Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical ***

This latest version of the ground breaking show, about three drag queens on a road trip across Australia to Alice Springs, so one of them can finally meet his six-year-old son, retains the sense of fun and exuberance of the original, but seems somehow coarser and cruder than I remember.

Of course, times have changed since the musical first appeared. Topics and issues in the show have become more mainstream with shows like Everyone’s Talking About Jamie and, on TV, Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I’m not sure, though, that crudity is the right response. In addition, the production has attracted criticism for casting a cisgender male actor in the lead role of a transgender woman. We wouldn’t expect or tolerate a white actor blacked-up to play a black character and neither should we expect this kind of casting anymore. This was reinforced when, in the bows, Miles Western (who plays transgender Bernadette) comes on holding his wig to reveal he’s really a man – undermining the whole point of Bernadette’s story.

Those, though, are production decisions and the performances themselves are fun, lively and sensitive. They bring these extreme and often over the top characters to life. Some of the jokes and one liners land a little flat in the early part of the show. My reading of this is partly because of the unexpectedly crude tone. It seemed not all of the audience were comfortable with this. But things warmed up significantly once the bus trip was properly underway. A standout performance for me was by Daniel Fletcher as the trio’s unlikely saviour, Bob the mechanic. A completely understated and believable performance but also with great comic timing.

The staging was efficient but unremarkable, with imaginative use of parts of Priscilla as sets for various other scenes, even though the competed bus lacked the magic needed. I did, though, prefer the way the trio chorus of divas was deployed in this version than in the original West End production.

The real highlights came courtesy of some brilliantly staged and executed dance numbers and the outstanding work of the band in recreating such a wide variety of classic disco hits. There’s a lot of music in this show and it does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of creating the right atmosphere.


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