Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the star of the show and the name given to a bus that three companions use to take the long road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs in the centre of Australia (a distance of over 1800 miles). The stage show is an adaption of the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (which many thought adapted a stage show in the first place). I have to admit to a great liking for the film and, having not seen this show before, had some concerns about how well the story would transfer to the stage...I need not have worried; the show follows the film fairly closely, but is different enough to be a great piece of entertainment in its own format without taking anything away from the original film.
The main human cast of the show are two drag artists and a transexual - Tick (Mitzi) played by Jason Donovan, Bernadette (played by Richard Grieve) and Adam (Felicia) played tonight by Liam Marcellino and not by Graham Weaver. Bernadette is the oldest (sorry Bernadette) and retired at the start of the show and Adam is the young new hot act on the drag circuit. Tick (Mitzi) has a past that we start to find out about very early on in the show. He is married and has a small boy (whom he has never seen). It is in fact his wife who is bringing them to Alice Springs to put a show on in the casino.
Along the way to Alice Springs we are always told where Priscilla stops by a bus station like information readout above the stage. About a week's drive from their destination, Priscilla breaks down and the trio are rescued in the middle of nowhere by Bob. As it turns out, Bob has fond memories of seeing Bernadette perform in her prime as one of "Les Girls" and a romance slowly begins. The trip is not all finding romance though. Along the way our trio of artists encounter prejudice and violence for being different to what some people accept. Our trio eventually reach their destination and there is a wonderful heart warming performance of Tick finally meeting his son (played by local Edinburgh boy Nikita Lopatinsky) and reading him his first good night story and singing "Always on My Mind" as a duet with him.
Along the way we get some great songs (some wisely updated from the film version). Many of the songs (and original artists who performed them) are now iconic on the gay scene, and they are always used very cleverly to fit perfectly into the scenes.
Jason Donovan has played the role of Tick over 400 times now since the stage show started its original run over seven years ago and he is an experienced enough actor/performer to know just how far he can take the role of Tick as a drag queen. Having seen Jason some years ago playing Frank'n'furter in The Rocky Horror Show, this is obviously the type of role he plays well enough to never make the character cheap or crude.
There is a real story here with real human emotions and we are given enough information about the characters' backgrounds to actually care about them as an audience and this obviously helps Richard Grieve (Bernadette) and Liam Marcellino (Adam) put genuine warmth into their roles.
Priscilla is a big production show with 100s of costume changes, a great story and of course great songs. Go and see this one while it is here before the bus drives off into the desert again.
The only thing that could improve this show (hope some producers are reading this) is that it cries out to have an audience participation version.
Review by Tom King