Theatre Review: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical

Well honed, slickly directed by Simon Phillips and twelve years on from its premiere, Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical has arrived in Adelaide at last.

The most successful Australian musical of modern times  – probably all times so far, as it’s conquered Broadway, the West End and 134 cities world wide, as well as touring widely in Britain and America, winning awards right left and centre for actors and the production itself.

Not surprising – there’s so much going for it. First, the 1994 film was a hit, won an Academy Award for costume design and after screening at the 1994 Cannes film Festival became a cult classic. As you may well know, it’s the story of three drag queens, Tick (Mitzi), a bisexual whose wife Marion lives in Alice Springs with their young son, Benji, Adam (Felicia) and Bernadette, whose partner has just died, who buy a bus they name Priscilla, and drive to Alice Springs by way of Broken Hill and Cooper Pedie. There, Adam goes into town in drag, gets bashed up and is only saved when Bernadette and Tick turn up and Bernadette kicks the ringleader were it hurts most.

When Priscilla breaks down next to nowhere Bob, the owner of Woop Woop pub, fixes the problem and join them, leaving his much younger wife and forming a relationship with Bernadette. Priscilla eventually reaches the Alice, and the trio puts on a show. Tick is incredulous, but overjoyed, that Benji easily accepts him, finding him funny on stage in drag; it helps that Marion has already told him about his Dad.

It’s loud, it’s lewd (often), it’s hilarious but also tender (occasionally). The costumes ­are some of the brightest and most extraordinary you are ever likely to see, the array of wigs, many of them more like huge floral headdresses, are laugh out loud, and the wedge shoes look dangerously high.

The musical score is a stream of about 30 hit songs from the ’70s and ’80s, so it can’t be called original, and the amplification means that often the words are lost, but that doesn’t seem to matter too much – plenty in the audience would know them anyway. The story is carried by the dialogue, and that’s witty enough often enough.

Tony Sheldon has played Bernadette over 1800 times by now, and won a slew of awards and nominations. He’s totally convincing in the role of an old star of the King’s Cross drag show Les Girls – just a bit sad, but warm, shrewd and funny.  Euan Doidge’s Felicia, at first bitchy but coming to some self-knowledge, would be more effective if he slowed his speech down. David Harris has a harder job as Tick, coming to terms with his bisexuality, but has a likeable sincerity. Robert Grubb’s Bob is an ordinary bloke among these exotics.

From the first, the supporting ensemble dance and sing with terrific energy, and the singing of the three divas, Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cle Morgan, mostly suspended from the flies in gorgeous dresses, adds enormously to the show’s music.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical is a fun night out.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical continues at the Adelaide Festival Theatre until September 15.

Photography: Ben Symons

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