Jun
1
2018

PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT

Capitol Theatre, May 17

6.5/10

tony res

Tony Sheldon as Bernadette. Photo: Ben Symons.

Someone left the cake out in the rain, and now, 12 years after first opening in Sydney, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert – The Musical, has been rebaked. Having played Bernadette some 1750 times across five countries (including on Broadway and in the West End), Tony Sheldon is once again donning the character’s elegant frocks; once again effortlessly stealing the show. Or at least co-pinching a large slice alongside the miraculous creations of costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzie Gardiner. And alongside Priscilla the bus.

Then as now this jukebox musical version of Stephan Elliott’s film is directed by Simon Phillips, and, 12 years on, perhaps it is not too much to suggest that some combination of film and musical can claim a crumb of credit for inching Australia toward marriage equality.

Sheldon now inhabits Bernadette with an even more subtle, twilight quality, frosting her with an ineffable sadness amid the mad rollercoaster of disco anthems and laughs. Without him you’d mainly be staring at the costumes.

The humour, after all, is as innuendo-laden as a Carry On movie, and time has hardly been kind to the songs, many of which were always trashy. These were rammed into the story any which way because a musical needed songs, and, when they do aspire to greater pertinence, mawkishness usually seeps out.

David Harris plays Tick, the drag queen who instigates the technicolour road trip to Alice Springs to meet his estranged young son, taking with him Bernadette and Felicia (Euan Doidge). Alas the gulf between Sheldon’s charisma and that of Harris and Doidge undermines a show that really needs the three leads to be of comparable interest and appeal.

Robert Grubb does a shrewdly understated job of making Bob the mechanic worthy of Bernadette’s affections, Blake Appleqvist shines as Miss Understanding, and Lena Cruz has a ball with Cynthia, Bob’s wife.

Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography is mostly sharply rendered, Brian Thompson’s sets remain a flashy delight, and the band and sound are excellent. Less consistent is the singing, the notable exceptions being Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cle Morgan as the Divas.

The Divas are also blessed with some of Chappel and Gardiner’s most stupendous costumes, including the angels-and-gum-leaves creations for the finale.

So, in a shower of charms and flaws, Priscilla is once more rolling proudly on, with the Macarthur Park gag the icing on her cake.