Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia. The Arts Theatre. 21 Sep 2023
It felt as if the rafters might come down, so wild were the raucous whoops and whistles of the standing ovation opening night audience at the dear old Arts Theatre.
The G&S production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Musical is a hit.
It is a triumph of love and good spirit, of theatrical cunning and chutzpah. Oh, and of costumes, costumes, costumes. Did I say costumes?
Through its considerable history this zany Aussie juke box musical has been dazzling audiences worldwide with its spectacular audaciousness. The movie was one thing. The Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott musical, up and out there since 2006 when it was first developed, groomed, and directed by that legendary talent Simon Phillips, has been a global phenomenon of utter drag-liciousness. It is still on the zeitgeist, all the more so now with, for the first time, a genuine transgender former Les Girls star, playing the transgender former Les Girls star lead role of Bernadette. Vonni Brit was lured onto the stage on the Gold Coast to carve her path in this role and now, with G&S and a fragment of the budget, she reprises it with delicious panache. She is glamour incarnate, exuding the sweet and generous spirit which has made her such an icon in the LGBTQI+ community of Adelaide.
Like most of this cast, ironically, neither singing nor dancing is her forte. It is all about stage presence and giving. She still has that showgirl poise, glorious deportment and, of course, old-school beauty - despite some of the iffy costumes she has to don.
She “sells” her songs, as do the other principals Billy St John and Benjamin Johnson as Tick and Felicia respectively. The divas are there to support and cover for them, and what sublime shimmering divas they are: Charissa McCluskey Garcia, Danielle Greaves, Bec Pryor, and Vanessa Lee Shirley.
It is a story of love and self-discovery, and with the three principals travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs in their costume-packed showbiz bus dubbed "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", interacting for good or bad with the locals along the way. They meet homophobia and they meet love. And there is always music with a great big song and dance cast turning on breathtakingly spectacular routines from butch Thank God I’m a Country Boy hoe-down knee slappers to big showgirl floorshow promenades in luminous green cupcake costumes.
The show is cheekily risqué and throws gay terms of reference out from Kylie, Kylie, Kylie to Barbara Cartland.
The first night audience devoured it all, cheering and clapping from end to end. And, rightly so.
Director Gordon Combes with his production team of musical director Jillian Gulliver and choreographer Sarah Williams have rallied and worked the whole cast to resounding co-ordination and good spirit. Repetiteur Daniel Brunet and production manager Alicia McCluskey have been no slouches, either. There is immense work in this bedazzling feelgood show with its true-blue Aussie corrugated iron sets,
St John and Johnson deliver fine performances as the touring two drag queens with their own personal problems while Lance Jones is just a sweetie as the straight guy and Damien Ralphs does our First Nations performers proud as Jimmy, the outback Aboriginal with his troupe of tourists.
Sean Wright, Nadine Wood, Trish Hendrick, and Chany Hoffmann merit special mention and, emphatically, so does young Sam Schroeter. Look out for his name in musical theatre credits as the years roll on.
Then there is the rest of the diligent, disciplined, oh, so quick-change cast.
And, Priscilla, of course. She’s a cleverly devised stage bus pivoted by manpower and bragging simply gorgeous eyelashes.
Run and book for this G&S production. It is cheerful, uplifting and just plain good for whatever ails you.
It might be rough around the edges, but it has a solid heart of gold.
When: 21 to 30 Sep
Where: The Arts Theatre