Musicals can be a little camp, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidently. There’s certainly no doubting which side of the yellow brick road Priscilla falls on though. The whole thing makes Julian Clary look like Bear Grylls on steroids. There’s a plot of course – the everyday take of a gay man’s trip across the outback in a knackered old bus to meet his son for the first time – but it’s really just a shameless excuse to plunder disco’s greatest hits. And what huge hits they are (oooooh errrr missus), kicking off with a simply fabulous version of It’s Raining Men (I've made no secret of my lurve for this track over the years) performed by ‘The Three Divas’ who descend from the rafters in the first of a series of gloriously OTT frocks. That’s just for starters of course...Don’t Leave Me This Way, Venus, Go West, I Love The Nightlife and I Will Survive all come out of the closet...and that's before before the interval.
The story revolves around the show’s core trio, Tick (Jason Donovan), Bernadette (Richard Grieve) and Felicia (Graham Weaver) and whilst this isn’t the kind of night that’s necessarily overly concerned with character development there’s enough in there to get a flavour of Tick’s struggles with his sexuality and Bernadette’s transsexual transformation. Grieve makes a particularly convincing post op and it’s easy to imagine that he/she does indeed keep his/her manhood in a jar in his/her purse (ready to stuff down the throat of younger rival Felicia). Donovan of course is by far the biggest name in the show and given his well documented (and false) outing by The Face magazine back in the 90s it’s particularly good to see him embracing his camper side with such joyful abandon. It’s the quieter numbers that suit his voice the best though and Act Two’s bedtime scene with son Benji featuring Always On My Mind was one of the show’s more touching moments. Naturally there are a few Donovan related lines scattered in there too with Tick mentioning a crush he had on Scott (the character that Donovan played in Neighbours). Kylie’s in there too of course with Felicia in particular worshipping at the temple of La Minogue culminating in a suitably camp Confide In Me.
Vocally it’s actually The Three Divas (Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansall) that steal the show and their frequent appearances always ramp up the party atmosphere a notch or two. There are a number of fine star turns from the supporting case too with Francis Mayli McCann bringing the house down with her Cynthia (the things that girl can do with a ping pong ball...) and Ellie Leah (taking a break from being a Diva) as the pendulously breasted Shirley.
Whilst the set’s basic but effective the producers have wisely gone all out on the costumes, filling the stage with a retina scorching burst of colour and glitz and it’s frankly impossible not to get swept along with the whole thing. The main characters might’ve spent the show in drag but the evening most certainly didn’t...
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 30th March.