Based on the cult 90s movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has all the ingredients for a top-quality musical: telling the story of three drag queens travelling across the Australian outback on a battered bus, it provides all the glitz, glamour and outrageousness you’d expect. For all intents and purposes, this should be a five-star show, and it almost is.
It’s a musical packed full of innuendo and cutting one-liners and, thankfully, never takes itself too seriously. While it does shine a light on homophobia, gender roles and family, it manages to do so with tongue very firmly in cheek. Dramatic moments are quickly followed up by laugh-out-loud ones, without ever cheapening the message. Kudos will deservedly go to Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s excellently-written book, but it’s also a testament to the excellent ensemble cast, who throw themselves into the material with great gusto.
Standing out from that great cast are Adam Bailey (as Felicia) and Simon Green (as Bernadette). Playing the two opposite ends of the spectrum – the ageing star and the spunky youngster – the two performers are stunning. The almost-maternal nature of their characters’ relationship is beautifully portrayed, and they’re equally tremendous when singing and dancing. They’re supported by excellent music from the live orchestra, and the set design is flawless.
Priscilla… should be a five-star show, and it almost is if not for one crucial flaw: Jason Donovan. As is evident from the reaction his first appearance on stage receives, much of the crowd has come for him. There’s no denying the drawing power his name brings but, unfortunately, the performance doesn’t match the presence. Donovan seems rigid as he moves around the stage, as if uninterested or uncomfortable in his role as drag queen-cum-absent father Tick. Quieter moments are better, but both his physical and vocal limitations come to the fore as he joins in the dancing. It’s disappointingly obvious, and damages the show as a result.
Somehow, though, the musical is so much fun that one comes away almost forgiving of that poor performance. Thanks to just how sublime the rest of the production is, Priscilla… remains an enjoyable night out. This is a good show despite Donovan’s indifferent performance – it’s just a shame that it couldn’t be the perfect show it almost was.