The Priscilla Queen of the Desert bus is heading around the UK – next stop New Wimbledon Theatre. This camp and fabulous drag musical was originally a film before being turned into a Broadway and West End hit. But can this new touring production live it up to its former incarnations? Sadly… not quite, but it’s still worth a ticket on the party bus!
Based on the Oscar-winning film, Priscilla is the hilarious adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus bound for the Outback to put on the show of a lifetime. Their epic journey is a heart-warming story of self-discovery, sassiness and acceptance.
There’s no denying that Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a brilliant musical. With one of the strongest scripts for a jukebox show and a wealth of fantastic tunes, it’s the kind of show that can put even the grumpiest theatregoer in a good mood. The new producers have decided to go in a different direction with this tour. I’m all for change – I get tired of the same production over and over, however something has missed the mark here, and it mostly stems from the costumes.
If you know Priscilla Queen of the Desert well or not, I think you’d leave feeling slightly underwhelmed by the design. Sadly the costumes just don’t blow you away – there’s no immediate wow factor that you expect from a set of fabulous drag queens. The colour choices aren’t very appealing and the designs need to be bolder and sexier. There are some good ideas, but they aren’t always explored to their full potential, for example I love XX’s phoenix attire in Venus however there’s no headpiece or wig to really finish it off. There’s no classic Lay Girl showgirl-esque costumes either. In a flashback scene that makes a point of looking at the good old days, the costumes look as modern as all the others. Generally, because of these choices, the male chorus don’t take centre stage as a drag ensemble, which is something I’ve loved about previous incarnations of the show. The costumes are such a major part of the show that it really does affect the overall vision.
The choreography is great, but doesn’t always match the feel of the numbers. I found it strange that the ensemble were leaping through Country Boy instead of line dancing. A lot of iconic moments have been lost too. There’s no budget flip-flop dress, no giant shoe atop Priscilla for Felicia’s opera. It’s sad for avid fans – but that doesn’t make this show a no-go. The musical still packs a punch with a host of hit songs, from It’s Raining Men to Go West and I Will Survive to a whole bunch of Kylie classics. These are all belted out from the stage by the cast and the band – the soundtrack really is a highlight.
However the best thing going for Priscilla is the script and the story. Woven into the fun, and dozens of witty jokes, is a strong core message of acceptance, celebration and perseverance. These strong-willed and astute queens have heart and emotion which really shines through, particularly in the three leads. Joe McFadden is extremely likeable as Tick/Mitzi and Nick Hayes shows off some great vocals in the role of Adam/Felicia. Miles Western brings a great deal of class and sophistication as Bernadette.
Despite disappointing costuming, this musical is still an ultimate feel-good night out. The cast work hard to bring a strong story to life and because of that, the show achieves what it sets out to do – to entertain and make a point!
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 12th October. Tickets available online or check out the website for a full list of tour dates.