On Stage: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Attending a preview of Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre was a nostalgic experience.

The cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.*

After a 10-year break, there was the chance to see again one of my all-time favourite musicals and hear many hit songs from years gone by.

Then there was the emotional high I again felt after this anniversary production. Put simply, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a feel-good, funny, colourful, over-the-top show.

Based on the Oscar-winning Australian film of the same name, Priscilla is the story of three drag queens – Tick, Bernadette and Felicia – who travel from Sydney to Alice Springs in an old, unreliable bus nicknamed Priscilla.

David Harris as Tick receiving a call from his ex wife.*

The reason for the trip?  Tick’s ex-wife rings while he’s performing in a Sydney drag show to say his six-year-old son is asking about his father, whom he has never met.  She is managing the Alice Springs casino and persuades Tick to present a show there for a few weeks, thus ensuring him work and the chance to meet his son.

Tick then persuades former Les Girls performer, Bernadette, and the young and impetuous Felicia to join him in travelling to Alice and appearing in the show.  Both Bernadette and Felicia also have personal motives for such a trip.

Needless to say there are plenty of adventures along the way, portrayed through very funny dialogue, numerous brilliantly choreographed songs and around 500 very lavish costumes and 200 equally colourful headdresses!

Tony Sheldon as Bernadette in front of Priscilla.*

These adventures include a night at Broken Hill’s hottest nightclub where they come across Shirley, a very Australian bar manager, before pressing onto the town of Woop Woop, where Bernadette meets Bob, a true Aussie outback gentleman.

While the role of Bernadette is usually played by Tony Sheldon, he was replaced in the preview I attended by David Spencer, who did an excellent job in portraying the classy and caring but strong-willed and sarcastic Bernadette.

There were also great performances from David Harris as the emotionally sensitive Tick and Euan Doidge as Felicia. Both sang and danced up a storm with Doidge’s acrobatics a standout. Tick’s eventual meeting with his young son evolves through several twists and turns, pulling at the audience’s heart strings along the way.

David Harris (Mitzi), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) and Euan Doidge (Felicia) - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo by Ben Symons

David Harris (Tick), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) and Euan Doidge (Felicia) in action.*

Another highlight of the show were the three divas – Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cle Morgan – who spent most of the show suspended above the stage, singing brilliantly by themselves and with other cast members.  These songs included such classics as “It’s Raining Men”, “I Say A Little Prayer”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, “Shake Your Groove Thing”, “Hot Stuff” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.

Other stand out performances, albeit in far smaller roles, came from Blake Appelqvist as Miss Understanding, the Sydney drag queen who helps Tick out of a bind and humorously presents `What’s Love Got to Do With It’. Emma Powell as the `bogan’ Shirley and Robert Grubb as easy-going Bob were also excellent.  Some of the biggest cheers came for Lena Cruz’s performance as Bob’s wife Cynthia, an Asian mail order bride with a memorable act.

Lena Cruz (Cynthia), Robert Grubb (Bob), Adam Noviello (Young Bernadette) and Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) *

This `act’ is one of several scenes which could be classified as “politically incorrect”. But then with a show that features sequinned paintbrushes singing “Color My World” and dancing cupcakes, it doesn’t seem to cause any real offence.  And that’s the delight of Priscilla. It’s cheeky, irreverent and often bawdy as well as being extremely colourful, funny, sentimental and spectacular to watch.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is now playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. It opens in Sydney on May 13 while seasons are also scheduled in Adelaide and Brisbane. Visit the musical’s website  for more information and tickets.

*Photo credit:  Ben Symons

Jenny Burns attended a preview screening of Priscilla on January 28 as a guest of the production company.

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