Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert – the musical

Written by: Mike Shaw

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Priscilla should be terrible.

1. It’s based on a movie.
2. A busload of songs that aren’t in the film are wedged into the show.
3. (Most egregious of all) many of those songs are trashy girls’ night singalong standards.

But, against all odds, it turns out Priscilla is quite superb.

The cast of the Priscilla Queen of the Desert musical

Picture: Paul Coltas

The film’s storyline is in tact (three drag queens travel across Australia, ostensibly to perform in a casino, but really, one of the trio needs to visit his secret wife and son), and translates well to the stage, with the titular bus a constant presence from 15 minutes in.

And those first 15 minutes are a masterclass in how to make an impact. Priscilla wants you to know exactly what it’s about as soon as possible, and so opens with three divas in ostentatious frocks descending from the sky, singing It’s Raining Men, while guys in a variety of work uniforms dance and take their clothes off. It’s almost as if the production is saying: “This is what you’ve got for the next couple of hours. If you don’t like it, leave now,” and it gets the show off to a wonderful, sparkly start, before we start meeting characters.

Noel Sullivan (ex-HearSay) leads the cast as Mitzi, and subtly conveys the emotions of a man keeping a secret and unsure of the direction his life is heading in.

He is ably supported by Richard Grieve as Bernadette, the older of the three, who longs for a return to traditional drag acts, and Liam Marcellino standing in as Felicia, the young, outrageous surrogate child of the group.

Unlike many other touring musicals, Priscilla comes with a live band, which gives the show an additional energy and creates a party atmosphere during the more upbeat songs.

Some of those songs are remarkable productions-within-a-production. I Will Survive and MacArthur Park in particular stand out, and there is some incredible singing – diva Laura Mansell is a standout, smashing high notes into oblivion in a gorgeous, clear voice that stays well away from the screechiness that is all-too-common.

It’s a funny show, too. Stephan Elliott’s book is crude and outrageous, but less sweary than you might think. However, when bad language is deployed, it is explosive and precision-targeted, like an SAS-trained Malcolm Tucker.

Warning – Priscilla is a show that causes uncontrollable smiling, with a key source of that compulsive grinning being the astonishing costumes. Every big number leads to a procession of ridiculous new outfits, ranging from outzied cupcakes through to frill-necked dinosaurs with studded codpieces.

If you have ever wanted to see men dressed as women dressed as paintbrushes, then catch Priscilla while it’s still on tour.

Author: Mike Shaw

Founder and editor of The Void, among other things. Interested in movies, tech, theatre, comics, WWE and UFC. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeshaw101 or check out his site

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