Thursday, 21 March 2013



Theatre Run: Monday 18 - Saturday 30 March 2013
Performance Reviewed: Wednesday 20 March (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

The jukebox musical, i.e. one where the soundtrack consists of a variety of pre-existing songs and hits as is the case with Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, can be a deceptively difficult thing to pull off well. Whilst a good lineup of known hits will help engage and familiarise an audience immediately, too often the lack of a concise and tailored original score and repertoire of songs can find shows scrambling for their own identities or, even worse, leaning on it’s catalogue of pre-existing tunes to mask a dirth of character, plot or original thinking and creativity (for a perfect example of this see the current shambles of Viva Forever! in the West End).

Fortunately, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, which rolls into Birmingham this week as part of it’s UK tour, is an outrageously entertaining example of the jukebox done very, very right.  Based on the modestly successful 1994 comedy which has since gained quite the cult following (and rightly bagged an Oscar for Costume Design), this musical adaptation is a wonderfully extrovert, gloriously camp and relentlessly enjoyable celebration of disco, drag queens and unconventional daddy dilemmas.

Following the general premise and plot of the movie, Priscilla sees aging, somewhat disenfranchised drag queen Tick/Mitzi (Jason Donovan) embark on a Trans-Australia road trip aboard the titular tour bus to head up a drag act engagement in the nowhere town of Alice Springs as a favour for his ‘wife’ Marion, and in the hopes of re-entering the life of eight year old son Benji. To aid him on his journey and eventual act, he enlists the company of recently widowed transexual Bernadette (Richard Grieve) and ostentatious, somewhat obnoxious young drag queen Adam/Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Graham Weaver).

The relationship between these three leads forms the core and indeed heart of the show and it is a dynamic brilliantly realised, punctuated with some incredibly sharp yet considered writing that certainly celebrates spectacle and showmanship yet at the same time nurtures character delicately and touches upon important social issues of homophobia, transexual acceptance and even more universal notions as fatherhood and aging with surprising poignancy and subtlety. It’s also telling that the shows grand visual moments (of which there are plenty) do not seek to force any particular propoganda or perspective down our throats but rather be joyous, hilarious celebrations of expressing oneself and just having a damn good time - when Priscilla does tackle the heavier issues it does so with impressive restraint, and demonstrated through endearing, relatable characters and not any overt social commentary put front and centre. It doesn’t force or ask you to accept these characters or their lifestyle, but rather they win you over and do so relatively quickly by being engaging, rounded individuals with a wealth of passion, wit and warmth.

For all of its genuine nuance, however, Priscilla is nonetheless undoubtedly a big, exciting, brilliantly flamboyant visual treat. Featuring some brilliant staging and lighting which crackle with the same kinetic energy, flair and disco spirit that fuels the show throughout, and a simply dazzling, brilliantly inventive and almost overwhelmingly varied menagerie of costumes that would put Lady Gage to shame (and from the same Oscar-winning team who created the costumes for the film), this is one of the most visceral, colourful and vibrant musical theatre spectacles in recent memory. This bombastic, celebratory approach carries through to the performances and choreography, and with the soundtrack including the likes of such classics as ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’, all of which are knowingly (and in some places ironically) ushered in, the feel-good vibe is off the charts and the audience crackles with the same excitement, energy and fun that all involved in the show are clearly having.

Speaking of which, the performances are terrific across-the-board, and particular credit must go to supporting performances from the likes of the three ‘divas’ Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansell, all of whom deliver phenomenal vocals to some of the major hits and classics they are given to perform, and scene-stealing, genuinely hilarious turns from Frances Mayli McCann as mail-order bride Cynthia and Alan Hunter as fellow drag queen Miss Understanding, whose uncanny Tina Turner-esque rendition of ‘What’s Love Go To Do With It?’ early on threatens to steal the show from the outset. However, this is a show which belongs to it’s three leads, and they all put in sterling, noteworthy performances. Jason Donovan throws himself into the camp physicality of the role with gusto, and sells the struggle of an unsure, conflicted father with tenderness and believability. Vocally he stays clearly of any grandiose belting or reaching in favour of a softer approach, fitting with the character and further lending the role that extra touch of depth and character. Graham Weaver is suitably mischievous and devilishly good fun as Adam/Felicia, and it’s a testimony to the writing and Weaver’s performance that despite the characters boisterous and inherent selfishness, he is nevertheless a likable and endearing member of the trio.

The most impressive performance of the show, however, has to surely be Richard Grieve’s brilliantly charismatic and wholly transformative turn as Bernadette. Whilst on paper Donovan’s Tick offers all the ingredients and criteria to be the show’s lead, Bernadette is such a delightful, classy, sassy yet somewhat hesitant and occasionally forlorn figure, and Grieve’s performance so deliciously involved and complete that she becomes the shows real shining star amongst all the frocks, feathers and frollocks. It’s no slight to either Donovan or Weaver, who put in spirited, brilliant performances and certainly more than hold their own, but it is Grieve who simultaneously elevates and grounds the show with a memorable, layered masterclass in not just transgender performing, but character acting as a whole.

It’s almost impossible to not recommend Priscilla: Queen of the Desert as a near-perfect slice of musical theatre entertainment. It is just so unashamedly celebratory and up-tempo, trucking along at a brisk pace set to a soundtrack to die for and with an almost dizzying number of set pieces and encounters each more hilarious and inventive than the last. Although the second act does fumble somewhat haphazardly into it’s finale, with the anticipated Hot Springs headline act quite literally fast-forwarded through somewhat disappointingly, the final character beats ring true and are satisfyingly forward-thinking without being too neatly tied up or atypical. And by the time the curtain call begins and the costume design and character goes full-out experimental crazy, with kangaroos, koalas and all other manner of critters donning the stage, the entire audience are on their feet in almost rapturous ovation, and rightly so. Few shows come round that balance character, story, message, spectacle, comedy, pathos, music and sheer joy so perfectly and exuberantly, making Priscilla: Queen of the Desert a toe-tapping, eye-popping delight and an exuberant, relentlessly joyous and heartily re-affirming road trip well worth taking.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)

PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 18 March to Saturday 30 March 2013.

CLICK HERE for more information on the shows' run at the New Alexandra and to book your tickets!
Alternatively phone the Telephone Booking line on 0844 871 3011.

Press tickets for this performance of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert The Musical were provided courtesy of The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

1 comment:

  1. good movie review :) gonna read the latest movie reviews, can be directly to happy reading :)


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