Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, November 7th)
It colours our world every time it goes on tour – so thank goodness Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is back on the road and is once more visiting Brighton to delight, enchant, and captivate all over again.
Connoisseurs of the West End run and subsequent tours will be thrilled to know that the bus is back – yes, Priscilla is present in all her glory, taking centre stage in place of the more stripped down version of recent productions.
And despite all the touring casts being superb and unbeatable according to deserved praise in the past, it has to be said that this cast manages to be better than ever with the ensemble as a whole giving their all for the sake of taking a journey to the heart of fabulous.
It is really no surprise that Priscilla remains such an evergreen favourite: the sets and outrageous costumes dazzle, the story is heartwarming, and every song has the audience humming, clapping and tapping its feet.
The show is of course based on Stephan Elliott’s cult 1994 film, which was always a camp and colourful stage musical struggling to get out. Actually the story of two drag queens and a transsexual travelling across Australia in a pink coach in ways both touching and hilarious is a winning formula in itself – the addition of hit songs such as Downtown, Go West, True Colours, I Will Survive, and the craziest version of Macarthur Park you’re ever likely to see is just icing on the cake left out in the rain.
It’s too easy to describe Priscilla as actor-proof. While it is, to a certain extent, that undermines the quality of the performers who tirelessly and enthusiastically give the characters personality, believability and identity. That has never been more true than in this tremendous production.
Call me shallow, boys and girls, but Duncan James is simply to die for in the role of Tick/Mitzi (the drag queen making the journey from Sydney to Alice Springs so he can get acquainted with his young son). He has already proved his mettle in a couple of other musicals, but here he stakes his claim to being one of the most talented, endearing and certainly beefiest leading men around. His singing is perfect, the characterisation spot on, and the abs and tats sufficient to require many audience members to take a cold shower during the interval.
What Duncan James shares with other leading cast members is the ability to give these camp and colourful characters emotional depth and purpose beyond the fun and fancy free idea of taking a show on the road.
Simon Green, who south coast audiences may remember well for a string of Chichester Festival Theatre performances as well as for a goodly collection of West End roles, is pitch perfect as post-op transsexual Bernadette. He has some witty and waspish lines that go down a storm, yet there is a delicacy and real heart as he remembers his early “showgirl” career and enjoys a rekindling of a romantic flame when he meets down to earth mechanic Bob, played by Philip Childs.
Adam Bailey makes the very most of the bold and naughty Adam/Felicia, at his most joyfully flamboyant when singing Kylie on Ayers Rock – a performance throughout underlining both the brash and the vulnerable.
Lovely and memorable performances too from Callum Macdonald as Miss Understanding, Naomi Slights as Marion, Julie Yammanee as Cynthia and a terrific trio of Divas Lisa-Marie Holmes, Laura Mansell and Catherine Mort.
Director Simon Phillips and the entire company make the production a glitterfest with glitz, glamour, and gusto, and anyone who dares to leave without having their groove thing shaken several times over is clearly a suitable case for treatment.
If you have never seen this gold star show, go now. If you have seen it before, go and see it again. For this Priscilla is bursting with energy, high class performances, and enough hot stuff to bring Brighton to the boil on a cold autumn evening.