Festival Theatre. 23 Aug 2018
It felt like an earthquake, so great was the cacophonous thrill of acclaim which met the opening night performance of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
It felt like the standing ovation to end all standing ovations.
The rafters were rocking.
It was an audience so rewarded with joy and excellence that it was desperate to give back, to let the production know that it was profoundly, almost unbearably happy.
Ah, the beauty of live theatre. Love in the room. That magical connection between stage and auditorium.
Priscilla has been around for years on screen and on stage.
Triumphantly, it has toured and been produced all around the world and then some. This critic first saw it performed by the Zach Theatre company in our Sister City, Austin, Texas.
But, here and now, in Adelaide, in this latest incarnation, in the enlightened era of LGBTIQI gay marriages, Ru Paul and mainstream drag shows, it has danced itself into some zenith of the sublime. It is a treat. A significant treat.
All the ingredients are there. It is funny, physical, naughty, pithy, poignant, loud and beautiful. It is glitter and glam and feathers and sequins. It is macho and feminine. It is satire and social history. Oh, and it is voices, all sorts of voices across a vast swathe of pop music. There aren’t enough superlatives to cover the power and pleasure of it all.
'Tis the musical to end all juke box musicals, so impeccably has it been staged, so sleek is its technology and so accomplished are its performers.
Only a few elements remind one of its vintage. No one dances, let alone climbs atop Uluru these days. But the underbelly of homophobia sadly has not vanished from the world. Those scenes remain pertinent, just like the brave resilience of the gay community.
Priscilla is not just a song and dance extravaganza. Its story line of three drag queens on a road trip from Sydney to the Alice to do a show and enable one of them to meet his young son was always nicely devised to explore and explain the lives and loves of those in the drag world, the fun and the pathos, and the purity of acceptance which exists when there is no agenda.
It’s a dear, heart-warming story by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. Everyone loves the three main characters - Tick in drag form known as the outrageous Mitzi Matosis, is on the quest to meet his son. With him is his edgy, faggy young friend Felicia, who symbolises the new-wave of the drag world, and Bernadette, the ageing transgender former star from the old days of Les Girls.
The costumes, the wild and wacky genius costumes from Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner really shine, not to mention Brian Thompson’s bedazzling and beloved Priscilla, the bus. There’s creamy professionalism in all the production values, the sound and lighting, the wigs and makeup, the choreographers and the techs on the fly towers who make it possible for divine Divas to rise and dip and glide graciously above the stage up there in all their finery. Those voices, those floating spirits of song! Today’s Divas, Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cle Morgan, are nothing less than red hot mamas in the sky. Gorgeous. So’s the multi-tasking Priscilla ensemble. What a lot of handsome beefcake, athletes as well as song and dance performers. Fit and fast, fast and fit. Drilled to perfection. The girls, too. When one can tell who is who.
And then there are the character players, the stars.
Song and dance man, David Harris, plays Tick, the drag queen who is secretly a dad. He's a complex and conflicted soul. Harris evokes his many layers in a consummate and credible characterisation.
Euane Doidge embodies bitchy and outrageous Felicia. He’s fabulously athletic, a sensational singer and the absolute favourite among the many youngies in the audience.
Robert Grubb is a classy, seasoned Australian actor and he renders a strong and simpatico Bob, the outback mechanic who joins the road trip. No wonder Bernadette falls for him. Lena Cruz is absolutely hysterical in the uber-cameo role of his mail-order bride, Cynthia. She brings the house into a torrent of spontaneous applause.
Cruz is among those who have performed in earlier productions of Priscilla. Performers seem to get attached to the show once they get a taste of it. Hence Tony Sheldon. He’s clocked up 1750-plus performances and been bestowed with countless major awards around the world in the role of Bernadette. Like the supreme showbiz pro that he is, he plays his part with immaculate freshness. He is the glowing heart and soul of the show. His stage presence is magical. He never steals a scene, but he continues to draw the eye simply with his grace and meticulous underplay. It is a privilege to be in the room with him.
Finally, there’s just one more behind-the-scenes facet which makes this show the exceptional Australiana experience it has become. It’s Simon Phillips, a luminous director if ever one there was.
When: 23 Aug to 15 Sep
Where: Festival Theatre