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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT
at the Palace

A LOVELY ROAD TRIP
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Oliver Thornton, Tony Sheldon & Jason Donovan/Ph:Tristram Kenton

For the handful of us who regard musical comedy as a genuinely creative art form and number among the very best of them Oklahoma!, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Gypsy, The Music Man, A Chorus Line , Chicago and Showboat, it's painful to acknowledge that times have changed and fings ain't wot they used t'be.

Inferior shows like Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys and Wicked have set new guidelines, and now there's one more to add to the list: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a portmanteau musical without a single original song.

It's little more than an over-produced drag show whose pot-pourri of costumes are the real stars of the evening.

Yet, like Mamma Mia! etc, what it undeniably has, is audience appeal. At the performance I attended, a full house spontaneously rose to its feet and gave it the kind of ovasion usually heard on Broadway rather than in the West End.

Indeed, not since I saw Jersey Boys in New York a couple of years ago, have I witnessed anything quite like it.

It's hard to argue with that kind of success. Priscilla gives its audience just what they expect of it, and I must have been the only one who went home somewhat less than elated.

Yes, it's an eyeful, I admit. Tim Chapel and Lizzy Gardiner clearly had a blast designing the costumes which are so over-the-top and in-your-face that it's easy to overlook the fact that some of them are pretty hideous too. If excess was the first item on their agenda, they've delivered in spades.

Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott's book - about a trio of outrageous Aussie -drag artists and the bus journey they make from Sydney to Alice Springs where one of them has a young son he has never seen - has its fair share of bitchy one-liners that raise a laugh but hardly define their characters beyond campy stereotypes.

The eclectic score ranges from songs such as Downtown, Go West, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Thank God I'm A Country Boy, to Verdi's Sempre Libera from La Traviata and Jerome Kern's A Fine Romance. Most of it, in the best drag tradition, is lip-synched.

Ross Coleman's choreography is energetically jerky in a disco kind of way, and Simon Phillps's direction makes good use of the bus (called Priscilla) in which our trio undertake their outback odyssey. He also does his best to camouflage the undernourished plot-line whose only conflict comes in the shape of some small-town homophobia.

The standout member of the trio is Tony Sheldon, who, as Bernadette, a transsexual of, shall we say, a certain age, has all the best lines and knows how to deliver them.

Oliver Thornton as muscle-Mary Felicia, minces on cue, while Jason Donovan is decidedly uninvolved, undercast and unhappy as Mitzi, the erstwhile heterosexual with a son he has never seen. Let's leave it at that.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert may not be my idea of a good musical - not even an adequate one - but it's an audience pleaser to be sure - and will be a whopping, stomping hit.

So, goodbye to the Palace for at least another decade.

 


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