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Priscilla -Queen of the Desert

by Julie Houghton

Waiting anxiously to see whether this long-time favourite film makes an easy transition to the stage? Our reviewer’s verdict is in, and it’s glowing; ten years on, Priscilla still dazzles…

Melbourne is doing well for homegrown musicals this year and 2018 is still young! Following the critical and box office success of Dream Lover across the river at the State Theatre, comes the musical spawned by the iconic Australian film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

This anniversary season has the rare privilege of welcoming back the legendary Tony Sheldon, reprising his role as former Les Girls drag queen, Bernadette, whose dearest dream is to settle down with a nice man. Having played the role more than 1750 times in Australia, Broadway and the West End, with countless award nominations and wins, Sheldon brings his unmistakable charisma and timing back home to the Regent. And given that Kylie Minogue earns many references in this show, the audience is so lucky to have Sheldon back home, strutting his stuff.

But Priscilla is more than a one-man show, and Sheldon’s offsiders are Euan Doige in Guy Pearce’s original role as sharp-tongued Felicia, who eventually shows that under the keen wit is a vulnerable kid wanting to be loved. Doidge has great timing and moves, and suits the role perfectly.

As Tick, the drag queen who once had a wife and discovers he has a six-year old son who is desperate to meet him, David Harris brings enormous depth and killer vocals to the role. Having seen this multi-talented performer in major roles many times, it’s no surprise he is now carving out a successful career on Broadway. If Sheldon is the sentimental favourite returning to home shores, Harris is his heir apparent.

In the gruff Bill Hunter role of Bob the mechanic who has a broad mind and a soft spot for Bernadette is Robert Grubb, who is obviously enjoying mixing comedy with true pathos in his portrayal of Bill. He and Sheldon work beautifully together and it’s a joy to watch Bob’s tentative relationship with Bernadette progress. In the female roles, Adele Parkinson does a great job as a warm, understanding and sympathetic ex-wife Marion, and buxom Emma Powell brings her comic genius to the cameo role as the rough as guts Shirley.

Special mention must be made of the three fabulous singers who descend from on high as The Three Divas – Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cle Morgan (whom you may recall as friendly librarian Mrs Phelps in Matilda). Their assured and polished vocals provide the necessary balance to the predominantly male ensemble.

Priscilla is a marvel of technical wizardry with some amazing sleight-of-hand three-second costume changes and I still can’t fathom how they did them! And the sight of the Divas ascending and descending from on high is spectacular. Costumes by Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel are stunning, Director Simon Phillips again shows his magic touch, and choreography by Ross Coleman and Andre Hallsworth works seamlessly.

Musical director Stephen Gray leads a tight ensemble, and my only gripe about the whole production is the level of distortion, especially in the first half, which made it hard to hear song lyrics. This seemed to improve as the show went on, and as an audience, you can be sure you will walk out having seem a very special show that celebrates diversity and has so much heart. As well as lots of glitter and pizzazz!

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