BWW REVIEW: PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE MUSICAL, The Fabulously Funny Ultimate Roadtrip Story Returns To Sydney On The 10th Anniversary Celebration Tour
Thursday 17th May 2018, Capitol Theatre Sydney
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE MUSICAL, the heart warming and hilarious story of acceptance, understanding and friendship returns to Sydney in a flurry of sequins, feathers and fabulously high hair. Twelve years after Stephan Elliott and Alan Scott adapted Elliott's 1994 motion picture for the musical theatre stage in 2006, a slightly updated version of the story that has delighted worldwide audiences returns to inspire and delight.
For those that may be unfamiliar with the plot, the story follows the trio of drag queens at different stages in their lives and careers as they make their way from Sydney to the Australian outback to perform in Alice Springs. With a dazzling array of costumes and musical interludes drawn from a range of pop songs popular in Drag performances, thirty something Tick (David Harris) is joined by cocky young pup Adam (Euan Doidge) and mature trans woman and former Les Girls star Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) as he uses the agreement to help his wife Marion (Adele Parkinson), the owner of the Alice Springs Casino, as a cover to finally meet his young son Benji (role shared by Xion Jarvis, George Holahan-Cantwell, Luke Hoogendyk and Robbi Morgan).
Designer Brian Thomson has created a clean look for the staging with striking symbols to ensure locations are quickly understood, from the sparkling harbour bridge to the painted Broken Hill pub whilst ensuring that the set didn't overpower Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel's fabulous multi award winning costumes which echoed the designs made famous in the movie. The main feature of Thomson's set design is naturally Priscilla, the tour bus and he has artfully enabled the bus to be painted, show the life on the road and recreate the iconic stiletto and swathes of fabric imagery made famous in the movie. Each of the three leads are given their own sense of style when not in performance mode which helps reinforce their different outlooks on life and stages in their development, from Adam's kitsch Barbie shorts suit to Tick's more mainstream looks that have a more subtle expression of his underlying flair and Bernadette's elegant take on old style glamour. The performance costumes for both the leads and the ensemble and supporting characters are breathtaking in their scale and inventiveness as along with presenting more traditional drag styles, they also help reinforce the story, such as the dancing cakes and paintbrushes, and ensure that the audience remembers that this is an Australian story through the bee covered wattle and koalas and cockatoos perched aloft in trees.
Whilst Drag shows have traditionally been lip-synced performances, as recounted by Bernadette, Stephen "Spud" Murphy's musical arrangements have a utilised a blend of the performers singing and additional vocals being provided by the Divas (Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cle Morgan) that are often suspended above the stage or weave within the story as fairy godmothers. All three Divas are vocal powerhouses and they add a wonderful extra dimension to the show whilst also allowing pieces that wouldn't be suited to a male range to be included. Harris delivers a series of more poignant pieces with a beautiful emotional connection, from the reflective I Say a Little Prayer to the wonderful duet with between Tick and Benji, presented by Xion Jarvis on opening night. Doidge delivers solid vocals which reinforce the fact that Adam is the most flamboyant of the trio, always performing regardless of how far he is from a stage. Sheldon, who originated the role of Bernadette and took her to New Zealand, London, Toronto and Broadway, delivers a naturally very connected performance as he is so in tune with the character whilst ensuring that the emotion remains fresh and real, capturing the regret at not having the love and companionship she longs for whilst also being the voice of wisdom of the group.
Over two decades on from the movie and 12 years on from the musical's debut, PRICILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE MUSICAL still holds a relevance whilst also being somewhat of a time capsule of an era when seeing drag queens, and LGBTIQ people was more shocking. Whilst Australia finally gave same sex couples the right to marry in 2017 and prominent figures are open about the sexuality and identity, the recent national vote and the debate that it sparked proves that we still have a way to go till people no longer have to fear what other people will think, that they will not get subjected to hate and violence for being who they are and everyone is accepted for who they are in the same way that Benji accepts his father and his friends.
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE MUSICAL is gloriously fun whilst also holding deeper messages on friendship, acceptance, and being true to yourself. A great feast for the senses with colour, movement and fabulous music, secure a seat a little back from the stage to ensure that the full experience can be enjoyed in its entirety as the performance plays on multiple levels and a little distance from the stage will assist with the designer's illusions and artistic vision.