BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL at Adelaide Festival Theatre
Reviewed by Fiona Talbot-Leigh, Thursday 23rd August 2018.
After winning many awards on Broadway, the West End, Europe, and Asia, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the musical, comes to Adelaide, with enough glitz and glamour to rival that of the Sydney Mardi Gras. It is the tenth anniversary for this show, and Adelaide was fortunate to be on the list for their celebration tour. Priscilla is the first Australian musical to conquer both Broadway and the West End and, from there, it went on to tour to 29 countries, 134 cities, as well as the length and breadth of Britain and the USA, all to high acclaim.
Based on the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, Priscilla gets your heart racing with happy vibes from beginning to end. The storyline stays true to the original 1994 movie. Three misfit drag queens embark on a road trip through the desert from Sydney to Alice Springs making huge impressions and winning hearts along the way. Throughout the journey, however, relationships are tested to that point where they go from being friends to family and it is this sense of the full acceptance of oneself which comes to light throughout the course of the show.
[Editor's note, Sydney, in New South Wales, to Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, is 1,260.08 miles or 2,027.91 km as the crow flies, and 1,720.04 miles or 2,768.14 km by road on the most commonly used route, going through much of South Australia on the way]
This musical is nothing short of spectacular. Simon Phillips has directed an incredibly talented cast who give their all from the moment the curtain is raised to the opening chords of It's Raining Men, to the grand finale. Suspended above the onstage action are the Divas, three incredible vocalists whose presence added real soul to the show. They are Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen, and the incredible Cle Morgan. Their delivery of songs and harmonies were a welcome addition on the night and definitely gave the drag queens onstage something to mime about.
The whole ensemble is so talented but a couple must be mentioned. Lena Cruz reprises her role from the original production, as Cynthia. Her characterisation was just perfect and, along with Emma Powell's rendition of Shirley at the pub, provided real comic relief. These two, along with the rest of the ensemble, give their all as they change characters and sets and keep the musical moving smoothly along, but it is the three main characters that really drive the show forward, along with the bus, christened Priscilla.
David Harris plays Tick, a female impersonator who takes up the offer from his ex-wife Marion, played by Adele Parkinson, to come to Alice Springs to do a stage show but, more importantly for him, to meet his 6-year-old son Benji, played on the night by William Fleming. Harris embodied the character of Tick well and brought to the role the emotional depth it needed. He couldn't help but be upstaged, however, by South Australian, Euan Doidge, who plays the role of Felicia, a spritely, naughty, and very charismatic drag queen who pulls no punches. Speaking of punches, his vocals are a knockout and he soared in all of his solos, no more so than when he sang Confide in Me, made famous by his idol, Kylie Minogue.
But a highlight of the show is Tony Sheldon, who has reprised his role of the original Bernadette. He has performed this role close to 2000 times and Adelaide is fortunate to have his calibre of performer in our fair city. The compassion he brings as the character Bernadette is so honest and real that you truly forget that there really is a man under all that makeup and hair.
Together this award-winning trio, along with the charismatic ensemble, bring the story and songs of Priscilla to life. The songs are a real blast from the past and never seem to date. Audience favourites were: I Love the Nightlife, Shake Your Groove Thing, Boogie Wonderland, and I Will Survive. Musical director, Stephen Gray, is to be commended for keeping the true spirit of disco alive and getting the audience on its feet.
This production just wouldn't be what it is, however, without three major details: the costumes, the choreography, and the bus. Brian Thompson came up with the concept of the bus and designed it, and it is a character in its own right, providing a set on one side and backdrop on the other. Costume designers, Tim Chappel and Liz Gardiner, won Academy Awards for their creation of the costumes for the movie and they have graciously recreated many from the movie for the stage production, as well other original ones just for the stage. The costumes themselves are a standout and just have to be seen to be believed.
What really draws the attention to them, however, is the movement of the bodies within them, and it was the choreography from the late Ross Coleman that truly brings it all together. Sadly, he passed away just after Priscilla opened in London and his work has been lovingly maintained by his associate, Andrew Hallsworth, who has also contributed a significant amount of new choreography along the way.
There is so much that makes this show. Priscilla is such a fun musical as it makes you forget about your life for a while, or what your government might or might not be up to. It is a mash-up of colour, variety, and sound that just works, so make sure you get along to see it before the big pink bus drives out of town. Oh, by the way, "Life is an adventure, dress accordingly."