THROW together drag queens, disco pop classics, country hicks and an eye-popping mail order wife, and mix them in a fuschia pink paint pot... Then you’re somewhere near the glorious festival of campery that is Priscilla Queen Of The Desert.
Based on the 1994 Australian cult movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the show follows three friends as they travel from Sydney’s gay district to Alice Springs - where one of them, Tick, is set to meet his six-year-old son for the first time.
Aussie soap and pop idol Jason Donovan, my childhood pin-up, has returned to play Tick, the role he originated on the West End, and looked to be loving it. He did seem to be struggling vocally, especially in I Say A Little Prayer, but the number was touching nonetheless.
Excitable Adam - and his female alter ego Felicia, played by Graham Weaver - helped bring home the realities of the guys’ situation when their flamboyant styles aren’t appreciated by the country locals. The switch between brash cross-dresser and a physically beaten man was as heart-wrenching as his energy was contagious.
But it was Donovan’s fellow soap alumni Richard Grieve (Neighbours, Home And Away and Emmerdale) who made the trio’s, and the show’s, heart beat. Post-op transexual Bernadette first appears as she camps up mourning her husband before flouncing off into the desert, where she meets ‘the one’ in an emergency encounter with mechanic Bob (Giles Watling) answering the damsels in distress’s call for help when their campervan Priscilla breaks down.
Their tentative romance blossoms, and by the time Bob and Bernadette admit their feelings for each other, I was more than ready to cheer them down the aisle. Young Adam Beaver, as Tick’s son Benji, certainly created the ahhh-factor, and his easy acceptance of his father and new ‘aunties’ is a lesson to us all.
I had heard amazing tales of Priscilla, the bus, from the West End but never saw her in action. On tour, where the restrictions of two-week stints and lorry removals need major consideration, the heavily stripped back ‘frame’ is a reasonable substitute. Yes it’s bare and Priscilla no longer steals the show, but perhaps that allows the emotion of the story to come through, and for the phenomenal costumes, ‘wigs’ and make up to dazzle even more brightly.
The show’s buzzing soundtrack is a collection of gay anthems from belting I Will Survive and It’s Raining Men, to the touching True Colours, with many numbers led in truly fabulous style by The Divas - most often seen dangling from the rafters in their glamourous gowns and scarlet wigs. Released from the shackles of her flying harness, Ellie Leah was hilarious in the cameo of bra-less busty barmaid Shirley, matched laugh for laugh by Frances Mayli McCann’s pop-ular performance as Bob’s mail order wife Cynthia.
Add to all this some of the best one-liners I’ve heard, and you’re all set for a roadtrip to musical heaven - so hop on board for a shamelessly flamboyant and uplifting adventure.
- Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Manchester Opera House, until February 23. Box office 0844 8472277.