Theatre Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert - the Musical

In the words of the legendary Dame Edna Everage (and in a horrible Australian accent), 'Hello possums!'

First of all, I'd like to apologise for my prolonged absence on the blogosphere - it's a cliche to say that life has got in the way, but it's also true. What with being away a lot in the past couple of months, and then Christmas, I just simply haven't had time to post many updates. But one of my New Year's resolutions is to blog at least twice a week in 2012, so feel free to shout at me if I don't update for a while! I've also given the blog title and descriptions a little bit of an overhaul, mainly because I feel a bit more settled in London now and also because it was becoming less about getting established here and a bit more about my life in general, so I wanted something that would reflect more what my blog has become and what I'd like it to be in the coming months.

So after that little bit of admin, on to today's entry...

One of my favourite films of all time is 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of seeing it, it follows the drag queens Mitzi Del Bra and Felicia Jollygoodfellow, aka Tick Belrose and Adam Whiteley, and male-to-female transsexual Bernadette Bassinger as they travel across Australia in a battered old bus (the titular Priscilla) to a gig at an outback casino. A few years ago the show was adapted into a stage musical, and I recently went to see it as a pre-Christmas treat.

The film itself feels very much like a jukebox musical as the songs, most of which are played on Priscilla's tape deck, are essential in terms of driving the plot forward, although the show has added in a few new songs, as well as extending some of those used in the musical (a thirty-second snippet of 'A Fine Romance' in the film becomes a full-on production number in the show) and shortening others. Sometimes it works - Richard Grieves' Tick and his son Benj duetting beautifully on 'Always On My Mind' brought a tear to my eye, and the performance of 'Hot Stuff' inside the bus was brilliantly camp - but others didn't, such as the slightly shoehorned-in 'What's Love Got To Do With It' which seemed to serve no purpose other than to give an actor something to do for five minutes. My favourite song however has to be 'Go West', as in the clip below, which is an example of where extending a song from the film has worked brilliantly. The iconic 'Finally' and 'I Will Survive' ran it a close second, but in my view were just a touch too far off the film versions' brilliance to work.

The above version is slightly different to the cast I saw it with as they've acquired a new Tick in the past year, and it also doesn't include the show's key moment of Priscilla's first appearance, but hopefully it'll help to give you a sense of the exuberance and sense of abandon that the show itself has in spades. That feeling is largely down to the brilliant casting, with a particularly standout performance from Oliver Thornton as the brilliantly bitchy yet vulnerable Felicia/Adam (although Ray Meager, aka Home & Away's Alf Stewart as Bob the mechanic, got the biggest cheer I've ever heard in a theatre when he walked on and uttered the line "Stone the flamin' crows!"). Thornton seemed absolutely game for anything, from descending from the theatre roof in an angel costume only to discard it for Roman-esque bondage gear to sitting on top of a giant shoe on Priscilla's roof that extended over the audience whilst miming to La Traviata. I can't wait to see what he does next.

The show is an absolute riot of colour, glitter, sequins and fantastic music that had me dancing in my seat (yes, I am that annoying person. I draw the line at standing up though), but I think the reason why I loved it almost as much as the film was that it shared the film's heart. Rare is the musical where the message isn't that it's OK to be who you are, but Priscilla brings that message home in a full-on manner; the characters come from a community of outsiders and with traits that make them even further outside that, but the way that the three leads embrace each other's differences is truly uplifting. I only wish I had the time and money to see it again - it closes at the end of the year. :(

I do love going to the theatre and another of my New Year's resolutions is to see more plays and musicals, so hopefully I'll be able to bring you some regular blogs on that. I've got a few shows on my 'to see' list so watch this space...

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