Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Venue: Grand Opera House, May 16
Before the curtain rises on Priscilla Queen of the Desert, a vast burlesque map of Oz indicates the epic journey of Priscilla (a clapped-out bus) that would convey three heroic drag queens through the outback.
In 1994, when the film, on which the musical was based, was first produced, the subjects of transgender and transvestism were hardly mainstream. To translate this into a brilliant stage musical and global box office success represents a triumph of faith for authors Stephen Elliot and Allan Scott.
Tick, aka Mitzi, (Noel Sullivan) has married, and fathered a son in his “straight” days. The drama begins with his estranged wife, Marion (Julie Stark) phoning to beg him to perform at her establishment in Alice Springs, and to meet his son, who is now eight and longs to see his father. Tick agrees, and persuades his friends Bernadette/ Ralph, (Richard Grieve), and Felicia/Adam (Graham Weaver) to accompany him.
The journey is an excuse for floor-stomping music riotous humour, hilariously extravagant costumes and seamless choreography. This soon had the audience clapping and cheering as one classic chart-topper followed another, irresistibly performed by the enthusiastic cast. Priscilla (a most wonderful prop!) is the perfect hub for the unfolding of a simple plot and joyous music and dance.
The “girls’ face prejudice, but hold their own when, in super-OTT drag they are refused to be served in by barmaid Shirley (Ellie Leah). Priscilla is defaced with obscene graffiti, and breaks down, but a local mechanic, Bob (Giles Watling) comes to their rescue. He and Bernadette fall in love, and finally Tick meets his son who, to his surprise, accepts his sexuality. Their duet ‘Always on my mind’ had the audience hushed and (I swear) close to tears.
By any standards Priscilla must count as one of the finest and most exhilarating musicals ever to have appeared in York.