‘I survived’ Priscilla: Queen of the Desert the musical! The fabulous array of feathers, drag and Aussie sass opened at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane. The classic Australian film is perfectly represented as it transforms into a stage show, especially for the 10thAnniversary Australian Tour. The hilarity, lip syncing, sets, costumes and of course the drag queens blew the audience out of the bar. For the first time in history, Queensland has been graced with the iconic home-grown production.
The story follows three drag queens Tick, Bernadette and Felicia as they venture to the middle of the Australian desert to escape city life in Sydney to perform one of their famous shows, but for an unorthodox audience, a crop of casino players in Alice Springs.
Little does Bernadette and Felicia know, the real reason they are in the outback in their glitter heels, is for Tick to meet his son for the first time. With a few musical numbers, ignorant country folk and wigs for days you follow the adventures of the trio as they travel across Australia in Priscilla, a beaten up tourist bus.
David Harris plays the camp, strong and sensitive man, Tick who is invited by his ‘wife’ to embrace fatherhood. The incredible and well-rounded actor has not really explored this kind of role before, but is divine and takes you on a magical journey with his two best friends.
David’s characterisation of a Drag Queen, thrust into fatherhood is so thrilling. It is so important to watch his son accept his father straight off the bat. This is particularly poignant during the bedroom scene as his son, Benji and Tick sing, ‘always on my mind.’
Harris also displayed emotional turmoil throughout the show so delicately and with immense power. Particularly as the people from Broken Hill spray painted their bus with offensive language that lowered his spirits. Another standout moment was at the top of the show when he is Mitzi (drag queen persona), performing ‘Its raining men’ with hand puppets, which was a very hilarious start to the show. Overall David brings depth and acceptance juggling fatherhood and his drag career and is a supportive friend to Felicia and Bernadette.
Bernadette is played by theatre veteran, Tony Sheldon. Tony has played this role in numerous countries and almost 2,000 times. It really courses through his veins and he was born to play this strong-willed and caring character who also happens to be transgender. He really comes alive although at the beginning is skeptical of riding a bus all the way to Alice Springs, however learns to accept it and enjoy a song or dance in between. You particularly see the relationship that Bernadette cherishes with Tick as they sing ‘True Colours’ when Priscilla is vandalised with horrible derogatory terms and she helps him through the pain.
Tony embodies this role brilliantly with sparkle and pizzazz and is reminded of the good old days when Bernadette was a ‘Les girl’. When they meet Bill, Bernadette immediately takes an interest in him as he said he remembers going to a ‘Les girls’ show years ago. ‘A fine romance’ performed spectacularly by Adam Noviello playing Young Bernadette (she also plays Drag Queen Farrah) is a beautiful way to reminisce on her time of feathers and glamour.
Tony has a wonderful relationship on stage with Ray Meagher who plays Bob and their interactions are very sweet, especially in the scene where they stay up late talking and Bernadette’s face is in the cake the next morning.
Tony plays this character to his core and exudes a strong, vulnerable and loving nature, particularly in the scene where Felicia is being beaten up by burly countrymen because she is wearing drag in a Coober Pedy town gathering. Tony beautifully embodies Bernadette’s strength and says ‘why don’t you go and root some roadkill’ and gives him a wack. In addition to performing fantastic show-stoppers like ‘I will survive, shake your groove thing and go west’, he is the most incredible triple-threat.
Last but not least, Felicia is personified by Helpmann nominee, Euan Doidge. Euan shows off Felicia’s skills in the most sassy and fabulous way. Felicia was made for him and he conveys his character’s self-assured personality brilliantly. His big mouth gets him into some trouble as he joins the bus with his friend Tick and meets Bernadette, who he annoys throughout the journey, especially as he continually calls her ‘Ralph’, her birth name.
Throughout their road trip Euan teaches people that you can be comfortable when you are completely and utterly yourself. You first meet Felicia when she is performing in her own drag show with her boys as she performs the raunchy number ‘Better the devil you know.’ This is an entertaining song featuring the show-stopping Euan as he highlights the young drag star she is just before she meets Bernadette.
Euan does a brilliant job of finding the hilarity in life and drag by stepping outside the box especially his expressions in the ‘Go West’ scene as he introduces the Priscilla bus to Tick and Bernadette and christens the ‘budget, Barbie campavan’ with a champagne pop on top of the coach.
A spectacular moment in the show is when Felicia has the idea give Priscilla a makeover. The dancers float on stage dressed in pink paint brush costumes and they all begin to ‘paint’ Priscilla pink, to hide the profanity that was mentioned earlier. The lights and special effects create a magical feast for the eyes as the audience gasp in awe when it all lights up pink.
Another highlight is when Euan fearlessly takes his sass to new heights as he flounces on top of the bus and lip syncs to Follie! Delirio Vano E Questo Sempre Libera (La Traviata) with the Divas in his silver unitard, full face and flowing ‘cape’. It was absolutely insane and incredibly funny the way he used his face and arms to emote while the bus was in transit.
His hilarious one-liners were coupled with his defining dark moment in the show that was briefly touched on above. During his performance of ‘Hot stuff’ in full drag Felicia crashes a beer night with homophobic countrymen and almost was beaten to death before Bernadette gave him piece of her mind. This is a low point in her character’s arc and you see the vulnerable side to Euan you don’t always see, which is beautiful.
