This new production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert marks some milestone anniversaries for the story. The film, starring Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce was re-released this year, to mark 25 years since the original movie release. And it is 13 years since the first stage musical opened in Australia.
The once cult movie is now a mainstream hit with more than 10 million people having seen previous productions of the musical world-wide. The current tour is produced by Aussie, Jason Donovan, who has a strong history with the show having starred in previous productions both in the West End and two UK tours. Here he gets in on the act in a comical sketch with a cardboard mask. But aside from some updated references and adding in the more popular Kylie songs – Spinning Around and Can’t Get You Out of My Head from 2011 – it is more or less the same story.
Queen of the Desert, Priscilla is a huge pink bus used for an emotional road trip through the Australian desert to Alice Springs by two drag queens and a trans woman. Here Priscilla is a battered old, school bus that has a pink glitter make-over to cover homophobic graffiti sprayed on the side.
Tolerance is still a huge and valuable message running through the heart of the story. However, updating some parts and not others jars a bit, especially in the scenes with the stereotyped mail order bride. The opening drag act is also a little too crude rather than funny.
That aside, most theatre-goers know what they are getting with this show and for the most part it hits the right spot. Ru Paul’s Drag Race has brought drag queens fully into the mainstream and here the three road-trippers comically lip sync for their lives, while three divas stand on a platform above the stage belting out anthems such as I Will Survive.
The band, led by Sean Green, is excellent, and the music – mainly well-known hits from the 70s and 80s like Boogie Wonderland, It’s Raining Men and Go West – drives the show and keeps the energy high throughout. Strictly Winner, Joe McFadden is a smiley and likeable Tick, whose secret is behind the reason for the desert journey. Miles Western is a stand-out performance, both sensitive and waspish as recently widowed Bernadette; while former Hollyoaks actor, Nick Hayes is the eye-candy with a great voice, as hot stuff, Felicia.
The three queens win our hearts and pull us into the emotion of the story, while the colourful costumes and choreography keep us entertained. By the end the whole audience is on their feet dancing along. For a show ahead of its time, its still got a lot of life in it yet.★ ★ ★ ★
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 25-30 November 2019.