By Maxine Montgomery.
CLOC’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a celebration of everything we love about the theatre – wonderful performances, fabulous costumes, music you love, and a story to raise your spirits. What a brilliant way to get back into the theatre after Covid gave us all an unexpected year off. Every member of the cast and crew of Priscilla is to be congratulated for giving the audience a great night out.
Co-directors Chris and Lynette White have helmed a sleek and cohesive production. Pace moved well throughout but was slowed by the iconic ‘Sempre libera’ moment being milked for too long. The heightened sense of reality in the ensemble numbers, like ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘Go West’, and ‘MacArthur Park’ brought so much joy to both audience and performers alike. Only one moment jarred: the costuming of the tourists at the end of act one stole focus from the main trio’s ‘I Will Survive’ performance – the leaping Scotsman may have his own kind of charm, but he was a distraction from the central action.
Lynette White’s choreography was sleek, energetic, and performed with precision by the cast. Seeing different groups within a number execute separate but complementary moves was most engaging. The use of choreography to carry the fun into the scene changes was a great choice.
From the outset, the music was on point. Andy McCalman has done a sterling job leading the nine-piece band – the brass in the overture was, quite simply, hot – and the harmonies from the ensemble were as tight as you’d expect to hear from a professional cast. His work was well supported throughout by Marcello Lo Ricco’s sound design. During ‘We Belong’, the main trio were swamped by the ensemble instead of being heard as lead vocalists on the song, but it was very satisfying to hear a slick wall of sound from the full company.
The simple but effective set design from Chris White facilitated direction that flowed well. A shout out to the team responsible for the design and construction of the centrepiece, the bus Priscilla. She moved effortlessly and the cut away side showing us into the bus was appropriately dressed in a rainbow of colour. The addition of projections from Andre Chlebnikowski and Michael Fletcher gave us a lovely call back to some of the images from the film. The projections of the animals during the road trip certainly added humour, and the Australiana on the front scrim was a great first taste of what was to come (loved the fishnet-wearing emu!).
Brad Alcock’s lighting added to the mood and also helped tell the story. Painting the bus with lights during ‘Colour My World’ was a clever way of showing the erasure of the homophobic slur scrawled on the bus by the Broken Hill locals. Alcock’s design added to the heightened reality numbers, but also gave an intimacy to the quieter moments of the show.
The costumes – oh my lord, the costumes! Victoria Horne’s creations screamed fun, and glamour. They were a character unto themselves and carried a huge feeling of pride – a sense that “when I’m wearing this, I know who I am, and if you don’t like it, that’s not my problem”. Too many favourites to choose from, but the impact of the costumes for Trumpet’s funeral was stunning. It was great to see the inclusion of the iconic pieces we know and love like the thong dress and the frill necked lizards, but Horne’s reinterpretation of the Sydney Opera House costumes was pure class and poise – also, loved those Union Jack boots! Millinery by Christina Scott rounded out the look of the show: so many of the costumes would be utterly incomplete without Scott’s work.
The main trio of Bernadette, Tick and Adam are the glue that binds the whole show, and all three are perfectly cast. Angel Dolejší as Mitzi/Tick gave a beautifully balanced performance – from his nerves about being a father to Benji to his assuredness as a drag performer, Dolejší gave us a character we could relate to. With strong and secure vocals, his delivery of ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ drew us in right from the start.
Daniel Baker gave us powerhouse vocals in ‘Venus’, blowing the roof off with his strength and control. Baker has a commanding stage presence as Felicia, and brought the right level of obnoxious to Adam. Even after all of his bitchy, snide comments, the audience was right with him in his raw humiliation after the Coober Pedy incident – his heart broke and so did ours.
Star turn of the night belongs to Lee Threadgold as Bernadette. Threadgold gave a beautifully emotive performance, allowing us to see Bernadette’s toughness and vulnerability in equal measure. While Bob (Andrew Roberts) was opening the bottle of bubbly and Bernadette sang to herself in her own little world, Threadgold’s voice strongly brought to mind the qualities of Nathan Lane. In delivering her most famous mullet line, Threadgold showed Bernadette at her fiercest – such a pity the shot drinking contest isn’t in that scene as it would have been a delight to behold. The chemistry between Bernadette and Bob was genuine and it made its way across the footlights. Roberts’ mellow voice was well suited to the reprise of ‘A Fine Romance’, and his delivery of the song was heartfelt.
The Divas – yass, ladies!!! The trio of Hayley Nissen, Nadia Gianinotti and Carolyn Bruce worked as a tight unit and their vocals were stunning. Whether they were front and centre, or serving the role of backing vocalists, they delivered the goods. The Motown-esque arm movements were on point.
Elise Stevens’ Shirley was an absolute winner, practically stealing the scene. Miss Understanding (Johnathon White) was a great emcee at the top of the show and wonderfully irreverent. Jasmine Kwan’s Cynthia was hilarious – ‘Pop Muzik’ will never be the same! Thomas Smithers as Benji was endearing. Special mention to Cameron O’Reilly as Young Bernadette whose dancing during Bob’s ‘A Fine Romance’ was all grace and control.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a triumphant return to the National for CLOC. Congrats to all involved. Priscilla runs through to May 22nd, with tickets available from cloc.org.au
Photo credit: Ben Fon.