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BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Crown Theatre

Bright and colourful stage production of Aussie classic film makes its Perth stage debut

BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Crown Theatre

Platinum Entertainment showed off their penchant for big, bold shows once again with a colourful and energetic performance of PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Crown Theatre. The show aims and hits high with strong performances from the cast, backed up by eye-catching staging, exceptional costumes, and vibrant choreography. The show is proudly made by a cast and crew principally based in Perth, and this certainly doesn't hold the show back at all. This musical has not made its way to Perth before this, however this production ensured it was well and truly worth the wait.

BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Crown Theatre
Nick Mayer as Felicia

The show was led brilliantly by the three main cast members. Perth favourite Peter Rowsthorne may be more recognizable as a stand-up comedian or Brett in Kath & Kim, but he played the part of the mature and witty trans woman Bernadette with true flair. He brought the comic timing and stage presence you'd expect from Rowsthorne, as well as some of the more heartwarming moments from the show, not to mention some genuine stage chemistry with love interest Bob (Luke Hewitt). Cougar Morrisson made their name as a drag queen but took to this big part in a big show with aplomb. They looked very much at home in a leading role as Tick/Mitzi, drawing the audience into the journey to be a father that drives the show with excellent acting skills, and bringing both the necessary power and emotion to the songs. You wouldn't at all know this is their theatrical debut. Nick Mayer as Adam/Felicia was another brilliant performance, carrying energy throughout the show and making the character full of confidence that borders on arrogance for most of the show, but mirroring that with believable vulnerability when needed.

Since the main three cast need to be funny, have strong stage presence, and be good singers, it's clear that these three have these skills between them. At no point, however, did any of their performances overshadow any of the others. I feel that the three shared each of their experiences, knowledge, and skills in pre-production, and it was evident in the show from three very versatile leads. Not one of them stole the show, nor did any of them appear lacking in any of their skills.

BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Crown Theatre

Dean Misdale opened the show as Miss Understanding and stayed in that outfit throughout the show, joining Kelsey Skinner, Morgan Cowling, and Ruby Voss as the four divas who provided extra vocals for the show. All four sang with the strength and skill needed, and a main chorus member in drag suits the show theatrically and musically. The ensemble cast all have a great deal of stage time, being the backing dancers and extras throughout the show. Not only do they perform those roles well, but each bring something special to their main roles. Luke Hewitt as Bob is the typical Aussie bush mechanic that any Australian who has spent time in the country knows. He balanced that side of the character with the kindness and strength Bob needs to stand up to thugs, and as I said before, his chemistry with Bernadette (Rowsthorne) is a real highlight. Janelle Koenig sees herself as somewhat of a bogan (see more on that in my interview with Janelle), and brings that and then some to the role of Shirley. Koenig made her name as a comedian but found comedy through theatre, and her skills in both areas are put on display. Melissa Gall drives the show well as Tick's wife Marion, whilst Maita del Mar had the audience in stitches with her portrayal of Bob's wife Cynthia, whilst proud Noongar men Joel Davis and Samuel Pilot were adored by their home crowd, and Logan Bin Baker as Benji (on opening night at least, the role is shared by four young Perth actors through the run of the show) let the audience feel the love he had for his absent father Tick.

BWW Review: PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT at Crown Theatre
Janelle Koenig as Shirley with Peter Rowsthorne as Bernadette

The show has so many strengths in its production that it's hard to pick any standout part in particular. Whilst the show is a jukebox musical and the songs are all familiar classics, musical director Daniel Griffin ensured that the songs suited the show, rather than the other way around. Some of the songs are sung as intended, but others are altered just enough to alter the meaning to what the show needs at that point. Choreographer Una Genuino kept the show together nicely, with eye-catching performances in pieces from the dancing ensemble, as well as from the main ensemble who may not have had dance training. The mix is seamless, and the dancing added an extra element to the show. Costume supervisor Cherie Hewson did an outstanding job, creating some truly memorable costumes, with every detail from the bright drag costumes to the pub-spec flannelette taken care of. The show was originally meant to have many of the costumes from the original Australian run of PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, however that ended up falling through which allowed Hewson and her team to add some truly flavor to the costuming. The stage team do an outstanding job with the titular bus as a centerpiece that perfectly becomes the many different scenes in the show.

The show begins with a disclaimer that the show is faithful to its original script, including homophobic, racist, and prejudiced views prevalent at the time. Whilst some of these portrayals have become somewhat jarring over the time that's elapsed from when it was written, it serves as a reminder of how far we've come, but also-as the director hopes and explains- of how far we've got to go.

The show is both a heartwarming story of acceptance and finding one's self, and a brilliant musical full of powerful and heart felt renditions of well knowns songs. Whilst it never heads too strongly in either direction (indeed, some of the story may be lost to those who haven't seen the movie), viewers can get any mix of either or both when they see the show. The show is unavoidably entertaining, and the audience treated the entire cast to a standing ovation the likes of which I've not seen in Perth since Anthony Warlow starred as the Phantom of the Opera. The performance ends with a brilliant runway of WA and Australian inspired costumes that add a certain something to an already excellent show full of Perth talent.

Photo credit- Platinum Entertainment


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