Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

It seemed like all Sydney was out to welcome Priscilla back home. Since her world premiere performance in the Lyric Theatre Sydney in October 2006, Priscilla has trundled around the world delighting audiences on Broadway and the West End and visiting 29 countries and 134 cities, even cruise boats, before finally returning to her roots for this 10th Anniversary celebratory hurrah.

Particularly significant on this tour is the presence of Tony Sheldon reprising the role of Bernadette. Sheldon originated this role when the show was in workshops. His performance created such an impact that he has continued to play her for more than 1700 performances  in Australia, New Zealand, London, Toronto and on Broadway, winning numerous prestigious awards and nominations along the way. His first entrance was greeted with appropriately thunderous applause.

An added delight was the return of another original cast member, Lena Cruz, as Cynthia, still enthusiastically performing her outrageous ping-pong ball routine.

But back to Priscilla… how does the old girl look after all these miles? Well! To be honest, a little bit the worse for wear. She seems rather smaller than remembered, and Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s wonderful costume designs appear less extravagant than before, particularly the cake-out-in-the-rain and paint-brush costumes. Elsewhere there are minor changes which have streamlined the production, and clarified details of the plot.

But the heart is all there though, and an enthusiastic new cast applies their particular talents to honouring the well-established template of the adventures of three drag-queens who drive their bus through Central Australia, son that one of them, Tick, can meet his previously unacknowledged son.

As Tick, David Harris brings an inherent dignity and a sense of playfulness to his characterization, which neatly offsets the maddening impetuosity of Euan Doidge’s Felicia. Tick’s eventual meeting with his son, played charmingly on this occasion by Xion Jarvis, provides a remarkably moving moment.

Euan Doidge looks terrific in his costumes and skillfully charts Felicia’s growing maturity gained from her adventures throughout the journey.

Tony Sheldon’s superbly honed performance as the ever-gracious and wise, Bernadette, anchors the trio and his burgeoning relationship with the Bob, the mechanic (another terrific characterization from Robert Grubb) is delightfully portrayed by both actors.

As before, the staging of the musical numbers, with the three divas floating above the stage, is spectacular, joyful and often very funny, and Simon Phillips spot-on direction insures that this iteration of Priscilla – Queen of the Desert will continue to delight a whole new generation of theatre-goers, and confirm the memories of  those returning for a second helping, that this magical show is as good as they remembered.

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert
Capitol Theatre, 13 Campbell Street, Haymarket (Sydney)
Performance: Sunday 13 May 2018
Season continues to 21 July 2018

Following its Sydney season, Priscilla – Queen of the Desert journeys to the Festival Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre from 19 August, and the Lyric Theatre – QPAC, Brisbane from 26 September 2018. For more information, visit: www.priscillathemusical.com.au for details.

Image: David Harris (Tick), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette), Euan Doidge (Felicia) star in Priscilla – Queen of the Desert – photo by Sam Tabone

Review: Bill Stephens OAM

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