Priscilla Queen of the Desert
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Priscilla Queen of the Desert

IT HAS been two years since the musical version of Stephan Elliot's 1994 hit film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert arrived on stage in all its rainbow-coloured splendour.

Almost miraculously, the extravaganza staged by the director Simon Phillips managed to put a silver bus on stage, evoke the vast expanses of a reddish-pink outback and conjure the starry spectacle of high-flying divas.

Brian Thomson's set forms a simple backdrop to effectively show off the bitchy and brave drag queens Bernadette, Mitzi and Felicia as well as the brilliantly imaginative costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner.

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When the jukebox show premiered at this very same venue it was spirited and fun yet not without structural weaknesses and false endings. There was, however, little doubt that the musical had the makings of a hit. After all, the skilful and seasoned actor Tony Sheldon made the mother-hen part of the transexual Bernadette memorably sardonic, feisty, philosophical and touching.

Then there was the discovery of the relative newcomer Daniel Scott as the partyboy Adam/Felicia whose sexy, scene-stealing entrance to the song Venus lifts the musical's energy levels up a few notches. Between the sanity and insanity emerges the story's most introspective figure, the torn drag artist and dad Tick, for whom the Go West pilgrimage is anxious and traumatic. Jeremy Stanford played the part capably but stepping in for the return season, Todd McKenney brings welcome feeling and depth. He brings tremendous pizazz to the MacArthur Park cupcake fantasy scene while making the father and son reunion poignant and moving.

The musical still glosses over aspects of Tick's odyssey yet McKenney restores the previous imbalance while deepening the dynamic with his co-stars, notably Sheldon whose timing and flair furnishes much of the grit, humour and grace.

The roadshow's twists and turns into redneck, exotic and romantic territory is lean yet its disco hits, nostalgic turns and high-camp numbers choreographed by the talented Ross Coleman make it sexy, ebullient and fun. If only there were some original songs to propel the quest. Collette Mann, Lena Cruz and Bill Hunter contribute raucous, laconic and engaging performances in a production of high production values. Earlier rough spots have been smoothed, particularly the climactic Alice Springs scenes.

Priscilla is deservedly an Australian success story. It reclaims its crown as one of the most enlightened, tolerant, polished and magical shows produced in recent years.

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