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A CurtainUp London Review
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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