PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT @ Regal Theatre gets 10/10

Priscilla Queen of the Desert @ Regal Theatre
Tuesday, January 8, 2022


Don’t miss this high heeled, high energy, high quality night out. The Regal Theatre audience was full with tiaras, boas and buzz for the opening night of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. From the iconic opening number It’s Raining Men, right through to the final words “We Belong,” this musical didn’t miss a step (which is tricky in those very high heels). A production of this calibre typically associated with a grandest of stages, and the quality is evident throughout.

For those who don’t know the storyline, two drag queens and an aging transsexual journey from Sydney to Alice Springs in a bus named Priscilla –“a budget Barbie campervan.” Unbeknownst to the two friends, the reason for their adventure is not actually to perform a drag show at the Alice casino, but to reunite absentee father Tick with his young son.

Reprising their roles from the 2021 sell out season, the ‘starlets’ Cougar Morrison (Tick/Mitzi), Sam Moloney (Adam/Felicia) and Peter Rowsthorn (Bernadette) absolutely deserve the standing ovation and accolades. They nailed every moment, gave everything they could, and brought the audience on a road trip of acceptance. The characters were well balanced, warm and fun, and never strayed too far into tacky camp. Audience members hoping to spot Peter Rowsthorn will be disappointed as he hides so well within the character of Bernadette that you would never guess it was him without reading the program.

However, like so many productions, it is the ensemble that will blow you away. The dancers shimmered with joy through fun choreography, and their precision and timing are the hallmarks of professional quality. Even their frozen tableaus upon exit gathered a hearty laugh. Vocally the ensemble, admirably led by the four divas, were perfectly pitched. Their harmonies elevated simple repetitive songs to another musical level, delivering the best rendition of Go West that this reviewer has ever heard.

Also notable was the musical interpretation of the Kylie medley, performed by layering the songs on top of one another, rather than a straightforward catalogue showcase. Simply an outstanding collection of performers. The only critique this reviewer could note is the directorial decision to speed through the Alice casino show at chipmunk squeaking speeds. While it got a laugh, it distracted from the achievement of reaching their destination and goal.

Recognition must also be given to the costume team including supervisor Cherie Hewson along with a team of 10 technicians and dressing assistants, whose rollicking rainbow of costumes enhanced every scene. Priscilla is a costumer’s dream show for creativity and colour, and this team certainly let their ingenuity soar, most notably in the pageant-esque Western Australian tribute finale where our favourite parts of this great state all modelled their designer gowns. The psychedelic wigs alone must have needed their own dressing room – they had not one but two wig and headpiece technicians.

As theatre goers come to expect nowadays, the video production was brilliant, guiding us through the outback, and even getting laughs of its own. A highlight of the set design was the missing wall of the bus, allowing insights and dance scenes in the back of the ‘Priscilla’ to create the road trip we all dream of. The production takes pride in its Aussie roots in its costuming and video production – with even the interval music selected as a celebration of Australian artists (hello old school Savage Garden and Pseudo Echo).

Every aspect of this production is fully considered and well realised. The opening voiceover recognises that the behaviours in the 1994 movie are no longer acceptable, openly acknowledging and apologising for our homophobic and racist actions. It was also wonderful to see a live Welcome to Country by Indigenous performer Samuel Pilot, which is rare before a musical.

As further evidence that we have come a long way in our attitudes, it is not the portrayal of the drag queens that appears camp, but instead the outback locals that feel uncomfortably overemphasized. The song True Colours takes on new meaning when performed under the rainbow Pride Flag, which only gained use in Australia in the 1990s during the time of the original Priscilla movie. Bernadette’s poignant line reminds us that we should “never forget the cost of our choices.”

Priscilla Queen of the Desert just sparkles. Five shimmering sequined stars out of five.


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