Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard, September 2019
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert was a film released in 1994 and starred Terence Stamp, which became the unexpected hit of the year. In 2006 the story of a group of transgender drag performers travelling through the outback of Australia opened in London as a musical, the title was changed to Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical, and became a phenomenal hit in its own right.
The show is once again touring and is headed by Joe McFadden, actor, singer and dancer, and winner of the BBC’s 2017 series of their hit show Strictly Come Dancing. McFadden plays Tick in normal life, and Mitzi in his role as the fabulous showgirl in the show, and is the only male in the show who is not transgender. He has a wife and son who he rarely sees, but who nevertheless follow his career closely.
The central role of Bernadette is executed to perfection by Miles Western. Bernadette is a true transgender who does not perform in the hilarious and fantastic costumes that the rest of the performers flaunt. She is dressed as a conservatively-styled woman and is a sad and genuine trans who is lonely but sympathetic to the other trans in the team. She, amazingly, finds love with Bob (sympathetically played by Daniel Fletcher), a man encountered during Priscilla’s various journeys through the desert. Their fledgling romance is touching and is perhaps the one sensitive strain in this loud, funny and aggressively in-your-face production.
“Brash, bold and beautiful”
The songs of the eighties and nineties are prevalent all the way through the show, and you can sing, clap and gyrate to the sounds of ‘Go West’, ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, and the wonderful Gloria Gaynor classic, ‘I Will Survive’. It’s a great mix of love, longing, fun and sentiment performed exactly as they should be, and was received ecstatically by the audience.
The ensemble in this show work like the proverbial troopers they are and deserve their own acclaim. Working, dancing and singing in the elaborate and complex costumes used in the show must be exhausting, but they pull it off like they were born to it.
The costumes are an essential and unique part of Priscilla, and they are indeed like nothing you will see in any other show. They are brash, bold and beautiful, and engender screams of joy, amazement and hilarity each time they appear. You have got to hand it to the costume designers of this show; they have produced a collection that just stops short of ridiculous and ratchets up this show to the ranks of the sublime. They are works of art that make you laugh, wonder and applaud, and the show would be poorer without them.
Jason Donovan, who starred as Tick in the original show, is co-producer of this new production and his expertise and knowledge of Priscilla has doubtless added to the very slick and professional look of this latest in the numerous runs of the show. If you want a night of great songs, spectacular settings and costume, and the sheer joy and professionalism of the cast, you’d be mad not to see it.