BWW Review: PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL, New Wimbledon Theatre
Back in 1994, Stephan Elliott created a funny and powerful road-trip film that soon became a cult classic. Priscilla Queen Of The Desert was a pioneering LGBTQ+ comedy and found a successful home on the stage starring Jason Donovan. This newly-adapted musical tour sees Donovan take the reins as producer of a show that sparkles, but lacks some depth.
Tick is an Australian drag artist offered a show in Alice Springs. He manages to persuade friends and fellow drag artists, Bernadette and Adam to accompany him across the country in a battered old bus christened 'Priscilla'. Tick's motivation is two-fold; he wants the show, but also wants to get to know his young son, who he has never met. During their journey, they come across both prejudice and unexpected kindness, as they all confront their own situations.
2017's Strictly Come Dancing Winner Joe McFadden will be an audience draw as he takes on the role of Tick. He is likable, but anodyne and lacking in the strut, polish and posture needed while he is performing in drag.
McFadden is not helped by the fact that he is performing with two actors who are natural and totally self-assured as drag artists; Miles Western as the trans character Bernadette and Nick Hayes as the flamboyant Adam. Western is quietly dignified, delivering his lines with a rapier-sharp wit. He is nicely contrasted by Hayes, who is wonderfully bitchy and provocative.
The ensemble cast are enjoying every minute, bringing serious energy to the songs and dance routines. Special mention must go to Aiesha Pease, Claudia Kariuki and Rosie Glossop who make up a trio of 'Divas', who lead powerfully on most songs with huge amounts of slick sass and attitude. Kevin Yates also makes a huge impression as the fabulous drag hostess, Miss Understanding.
The music is non-stop and mostly features the predictable disco classics such as 'I Will Survive' and 'It's Raining Men'. All are performed well, with the welcome addition of an excellent live orchestra, creating a great atmosphere.
Charles Cusick-Smith and Phil R Daniels' set design is rather basic, but with a clever take on the van Priscilla that opens out into multi-use sections. It is their costumes that create a fabulous spectacle of sequins, feathers and tassels. The drag outfits are wonderfully over the top and all the costume changes are remarkably fast and well executed.
This version sees some alterations to the original tour, but the focus on tolerance, acceptance and respect remains strong. One issue is that it is the songs, as brilliant as most of them are, carry the show along, rather than the storyline. There is also a lack of light and shade; the campery and sequins needs to be offset by the dark consequences that come from the trio's lifestyles. It feels as though the prejudice and violence they encounter as they travel through the country is brushed off too quickly.
As the touring production of Kinky Boots comes to its close, Priscilla is a good replacement for spreading high camp and fabulous costumes with a serious message of tolerance and acceptance. It is an enjoyable night out, but needs a little more heart.
Photo Credit: Darren Bell