Well folks, this is my final review for 2015 (do I hear some cheers in the background there?) and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” was overall a nice upbeat evening to finish the year off with as from the first few minutes of the show with disco glitter-balls as disco lights, you knew instantly that “The Boys & Girls” were back in town with some of the now classic anthems of that era.
For anyone not familiar with either the 1994 original film or the musical, Priscilla is a bus that takes our three human cast members on a long 1800 mile plus road trip across Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs. The reason for the road trip – well for everyone involved that is a little different.
The whole story line revolves around the world of the Australian Drag Queen/Transsexual performance circuit and its inhabitants, and it is here that we meet our three “heroes” as they prepare to embark on almost an adult version of “Summer Holiday” .
The principal cast of the show are two drag artists and a transsexual - Tick (Mitzi) played by Jason Donovan, Bernadette (played by Simon Green) and Adam (Felicia) played tonight by Adam Bailey.
Bernadette is the oldest (sorry, Bernadette), a full transsexual, and at this point in her life retired (at the start of the show), Adam is young and one of the hottest acts on the drag circuit (very vulgar to Bernadette). Our central hero Tick (Mitzi) is a little different, has a past that the others are at the start unaware of - he is married and has a small boy (whom he has never seen). It is in fact his wife who is bringing them to Alice Springs to put a show on in the casino. No spoilers there by the way folks, we find this out as an audience right at the start of the show.
All our characters are different – Bernadette comes from a different performing time and gets to wear some of the best classical “vintage Vogue cover type” fashion frocks off stage. Bernadette is also a person who is outwardly very soft, but inwardly quite a tough character, and Simon Green plays both sides of Bernadette with skill and great care.
Adam (Felicia) is young, brash and very much over the top at times and Adam gets to have obvious fun on stage with this role. Adam (Felicia) is very much the over the top character that you expect an outrageous drag queen to be…complete with a Kylie Minogue fixation…some nice in jokes from Jason Donovan in this show on that subject.
Our central character Tick (Mitzi) is at times a very reserved and subdued character and not the sort of over the top/brash character that you would expect. Are we as an audience though falling into stereotyping what such a character would be like and falling into the very trap that the message of this show is telling us to avoid? Jason Donovan has played this part literally hundreds of times and by now I presume he knows exactly who he thinks Tick (Mitzi) should be. Perhaps the clue here is that our two drag queens have on-stage alter egos that are not necessarily their off-stage real personas.
Along the way to Alice Springs, Priscilla breaks down about a week’s drive from their destination, and pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and the trio are rescued by Bob (Gavin Mitchell). As it turns out, Bob has fond memories of seeing Bernadette performing as one of “Les Girls” many years ago, and the seeds of romance are set for both of them.
This is a musical, and there are some great songs in this show (updated from the movie’s selection), and some like “I Will Survive” and “True Colours” are now “anthems”. One scene gives Tick the chance to fulfil a dream with a cake out in the rain to break into the classic “MacArthur Park” – a wonderful piece of song writing by Jimmy Webb that has been recorded by many people over the years and been strong enough to survive the original Richard Harris version and the 17 minute Donna Summer extended album version (although her chart version is the classic almost everyone knows). The most moving song always though in this show is when Tick sings a version of the classic Elvis song “Always on My Mind” to his young son (played tonight by Jamie Field).
“Priscilla”, like all of the best shows in theatre, works (and lasts) because it operates on more than one level. Yes, there are the big songs and dance numbers, but there is also a story here that has real emotion, and that is where you need someone like Jason Donovan to play a character like Tick (Mitzi). It would be very easy to turn this person into a cardboard cartoon, but Jason has more than enough acting experience to make him a real person...someone you could meet anywhere and never guess much about his life (unless you saw a show).
There is also a strong message here about the prejudice and hostility faced by many people who choose to be “who they are” and not conforming to society’s standards.
This is Priscilla’s second stop-over at The Playhouse in the past few years (the show was here in March 2014), but it is as last time a welcome visitor and just as much fun as last time. This is the sort of show that I can see festive office parties just loving. Even though there are no age limits advice on the show’s flyers, the content of the show is probably though not for a “bring the whole family/young children” night out as there are some very definite adult themes and dialogue in this one.
Nothing to do with this show, but well worth mentioning now as it will sell out fast – the 2016 Christmas/New Year show (Tue 29 Nov to Sat 7 Jan) is “Mamma Mia”. Probably best to start booking as soon as possible if you want to see this one next year.
Review byTom Kin