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Priscilla Queen of the Desert

That's just what the country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock — Bernadette on Adam's ambition to sing in drag on top of Ayres Rock
Priscilla Queen of desert
The Cast in the Macarthur Park number
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Priscilla Queen of the Desert was a successful 1994 Australian film about three men, who make their living as drag artists, travelling into the Australian desert to Alice Springs to present a show at the casino. They travel through mining towns and sheep farming areas peopled by country folk whose understanding of the modern world may be limited and who see men dressed as women as freaks and perverts. Priscilla is a wonderfully vibrant show with the most spectacular design you could wish for—— completely over the top, a florid imagination run wild like a psychedelic dream.

Tick/Mitzi (Jason Donovan) is bi-sexual and has a six year old son he hasn't seen living with his mother Marion (Amy Field) in Alice Springs. He is apprehensive as to how his son will receive him when he learns what his father does for a living. He is joined by the elegant Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), a transsexual who lives as a woman and who has been recently widowed and who has her own reasons for leaving Sydney. The third member of the party is Adam/Felicia (Oliver Thornton) a muscular good looking boy with a vicious sense of humour. Bernadette describes him perfectly when she says, "He has a body by Baywatch and a mouth by Crimewatch".

Three girls who can sing, The Divas (Zoö Birkett, Kate Gillespie and Emma Lindars) appear on wires suspended from the flies dressed as angels in glorious confections of feathers and sequins. They first appear on the Sydney Harbour Bridge while below is the street life of the city, cops, Goths, punks and streetgirls in monochrome shades fighting and drinking. Jason Donovan strips down to his boxers, a popular move with the audience of both sexes, and slowly dons a lavender basque and frilly knickers, a platinum blonde wig and false eyelashes as he becomes Miss Mitzi Myxomatosis, drag queen extraordinaire. We see poor Mitzi given a mauling in the club by the heckling audience of drunken beefcake, dead from the neck up. Quickly we pass through the zany funeral for Bernadette's man Trumpet, then to recruiting Adam/Felicia and buying the coach named "Priscilla" which will take them and their costumes, wigs and props through the desert.

The music is well known pop classics from Tina Turner's "Sex Attack", "I Will Survive", "I Say a Little Prayer" to some Verdi from La Traviata. Guaranteed foot tapping tunes! There is some fun choreography mostly from men often dressed as showgirls or miners or sheep farmers. But it is the fashions which grab attention with their luscious designs, Tick in his flip flop dress, a Roman soldier type outfit of neon rubber flip flops linked together, the wonderful cupcake costumes for the Donna Summer number "Macarthur Park" with huge skirts of cupcake icing covered in giant chocolate beans with pleated cream underskirts looking like baking cases and wigs with a candle topped off with clear plastic umbrellas and silver lamé rain. The bus itself is repainted completely in spectacular pink lights to eradicate the anti-gay graffiti daubed on it in Broken Hill. The lighting is clever with effects like paint brushes seen changing the colour of the bus and later lighting projected onto the sides of the bus gives an amazing light show.

The yokels of Australia are ridiculed with the ghastly regulars of the pub including "real woman" Shirley (Daniele Coombe) who wears her voluminous breasts level with her waist, swings them and makes us cringe and laugh of course. To the strains of Verdi, the spirit of Priscilla flies out high above the auditorium from the roof of the bus with blue silk flowing out behind her. In another town Bernadette meets motor mechanic Bob (Clive Carter) who is mortified by his promiscuous Asian wife Cynthia (Kanako Nakano), the talk of the town with her ability to pop ping pong balls from various parts of her anatomy (don't ask!). Bob remembers how excited he was by the Parisian show "Les Girls" which Bernadette was once a part of and this is a cue for the soner "A Fine Romance". In Alice Springs there are sweet scenes with his son for Tick and a wonderful evocation finale cabaret of all things Australian from dancers in the yellow wattle costume to exotic lilies, frill-necked lizards and parakeets, koalas and kangaroos.

Jason Donovan is charming and wistful as Tick, Tony Sheldon is refined and feminine as Bernadette and Oliver Thornton puts his pretty foot in it. They all can sing and the Divas have really strong voices. Priscilla Queen of the Desert does not short change anyone. It is not a cheap show brought together on the back of a popular movie. It is fun packed and with spectacular visuals. For all its show business glitter, it also has a heart as we learn to care about the characters who make this journey across the Outback.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Directed by Simon Phillips

Starring: Jason Donovan, Tony Sheldon, Oliver Thornton, Clive Carter
With: Zoò Birkett, Kate Gillespie, Emma Lindars, Wezley Sebastian, Amy Field, Steven Cleverley, Daniele Combe, Tristan Temple, Kanako Nakano, John Brannoch, Darius Caple, Gene Goodman, Christopher Miltiadou, Cameron Sayers, Red Walker, Philip Arran, Matthew Cole, Amy Edwards, Lewis Griffiths, Bob Harms, Mark Inscoe, Zabrina Norry, Will Peaco, John Phoenix, James Rees, Craig Rydar, Jeremy Secomb, Jon Tsouras
Choreographer: Ross Coleman
Music director: Richard Beadle
Bus Concept and Production Design: Brian Thomson
Costume Design: Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner
Lighting Design: Nick Schlieper
Sound Design: Michael Waters
Orchestrations: Stephen "Spud" Murphy and Charlie Hull
Songs Selected and Interpolated by Simon Phillips
Musical Supervision and Arrangements: Stephen "Spud" Murphy
Make-up designed by Cassie Hanlon
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes including one interval
Booking to 20th September 2009
Box Office: 0844 412 4656
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 25th March 2009 performance at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (Tube: Leicester Square)
Starring: Jason Donovan, , Oliver Thornton, Clive Cart Choreography is by Ross Coleman, musical supervision and arrangements are by Stephen ‘Spud' Murphy and set design is by Brian Thomson. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner have re-created the costume designs from film. Lighting is designed by Nick Schlieper and sound design is by Jonathan Deans.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • The Overture
  • I've Never Been To Me — Tick and the Divas
  • What's Love Got To Do With It? — Miss-Understanding
  • I Say A Little Prayer — Tick
  • Don't Leave Me This Way — Bernadette, Tick and Company
  • Venus — Felicia and the Boys
  • Go West — Bernadette, Tick, Adam and Company
  • I Say A Little Prayer (Reprise) — Tick and the Divas
  • I Love The Nightlife— Shirley, Bernadette, Mitzi, Felicia and Company
  • Both Sides Now — Bernadette, Tick and Adam
  • Follie! Delirio Vano É Questo!. . .Sempre Libera (La Traviata) — Felicia and the Divas
  • Colour My World — Adam, Tick, Bernadette and Company
  • I Will Survive - Bernadette, Adam, Tick, Jimmy and Company
Act Two
  • Thank God I'm A Country Boy — The Company
  • A Fine Romance — Young Bernadette and Les Girls
  • Shake Your Groove Thing — Mitzi, Bernadette, Felicia and the Divas
  • Pop Muzik — Cynthia and Company
  • A Fine Romance (Reprise) - Bob
  • Girls Just Want To Have Fun — The Divas and Adam
  • Hot Stuff — Felicia, the Divas and Bernadette
  • Macarthur Park - Bernadette, Tick, the Divas and Company
  • Boogie Wonderland — Punters, Marion
  • The Morning After - Mitzi, Bernadette, Felicia and the Divas
  • Come Into My World — Adam
  • Always on My Mind — Tick and Benji
  • Kylie Medley — Felicia and Company
  • We Belong — Felicia, Mitzi, Bernadette and Company
  • Finally Medley — The Company
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