, including Jason Donovan (in 2014) and Duncan James (in 2016).
Priscilla Queen of the Desert - the musical! stars Jason Donovan and comes to the New Theatre Mon 25th Feb - Sat 2nd March
New Theatre, 25th February - 2nd March 2013 with reprises March 2014 and June 2016

June 14, 2016
Celebrating different kinds of love with wonderful wigs and the sharpest of tongues

As soon as the house lights dimmed, I knew we were in for a magical evening; the orchestra struck up and the theatre was illuminated with beautiful mirror-ball lights, dazzling the Oxford audience, and setting us up for the wondrous night ahead.

I saw Priscilla a couple of years ago at the New Theatre, so I knew to expect high camp and hilarity in heels. But there is so much more to this show than sequins and screaming drag queens. It's about tolerance and compassion as well as different kinds of love, whether between friends, romantic love, or that of a father and son.

The three leads worked well together, especially considering Craig Ryder had to come to the rescue in the lead role of Tick/Mitzi, due to Duncan James recovering from emergency surgery. Ryder was outstanding, as were his co-leads, Simon Green (a poised and ravishing Bernadette, with the sharpest of tongues) and Adam Bailey (a manic, bitchy Adam/Felicia), and I was fully engrossed in the ups and downs of their journey across the Australian outback.

Another three stand-out performances were that of the three Divas, descending grandly from the heavens, singing with such power that it was easy to believe that they were supernatural beings and not simply mere mortals in wonderful wigs.

A glimpse of Miss Understanding (played by Matt Crandon in tonight's performance) as our host in Downtown Sydney had me flashing back to the sheer joy that swept through me during my first viewing of the show. We don't see much (or indeed enough) of Miss Understanding but her hilarious and accurate Tina Turner impression is a memory that will never leave me.

It's so difficult to choose a favourite character or scene from this spectacle of a show that had me smiling so widely and constantly from start to finish, that my mouth is still aching now. But special mention must go to Julie Yammanee (Cynthia, Bob's mail-order bride). Her exotic stage show to Pop Muzik is screamingly funny, enhanced by the terrifying edge to her singing, a raspy aggression that she delivers with panache.

All in all there is no better way I would want to start the week, than with this life-affirming show and it's toe-tappingly camp soundtrack.

April 2, 2014

One look at the cover of the programme and you know you’re in for a fun evening – three men in enormous wigs and outrageous outfits, surrounded by sparkly disco lights.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for 20 years, you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect from Priscilla…-The Musical anyway: two drag queens and a transsexual go to the Outback on a bus.  Sounds like the start of a fairly tasteless joke, but here it’s the set-up of a fabulous, uplifting adventure.

As we entered the auditorium we were greeted by a giant, rather phallic, lipstick on stage in front of a bright pink outline of Australia with the route between Sydney and Alice Springs marked out, setting the tone for an evening of glamour and crudity via some wonderfully camp music.

As soon as we were thrust into the first scene, Downtown Sydney, the Three Divas dropping out of the sky singing It’s Raining Men, I was slack-jawed.  From start to finish the show is a feast for the eyes and ears.  The costumes are amazing; some recognisable from the film, all a construct of beauty and clearly the product of a very creative, unique mind. The costume changes were also cleverly done - considering how complicated some of the outfits looked, it was impressive how often, and quickly, the three main characters were able to change without disappearing offstage for too long, while the audience were treated to a brief ensemble number as a distraction.

The cast were brilliant and looked as though they were having as much fun as the audience.  On reading the programme I can’t tell you how excited I was to see that the beautiful Richard Grieve (better known to me as dreamy Dr Lachlan in Home and Away) was playing Bernadette.  And a stellar job he does of it too, as does Graham Weaver as Adam/Felicia – bitchy and camp, but with a heart of gold, and probably some hot-pants to match. Noel Sullivan (of Hear’Say fame) played our lead, Tick/Mitzi, completing the trio perfectly.  I have to admit, I thought I’d be disappointed that it wasn’t Jason Donovan (who plays Tick/Mitzi from 3rd April), but Sullivan played the part wonderfully, from his camp mannerisms, to Elvis impressions with his on-stage son.

I really can’t recommend this show enough.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny, toe-tapping, soul-reviving entertainment. If you don’t leave the theatre with a spring in your step, you’re just not trying!

February 25, 2013

Amidst the gently cackling audience stands proud a giant red lipstick, thrusting skywards. Behind it, a neon-pink outline traces the edge of Australia, and the haphazard journey that is to come. Nothing is cowed by the gaudy red and gold gilded facade which frames the stage at the New Theatre. Priscilla has arrived.

Fans of the film will remember the thrills, spills and surprises which hop, skip and bound throughout this epic tale of adventure across the physical and cultural contours of Australia’s Outback. Secrets are kept, hidden and revealed. Lives changed, turned-around and families re-united.

But that isn’t really the point of the stage show.

It is, above all, a celebration of the song and dance which made Priscilla, Queen of the Desert such a dazzling spectacle on-screen. The numbers come thick and fast, with many not included in the original (given the 2-hour running length, this is hardly surprising), and most are an interesting take on the ancestral work.

Notable additions to the cast include three descending ladies who - singing very strongly - (think Cher but tripled) continually swoop down on wires at the most opportune moments. A phalanx of well-built young men and balletic young women provide the supporting ensemble and lend an air of casino glamour to the production. They do some of their own skits, and the scene in the bar (if you haven’t seen the film, don’t worry, you’ll know when it comes) is quite a roof-raiser.

Jason Donovan is without doubt the Big Name who packs the house night after night. The erstwhile Neighbours star (he played Scott) clearly occupies a fond place in the heart of the audience. A marvelously pert Adam is played by Graham Weaver. And Bernadette is a quite spell-binding Richard Grieve.

It is never an easy task to compress a film onto the stage. Priscilla is one hell of a film, and her sheer scale is never going to fit into a musical without some stark compromises. We lose, therefore, some (most?) of the subtle changes to the relationship between Bernadette and Adam (and indeed, Adam and Tick - though the film never explores this overtly). Adam is also rather more crudely portrayed, having all the self-interest and irritation, but lacking the growing warmth of character. The relationship which survives best of all is that between Bernadette and Bob the mechanic, and if anything, becomes the most important.

I am left feeling buoyed and uplifted, that there are people out there, putting on shows like this and reveling in the sheer joy of wearing fantastic outfits and dancing to - frankly great - music. It is an experience. You cannot take it home, but you can rent the DVD, which will give you another - highly complementary one. I’d recommend you do both. Perhaps watching the film as fast as possible - it’s on stage at the New Theatre until Saturday the 2nd of March.

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