Maybe they should have ditched the travelogue element of the cult 1994 Australian movie The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and just come inside for a floor show. Because that’s what Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is, really, despite the climactic ambition of performing a Kylie Minogue medley on top of Ayers Rock and an underpowered Jason Donovan as Tick meeting up with his wife and little boy having explored his feminine side on the journey from Sydney to Alice Springs.
The travelling road show also stars Tony Sheldon as the ageing trans-sexual Bernadette (played more touchingly in the movie by Terence Stamp) and Oliver Thornton as the “gender illusionist” Adam (Guy Pearce on screen). We start “downtown” in the shadow of a glittering Sydney Harbour bridge, moving on to meet a collection of rednecks, tourists, country bumpkins and a token aboriginal in face-paint as well as an unhappily married garage mechanic, Bob (Clive Carter), who downs tools and joins the merry-go-round; he also finds true love.
Simon Phillips’ production poses various logistical questions, such as: how do they cope with 500 costumes, and who dealt with the copyright minefield of songs ranging from Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Say a Little Prayer” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” through to gay disco perennials like “I Will Survive” and “Macarthur Park” with its cake left out in the rain?
Hitting one dud spot in the back of beyond, Bernadette wryly declares: “If you were going to give the world an enema, then we’ve found the point of entry,” which is an indication of the tone of the book by Stephan Elliott (who wrote and directed the movie) and Allan Scott. It flaunts its gayness in an old-fashioned, one might say provincial, manner.
Maybe crudity doesn’t matter in a stage full of unashamedly over-the-top frocks, tall wigs and pouting divas. For my money, the divine girl trio – Zoe Birkett, Kate Gillespie and Emma Lindars - are the best things in the show, descending from the heavens like baroque opera queens every now and then.
The design is by Australian theatre legend Brian Thomson – his titular bus is a triumph of chameleon colours and interior variations, transformed after a spot of outback graffiti care of some neon-painting – the costumes are by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, and the task of matching karaoke soundtrack to the miniscule live band falls to musical director Richard Beadle.