Priscilla Queen of the Desert Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical has translated the 1994 film dramady to the stage, with added glitz and glamour, by paying lip-sync service to a soundtrack of timeless disco classics, while driving a positive message centred around individuality. Having first opened its stage production in 2006 in Australia, the worldwide hit has made its way to the Manchester Palace Theatre, inserting singer and Neighbours alumni Jason Donovan to revamp its newest tour as the show’s producer.
The story following friends, Tick/Mitzi played by Joe McFadden (Holby City and Casualty), Felica/Adam (Nick Haynes) and Bernadette (Miles Western) as they aboard their rickety tour bus with a plan to take their drag show on the road. Travelling across the Australian Outback, their misadventure picks up steam with witty, back and forth banter between the bickering trio that takes the show outside the realms of a PG 13. Alongside the introduction of some memorable characters discovered along the route, the group find a few obsticles in their path. Repurposing the skills learnt from his time on Strictly Come Dancing, McFadden’s charming song and dance routines are abruptly detoured after Tick confesses, he has a wife he wishes to reconnect with on the road.
Tick/Mitzi’s personal journey allows the audience to follow alongside as the story grapples with themes of identity and plays with otherness in a guideless, pigeonholing world. Accompanied by the hilarious Bernedette and the extravagant Felicia, the show replaces the beautiful Australian landscape with eye-wateringly impressive props and surrealist costumes that promise to transform the ordinary into the ultra glamourous and exceptionally glittery. Despite having won an Academy Award for the films costume design, the stage production has taken an Anything You Can Do, live theatre can do better approach; placing the majority of its budget on driving the production with ham and cheese musical performances that bring over twenty recognisable dancefloor classics and just as many incredible costume changes.
The imaginative direction of Ian Talbot brings spectacular scenes of solid, pacing performances. Placing spectacle after spectacle, the talented ensemble assists in belting out the disco hits with the backing of a live band and a trio of divas. Alongside cupcakes and colossal flower crowns, the remarkable costumes rotate on and off the stage with the support of the spirited ensemble team who fuel the energetic and uplifting story. Vibrant from start to finish, the show including songs Go West, I Will Survive and Hot Stuff, staged in lavish music video formation.
With a rich bounty of classic disco numbers wrapping the campy cult musical in bubbly, joyous delight, Priscilla’s light narrative travels far and fast. Its story is ultimately used to break and flex stereotypes, with its impactful narrative glowing beneath its superficial glamour, but the trio highlight the tough road behind their eccentric and fanciful lives. Unable to evade prejudice and setbacks, the story carries strong representations of the LGBT+ community, with heart-warming and entertaining performances by McFadden, Haynes and Western.
Highlighting that everyone’s experiences are valid, Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical sets the Palace stage with a faultless and enriching revival of the timely story that continues to resonate with audiences twenty-five years after its initial release.