PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT – The Musical
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 20th October, 2015
The big pink bus is back on the road and it’s better than ever. This tour has been touched up, so to speak, re-vamped for extra glitz and glamour. Based on the cult film, it’s the kind of show to which people keep returning. Why?
Basically, you know you’re in for a good time. The score is comprised of pop and disco hits, the script is packed with funny one-liners, and the message is still relevant, still life-affirming even though no one is forcing anything down anyone’s throat. It’s an explosion of light, colour and humanity, a clarion call for tolerance in the face of brutal homophobia. What struck me this time is the relationship between Tick (who, shockingly, is married to a woman!) and his estranged son. Tick worries the boy will reject him but Benji (Toby Gretton) turns out to be the most accepting, tolerant and loving person in the whole show. You see, folks: if you don’t teach your kids to be homophobic (or racist, sexist, or what-have-you) they won’t grow up to espouse those attitudes.
Jason Donovan returns to the role of Tick and is just about perfect. While he was lip-synching I’ve Never Been To Me I reflected on just how many years he has been around. I don’t know when it happened exactly but the mulleted soap star turned pop star pin-up has developed into one of our most popular, respected and skilful performers. He receives a warm hand on his entrance and an ovation at his curtain call. In between, he is superb: sassy but sensitive, sardonic but sweet. When he sings, his rich tones give you shivers. In this context Say A Little Prayer takes on a whole new meaning when it’s about a drag queen singing to the son he’s never met.
Simon Green is spot on as aging transsexual Bernadette, delivering elegance and barbed put-downs in equal measure. The charm and grace hide an inner strength and resilience most ‘real men’ lack. Adam Bailey is adorably annoying as young Adam, out for fun and ending up in hot water. More than eye candy, Bailey is an electrifying performer. Hot Stuff indeed.
There is strong support from a hard-working and versatile ensemble. Naomi Slights is appealing as Tick’s wife Marion – the only female not caricatured in the entire piece – while Catherine Mort’s redneck barmaid Shirley is hilarious in her repulsiveness. Julie Yammanee’s Cynthia is outrageously funny – her speciality act is eye-popping, shall we say?
Callum Macdonald Tina-Turners it up as drag artiste Miss Understanding, warming us up for the main event. By contrast, Philip Childs’s Bob is a down-to-earth Aussie bloke who finds himself enchanted by the considerable charms of Bernadette.
It’s a party as much as a musical. The feel-good factor is undeniable but there is more to the show than that. Beneath all the feathers and sequins (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s Oscar-winning costumes are a cavalcade of comic invention) run the emotions we all share. The show reminds us we’re all human. In a time when homophobia still blights the lives of millions in unenlightened corners of the world, Priscilla’s latest outing may be preaching to the converted but it’s an important affirmation of human rights, an irresistible blast of light and boost to the soul.