Tag Archives: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Back out in the Outback

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 13th June, 2017

 

Three Spires and Guildhall take a bold stab at the colourful musical, based on the joyous Australian comedy film starring Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce.  It’s an ambitious task for any company, with demands on all aspects of production and, for the most part, this one pulls it off with exuberance.

Craig Garner is positively luminous as Tick, a drag artist summoned from Sydney to Alice Springs by his ex to perform at her hotel.  Somewhat statuesque when in drag, Garner’s vocals, complete with Aussie twang, are excellent throughout.  Tick recruits Bernadette, an ageing transsexual (Steve Smith) and Adam (Doug Gilbey-Smith) and the trio rehearse their act as they travel through the outback on the eponymous bus.  Smith has Bernadette’s deadpan put-downs down to a tee but sound problems mean some of his killer one-liners are lost in the mix, while Gilbey-Smith proves himself a lovely mover.  They’re a likeable bunch and our sympathies are immediately with them – when the spectre of homophobia raises its ugly head, the fly in their jar of slap, it is very clear whose side we are on.  There are no grey areas in this rainbow-coloured story.  And quite right, too!

Jamie Sheeran, the director no less, appears as a kind of Tina Turner/Grizzly Adams mash-up as club host Miss Understanding – you have to admire him not only for his performance but for being prepared to do what he expects of his company.  The male members of his chorus may all sport dad bods rather than being shaped like anything you might see at G.A.Y. but they give it their all!

Karen Staton is hilariously grotesque as Shirley, as is Sue Biddle’s Cynthia, a kind of ping-pong champion, shall we say?  But before you worry that the show might be misogynistic, there is also Kate Temple-Brown’s Marion, Tick’s ex – pleasant, reasonable and fun.  What is held up for ridicule is homophobia, and ridicule is a powerful weapon.   The show also touches on issues of gay parenting – it turns out Tick’s estranged little boy Benji is more at ease with it than he is himself; Malachi Griggs-Taylor joins Craig Garner on stage for the show’s most touching moment.

Vocal support comes from the Divas (Kayleigh Brook, Kelsey Checklin & Claire Tyler) suspended over the action and belting out the numbers for the others to lip-synch.  As you’d expect, the costumes are many and varied and delightful, based on the original Oscar-winning designs.  You can’t do Priscilla without the iconic flipflop frock!  Julie Bedlow-Howard’s choreography is lively and interesting, combining disco moves with more musical theatre manoeuvres.

There are problems with mics and some lighting cues going astray, but this is the first night at the venue so I expect these will be ironed out.  A couple of moments don’t quite work: getting people from the audience for a hoe-down doesn’t quite come off, and bits of action, like Bernadette fainting at first sight of Tick’s son, need tweaking for greater impact.  On the whole, though, this is a hugely enjoyable evening, delivered with enthusiasm and talent, a feel-good, energetic performance of a life-affirming tale that, in these days of the DUP lurking in the wings of Westminster, makes a bold and proud affirmation that gays are human too.

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Back on the Bus

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT – The Musical

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 27th January, 2014

 

What a treat to catch this bus again!  On the road again, Priscilla brings its blend of pop music, coarse humour, dry wit and feel-good sentiment to Wolverhampton.  Heading the cast this time out, taking the Jason Donovan role is Noel Sullivan (from HearSay).  Sullivan’s in good voice, having developed a rich warm tone that tickles our heartstrings from the get go with his touching rendition of Say A Little Prayer.  His character goes through the most poignant arc as he comes out to his companions as a husband and father, before meeting his son for the first time and negotiating a relationship with him.  Here the show makes one of its important points: kids won’t grow up homophobic unless you bring them up that way.

Richard Grieve continues to please, filling the stage with grace, elegance and acidic one-liners as Bernadette, striking up a touchingly tentative relationship with Aussie bloke-cum-man of the world Bob (Giles Watling).  The fabulous Graham Weaver’s Felicia is the most flamboyant of the trio, fearlessly doing his thang in the face of some brutal homophobia.

