At first I was afraid, I was petrified, that I was writing a review for the opening night of Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Adelaide Festival Theatre. But I got over that soon enough, feelings of fear transcended to excitement at spending an evening at the theatre to watch the internationally acclaimed stage adaptation of the iconic Australian movie from the nineties.
The original film, written and directed by Stephan Elliott, won the 1994 Australian Film Institute awards for best director and original screenplay for his efforts. It also won a slew of other awards, including an Oscar for best costumes in 1995 and numerous other nominations. It was a global hit which brought into LGBT into the mainstream with it’s warm and positive portrayal of LGBT life.
In 2006 it was adapted into a musical which toured globally, and went on to win another slew of awards. This performance would have Tony Sheldon as Bernadette, who won a Tony Award in 2011 for best performance by a leading actor in a musical for the same role. The talented and acclaimed David Harris would be playing Tick, and the up and coming Euan Doidge was cast as Felicia. Also on board were the costume designers for the original film, Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel.
The pink carpet was laid out for opening night, and arriving patrons were greeted by a riot of glitter, big hair, shoes and makeup courtesy of an array of local members of the LGBT community who had donned their best frocks for a night at the theatre. The flouncing and grinning drag queens provided an element of cheeky fun, posing for selfies with theatre goers and whipping the crowd up into a frenzy.
When the curtain raised the disco balls descended and so did the three Divas, Angelique Cassimatis, Cle Morgan and Samm Hagen who would be providing the female vocals for the evening. The crowd were already quite pumped and erupted into cheers and clapping as they opened with It’s Raining Men and they recreated the Sydney drag scene on stage.
South Australian hero, Euan Doidge, made a saucy and devilish entrance as the sharp tongued and irrepressible Felicia. He descended from the heavens as an angel, and then into hell as he paraded around the stage with muscular and scantily clad devils. His repartee with Bernadette and Tick captured the character perfectly and was a taste of things to come.
It was clear that the crowd were fans of the film, as your could sense their anticipation of some of their favourite scenes.. Emma Powell who played Shirley, the aggressive waitress in the Broken Hill pub, had the patrons in tears of laughter, as did Lena Cruz who played Cynthia, Bob’s wife.
The final scene of act one finished on a high with with a stage full of dancers parading around the other star of the show, Priscilla the bus, to I Will Survive powerfully delivered by the very talented Cle Morgan.
Act two opened with some crowd participation as members of the audience were brought up on stage for a country hoedown with members of the ensemble. It was a nice touch and demonstrated the connection this musical has to Australian everyday life. We were treated to more musical adaptations of some of the favourite scenes of the film, in particular, the Woop Woop hotel scene where Cynthia steals the show with her risque ping pong act. I was wondering how this would play out, and it was pulled off pretty masterfully!
All of the elements of the original movie were wonderfully recreated, the budding romance between Bob, played by Robert Grubb, and Bernadette, and Tick’s touching meeting with this son, Benji. The risque banter between the actors was sharp and on point, and while the fans knew and anticipated all of the jokes they still brought forth gales of laughter.
Also, I’ll comment on the bus, Priscilla. It was a masterful feat of theatrical engineering, as it spun and rolled around the stage and the multimedia light show integrated into the side panels spectacularly punctuated the dance routines.
One of the main features of this show and the original movie is how it celebrates Australian everyday life, and brings a diverse range of Australian cultures together. It makes daring use of stereotypes, while at times challenging, it brings them together in a harmonious and joyful celebration of diversity. The bright lights of central Sydney meets the stark immense beauty of the central desert, rough bushies and aborigines rubbing shoulders with urbane and sophisticated inner city drag queens.
The final medley was spectacular, a wonderful array of glittering costumes with a kitcsh Australiana theme. The divas dressed as sulphur crested cockatoos descended on eucalyptus platforms, and were joined by joyful, cavorting emus, kangaroos, frilled neck lizards, and dancers with floral costumes reminiscent of May Gibbs’ Gumnut Babies. And the final entrance of Tick, Bernadette and Felicia had them clad in stately, regal outfits with flaring dresses, spectacular headdresses which combined to form a dazzling simulacrum of the Sydney Opera House.
The crowd erupted into applause and a standing ovation at the conclusion. The leading men (queens?) Tony Sheldon, David Harris, and Euan Doidge were spectacular in their roles, as was the rest of the cast. All of the elements of the show, acting, singing, choreography, costumes, and stagecraft had come together beautifully, and if you get a chance to see this performance I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Show Review by Jeremy Watkinson