Over the last few years, touring shows have stopped becoming the poor relation to their West End brothers and sisters - offering audiences high production values, decent casts and lavish sets. Step forward Priscilla, which along with the Lion King and Hairspray - is currently on the road and in the North West.
The narrative is familiar to fans of the hit movie which starred Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp. Three drag queens go on a road trip/tour - taking in the sights and sounds of the Australian outback in an old battered bus. Original star of the show Tony Sheldon has said that in the beginning the producers avoided celebrity casting "because the bus was the star of the show." This was the case in the West End version, as even poor sight-lines couldn't stop the audience applauding this gorgeous set design. The bus was a star; after all the name's in the title and that's in lights.
Here, the bus has been downsized so much, you hardly notice it. You can see it, but you do not really get a sense that these characters are on the road. I can understand why the original is not used but some panels or doors could be used - to give it a sense of reality. As it is, it is simply a shell and the show does lose some momentum as a result.
Jason Donovan - (Tick) one of the original West End stars of the show is being marketed heavily. He is more than adequate in a role he knows very well. His comic timing is good and he performs well with his fellow drag queens. But when he sings, you become aware that celebrity casting has many shortcomings - as the vocal range is simply not there. Graham Weaver has a tough act to follow as Felicia - as he steps into the stilettos of Oliver Thornton. He does well but due to sound problems, some of his songs are drowned out, sadly.
The star of the show is Richard Grieve who has also played Tick previously. This time he is Bernadette and he is truly terrific. His comic timing is spot on, he clearly revels playing the role and this comes across in every single scene. He is worth the ticket price, alone.
Giles Watling is also excellent as kind-hearted Bob - who is attracted to Bernadette and the trio's crazy antics. The small ensemble keep the piece afloat also, playing the parts of many. You do feel that the show has been downsized way too much, but they do well, regardless.
Sure, the songs seem shoehorned but they always have done. What keeps you smiling is Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott's book as there are some belting lines in this show. Which other musical would leave you with: "That's all we need; a cock in a frock on a rock?" Some may find the show crude, but for me - this is one of the wittiest shows I have seen in years.
Brian Thomson's new bus lets the side down sadly and there are a few tweaks, nips and tucks which were not really required as they do not add anything. Priscilla remains a funny, well performed piece with many well known songs - including "Colour My World." But this scene is redundant because there is nothing of value to paint. A lit up sign stating the obvious, such as "Bob's Kitchen" distract the audience too and reminds them of the Emperor's New Clothes feel of this tour.
So, sadly, the lack of a decent set is the one thing that reminds you that this touring version is not quite the "Hot Stuff" show you may recall if you saw it in the West End.