There are some hilarious and grotesque moments courtesy of Ellie Leah as the disturbingly breasted barmaid and munter, Shirl, and from Cynthia, (Frances Mayli McCann) Bob’s startling wife who stops the show with a ping pong ball.

The score is packed with familiar pop and disco hits, pleasingly apropos rather than shoehorned in like some jukebox musicals I could mention.  Musical director Richard Weeden leads a tireless, hardworking band who keep energy levels high and underscore some of the more reflective moments.  Special mention must go to the three divas: Emma Kingston, Laura Mansell, and Ellie Leah (without Shirl’s breasts) suspended high above the stage and singing live so that others may lip-synch.

This life-affirming show is for everyone.  The middle-aged women in the audience cackle and clap in delight.  In the interval a straight man tells me he hasn’t seen the film but he’s loving it.

Like its movie predecessor, the show puts gayness in all its glory centre stage.  In this day and age it’s a clarion call, a blare of defiance against the rising tide of homophobia and discrimination around the world.  Camp and colourful as any gay pride march and just as political, Priscilla has an importance outside itself showing as it does that non-heterosexual ways of living are just as valid and just as human.

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The Main Drag

PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 18th March, 2013

 

I first saw the stage musical adaptation of one of my favourite films in the West End; I was delighted to see Jason Donovan reprise his role as Tick for this touring production.  For those that don’t know (and Welcome to Planet Earth) the plot involves two gay men and a transsexual travelling in a bus (the titular Priscilla) from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform their drag act at the casino/hotel of Tick’s ex-wife.  We follow their adventures and misadventures along the way, meet a cavalcade of outlandish characters and generally have a gay old time.

The show keeps many of the film’s best elements, notably the Oscar-winning costume designs (the dress made of flip-flops, for example) but also fleshes out the dialogue in some places and bungs in a few extra songs.

What elevates the show above other ‘jukebox’ musicals is the story.  Songs from the film’s soundtrack are used judiciously to develop the plot or reveal character, rather than the lazy shoehorning of an artist’s back catalogue that you get with so many of these things.  This show has heart – most of it comes from Jason Donovan’s character, as the gay man worried he won’t be able to be a good father to his surprise six-year-old son.  But also you can’t help loving Richard Grieve in Terence Stamp’s iconic role as Bernadette the ageing transsexual.  Grieve brings grace and elegance to the role, knowing when to lower his vocal register to butch up for a scathing putdown or filthy punchline.  The third in this trash-talking trio is Graham Weaver as young Adam.  He gives us a show-stopping performance of a medley of Kylie Minogue songs – This is a deviation from the film that doesn’t sit well with me: the characters’ obsession with ABBA has been swapped for a Kylie fetish.  I’m guessing this is to avoid clashes with hugely successful jukebox show Mamma Mia!

Bernadette embarks on a hesitant relationship with mechanic Bob (Giles Watling) when he shows up to mend Priscilla’s engine.  Their scenes are genuinely touching – the show needs to balance out its depiction of straight people after the parade of redneck horrors.  Grieve and Watling make a lovely couple.  Frances Mayli McCann as Bob’s Vietnamese wife Cynthia is an hilarious, grotesque cameo, whose party piece with Ping-Pong balls makes your eyes water. Properly tear-jerking though are the moments between Donovan and his son Benj (played by the very sweet Oscar Francisco in the performance I saw).  These scenes are touching without being mawkish, showing that children won’t grow up to be homophobic unless you teach them to be.  Donovan is in good voice (and shape) and is matched by the rest of the company in this energetic and uplifting production.

The company is impressive.  Stand-outs include Alan Hunter whose turn as Tina Turner is literally staggering, and Ellie Leah as backwoods barmaid Shirley whose boobs have to be seen to be believed!

There were a few technical issues – it was the show’s first night at this venue: videos jamming, props going astray – but nothing obtrusive to mar my enjoyment.

For all its glitz and glamour, the show recognises that homophobia is still very much with us.  It’s not all sequins and champagne, darlings, but the emphasis is on fun.  It’s a positive view, a life-affirming view, and an exhilarating night at the theatre.

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