Aided by an engaging and convincing cast, director Douglas Rintoul finds the perfect mood and oodles of musical vitality to provide a humorous and endearingly entertaining show.
Written and directed by Stephan Elliott, the 1994 film ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ managed to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
That’s hardly surprising since the film follows two drag queens who certainly have a penchant for lavish, if not decidedly oddball frocks.
And that gives ample permission for this musical stage version to go to town on the costumes – including some natty dresses largely made from what look like kitchen gloves.
Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott adapted the film into a stage musical which first aired in its native Australia back in 2006 and found its way to London’s West End in 2009, where it enjoyed a more than 2 year run.
Now it’s at the Queen’s Theatre in a production directed by its artistic director, Douglas Rintoul, who keeps the energy pulsing from the songs with a talented team of actor-musicians, three fine leading actors, and a community chorus to fill-in the crowd scenes.
Priscilla is the jukebox variety of musical where the songs and music are not custom-written for the show, but are drawn from popular songs that fit the storyline, or fall into a particular genre.
In this case, we find a treasure-trove of hugely well-known numbers, largely from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
There’s musical variety aplenty including slow numbers, big buzzy ensemble songs and even a touch of country music if that takes your fancy – if not, there are plenty of other favourites in the song list, including the likes of Diane Warwick’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’; Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’; Village People’s ‘Go West’; and Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’.
There’s good singing right across the company, with some powerful solos to savour as well, and the songs tumble from the production in rapid succession so there’s hardly much space for the story, but sufficient to hold the show together successfully.
The basic plot sees Tom Giles’ Tick organising a tour through the Australian desert accompanied by his drag queen friend Adam (Daniel Bailey) and the transgender Bernadette (Mark Inscoe) who has a brutally sharp tongue, but a sympathetic streak to match.
Their ultimate destination is Alice Springs where Tick’s wife awaits with their small son.
The film was instrumental in bringing LGBT+ issues and lifestyle into the mainstream, and its success in helping to change attitudes throughout society means that the (packed) audience here were all familiar with the culture that the show depicts.
That includes the occasional risqué joke here and there – one of which took a little time to finally dawn on the audience, but found favour when the penny ultimately dropped.
Though Priscilla, Queen of the Desert still embodies an important warning of the continuing threat of ugly homophobia, overall it’s a spirited, feelgood kind of show that can’t avoid concluding with a near lethal dose of sentimentality.
That doesn’t matter a jot, though, because this is not a show that warrants or deserves too much picky, critical scrutiny – the simple truth is that it is an enjoyable romp with a big heart, backed-up with hugely hummable songs to match.
And Douglas Rintoul, aided and abetted by an engaging and convincing cast, certainly finds the perfect mood and oodles of musical vitality to provide a humorous and endearingly entertaining show.