BWW Reviews: PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, Wolverhampton Grand, January 27 2014
Having seen Priscilla Queen of the Desert in the West End a few years ago, I was very interested to see how the production had been adapted to tour. A technical tour de force; there have been mishaps aplenty along the way due to the bus automation issues and flying (or not-flying) divas in visiting venues. However, the show seemed very slick last night during its opening performance at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.
Priscilla's strengths lie in two places: the side-splittingly witty book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott and the costume design by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. The script is excellent; it is very frothy as one would expect but there is an emotional epicentre which surfaces at times to break up the campness! There are sub plots within the main story such as Tick's struggle to face up to his duties as a father, Bernadette's battle with true love and the homophobic undercurrent experienced by Felicia in particular. All are addressed with truth and sincerity which makes the show work so effectively.
The costumes are a huge talking point with over 500 outfits, 200 hats, 100 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes...you get the idea! They really are spectacular and the work that goes into the making and maintenance of them is extraordinary. The amount of costume changes - including some incredibly quick ones - must be admired. It gives the cast a workout and a pat on the back must be given to the dressers and Wardrobe team on the production for their assistance with this. 'I Will Survive' at the end of Act One is when they really come into their own and in my opinion is where the show takes off.
There is very little by means of set; just lots of pink tabs, an LED word scroller used as a locator and of course, the bus. In the past, one side of the vehicle was a solid wall of LED lights which naturally caused a lot of problems! Therefore they have opted for a scaled-down feature of four screens which were used to good effect. At first glance I can't say I was impressed but throughout the performance, having seen its usage, it worked well - a great compromise by the designer, Brian Thomson.
The orchestra, under the leadership of Richard Weeden, sounded superb with wonderful orchestrations and arrangements by Stephen 'Spud' Murphy. They make a catalogue of classic musical numbers seem fresh which is no mean feat and when the Divas - played expertly by Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansell - join in, they bring the house down with their energy and fabulousness.
Noel Sullivan plays Tick on this leg of the tour and he is very competent in the role. He makes some interesting character choices which I found difficult to grasp in the first half but he really delivers in Act Two and I was impressed with what he demonstrated. Having seen him play Galileo in We Will Rock You prior to this, I know his vocals can be a lot stronger than what he gave us last night but it is not the kind of show that begs this to be a necessity. A similar thing can be said for Graham Weaver as Felicia; I don't feel that he found his feet until Act Two as it seemed very forced in places. However, I again ate my words during the second half. Richard Grieve as Bernadette - on the other hand - was a sensation. Unbelievable comic timing and simply lived for the moment. Definitely the star performance of the night. Also the production would be nothing without the ensemble so they must be commended for their work.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is on at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 1st February.