“That’s just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.”
Priscila Queen of the Desert the Musical! is a fantastic adaption of the famous beloved movie of 1994. It follows the story of Anthony ‘Tick’ or Mitzi Mitosis (his drag queen character) journeying across Australia to perform at his estranged wife’s casino for a couple of weeks – and to meet his son. He takes his good friend, transsexual Bernadette, and flamboyant young drag queen, Adam (Felicia). The trio jump aboard ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ and drive across the Outback, facing hostilities from the less-accepting townspeople but finally arrive in Alice Springs where Tick meets his son, Bernadette gets her man and Adam gets to climb to the top of Ayers Rock (completing his fantasy of being a queen on the most famous rock).
Tick is played by the famous Jason Donovan, with many theatre credits to his name, and he excels in the role. Taking on such an incredible character as Tick, Donovan makes Tick his own, differing from Hugo Weaving’s portrayal in the film but remaining true to the original character. Adam Bailey is mesmerising as Felicia, his attitude and bravado is captivating on stage and many of his numbers are vocally perfect and his dances comical, brilliant and impressive (especially done in the size of heels he wears!). Finally Simon Green stuns as Bernadette. Bernadette is arguably the most challenging character to play with the actor taking on a role which Terence Stamp and Tony Sheldon had crafted to become one of the most iconic and popular representations of a transsexual in film and stage.
The similarities to the film were brilliant, with many quintessential phrases and statements being included in the script. In fact, the script by Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott remains wonderfully true to the classic movie and is a charming interpretation of the cult classic. This adaption thankfully did not fail like many musical flops where the stage version is just not as good and fails to capture the grandeur of the film or the original factor that made it such a favourite.
The ensemble were the epitome of support, providing a colourful background for all the numbers, and a special mention has to go to the predominately male chorus. Their versatile characters from fellow drag queens to ‘red-neck’ farmers were both hilarious and stunning. The costumes as well were true to the film (although slightly more modern and well-made!) with beautifully replicated dresses and incredibly realistic wigs. The only slight hiccup was the young child playing Benji. Although extremely talented his very broad Scottish accent was completely at odds alongside the cast who had worked hard to put on Australian accents throughout. Although understandable that the little boy would not have developed the ability to maintain accents the slight shocked laughter which the audience received his first words with broke the magic that was creating the world of Priscilla for a short bit. Last to mention in the cast were the unbelievably talented ‘Divas’ – three women providing the music for the men to lip sync to (when they were) – which was a fantastic addition to the show, really embracing the musical aspect and saving the audience from begin subjected to tinny over-loud soundtracks.
Important with Priscilla is that under all its camp exuberance is the underlying theme of tolerance and compassion and understanding for those people who are different. The musical honours this message and embraces the campness of the whole show whilst still addressing homophobia and the hatred people have to face when they choose to live their life even slightly outside the norm. Bernadette, especially, is a very sensitive character who Green explores with care and it leads to the audience utterly sympathizing with her plight to find Mr Right and to be accepted by someone who loves her.
The audience adored the adaption and were completely invested in the production from start to finish. Each number, as taken directly from the film, was greeted with cheers and it was clear that those who had seen the film were taking great pleasure seeing their beloved characters brought to life on stage in front of them. An extremely fun and rewarding production it would be a shame for anyone to miss the tour while it’s in town – catch it where you can: it really is worth the trip!
Performing at the Edinburgh Playhouse Saturday 19th December until 2nd January (exc Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day).
Photos of various UK productions by Paul Coltas & Darren Bell