The infamous Ray Meagher, known for his role on the hit television show ‘Home and Away’, joins the cast of Priscilla for the Brisbane season. Ray has played Bob on several occasions in different countries. His character arrives on the scene as the mechanic when their bus, Priscilla breaks down in the middle of the Australian outback.
Bob is married to a crazy, ping – pong popping racy performer, Cynthia played by the hilarious Lena Cruz. He longs to be in a better relationship and that is projected beautifully as he sings the reprise of ‘A fine romance.’
Ray personifies Bob with a sweet nature and cares deeply for the Queens. He especially warms up to Tony’s character, Bernadette when he discovers he has seen her in her Drag show decades earlier. They form a special bond and Bernadette sees him as a real gentlemen through his generosity and he gives her a rose for the final performance which immediately droops.
One of Ray’s standout moments is when he demonstrates his acceptance and defends Felicia in Coober Pedy before she is beaten up as he yells ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ This seasoned actor conveys this gorgeous role with gentleness and love, it is quite something to see him perform live.
The Divas in this show fly to new heights (pun intended) as they belt out majority of the pop songs that the trio lip synchs, during the course of the show. The singers are played by the incomparable and sassy Samm Hagen, Angelique Cassimatis, Cle Morgan and Josie Lane.
The incredible performers that embody the divas are lucky enough to be able to soar high above the stage in gorgeous red sparkly wigs and long silver frocks, keeping the queens on their toes by giving life into the shows number one hits.
In particular, Angelique creates some beautiful riffs in ‘I say a little prayer’, Samm shows off her unforgettable voice as she has the best time with ‘Girls just wanna have fun’, Cle channels her inner ‘weather girl’ in the sensational show opener ‘It’s raining men’ and finally Josie is an absolute stunner in ‘I will survive.’ All of the Divas share their own gifts with the audience, work well together and are fantastic to witness, especially in the bows as they come down the stage in Cockatoo inspired eleganza.
Adele Parkinson personifies multiple glorious characters throughout the production, however the one that stands out the most is her role as Marion, Tick’s ‘wife’ and Benji’s mother. Adele excels tremendously in this goofy but motherly role. The relationship she has with Tick, whom she respects and admires, is beautiful to observe. She has taught their son acceptance and love for other people and you see that in the way Adele lights up, as she sneaks Benji into Tick’s Drag show at the casino she runs.
Another gorgeous moment is when Marion and Tick see each other for the first time and are reminded of a dance they performed years ago in a sunflower swimsuit, it is quite a hilarious moment as they act it out.
The role of Tick’s son, Benji is performed by four local Brisbane boys Jordy Campbell, Oliver De Los Santos, Mason Kidd and Flynn Nowlan. They share the character by going on twice a week and standby twice a week as well. They all bring their own sparkle and shine to the piece and portray that fun and excitement that sons should share with their Dads.
All of the little performers have brilliant singing voices and you can see how much they enjoy playing on stage especially in the bedroom scene with Tick, as they encourage their father to be exactly who he is by asking him to try to impersonate Elvis and accepts him for being a drag performer. It’s beautiful to teach children these lessons of acceptance at all stages of life.
The incredible ensemble, understudies and swings tie the whole production together and project life into Aussie story. They perform in majority of the larger numbers in the show. A few standouts include ‘Go West’, in which they are all dressed up in western costumes, some with orange hair and dance beautifully, with such dedication to their craft.
‘Colour my world’ and ‘I will survive’ are also crazy, exciting numbers where they are granted the opportunity to be dressed as pink paint brushes and wear out of this world wigs and stretch colourful outfits respectively. Leonard Mickelo creates an incredible moment in the show as he plays Jimmy the Aboriginal tourist performer in ‘I will survive’ and Emma Powell is a standout with her character Shirley in the Broken Hill scene, as the whole chorus acted drunk and she takes the audience on a ride with her unforgettable karaoke rendition of, ‘I love the nightlife.’ Finally Blake Appelqvist steals the show at the top of Act 1 with his insane and laugh-out-loud comedic performance of ‘What’s love got to do with it?’
One of the highlights personally, was the addition of audience participation during the beginning of Act 2. In the midst of the tune ‘Thank God I’m a country boy’ as the Queens enter the middle of the Desert, a few ensemble members dressed like country folk ask people on the end of rows to join them on stage to do the do-si-do around the middle centre piece. It was a joyous way to begin the second act and I was lucky enough to be chosen, it was thrilling as we bowed at the end.
The stunning costumes in the show were an incredible achievement to present to the audience. From the big wigs and circus pantsuits in ‘I will survive’ to the ‘Macarthur Park’ (cake out in the rain) number as the ensemble arrive on stage twirling in green cupcake outfits with a lit candle on top. The out of this world Australian Flora and Fauna inspired costumes for the bows at the conclusion of the show were outstanding, the costume team really went above and beyond.
Priscilla delivered in Brisbane. The heart and passion oozes out into the audience. From the Aussie performers in this true blue story to the sets, music and costumes it really leaves you feeling joyous and look back on the fun you have just endured. The message of acceptance and zest for life course through the glitter veins of this upbeat musical.
Don’t wait the bus leaves Australia on 4 November in Brisbane! Snap up your last minute tickets now to Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical, see QPAC for more.
Images and Videos – Copyright Ellen Goddard (The Fame Reporter)