Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Written by Stephan Elliott and Alan Scott. Toowoomba Choral Society. Directed by Mary Quade. Empire Theatre, Toowoomba. Sep 9 – 11, 2021

The 1994 motion picture The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was a cinematic work of art – three flamboyant, glamorous drag queens and a large, pink bus set against the backdrop of the unforgiving, red-brown outback. Best of all, it presented the ubiquitous hero’s journey in a uniquely Australian way.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert brings that story to the musical stage - a riot of themes and colours, classic one-liners from the film supporting the action between songs, and sarcastic observations of life, love and sex.

Nathan Chant’s performance as Bernadette elegantly frocked, nuanced and fragile, juxtaposed Dylan Ashton’s homoerotic, ultra-camp Felicia. The interactions between these two characters fizzed with chemistry and chaos, much to the audience’s delight. Ashton provided the ultimate showgirl moment with his lip-syncing rendition of Sempre Libra seated atop a giant, red stiletto.

Brendan Thomas-Ryland as the central protagonist Tick delivered his role with charisma and strength. Other standouts included Ken Morrissey as steadfast Bob, Allana Noyes as relatable bogan Shirley, Eddie Pocknee as Tick’s sweet son Benji, and John Vongdara as sassy Cynthia, who brought the house down with his ping-pong routine (and pretty much every scene he was in).  

The Pearl and Opal Divas (Lauren Baryla, Laura Davies, Anna Grabham, Hayley Chalmers, Georgia Escober and Melanie Martin) sang well and Swedish backpackers, Lars (Micah Adamson), Lars (Viktoria Pfieffer) and Lars (Harry Simpson), enthusiastically delivered the dance moves and slapstick comedy.  

While vocals weren’t always strong, there were numbers that were simply breathtaking – “Colour My World” and “Always on My Mind”, and crowd favourites “I Love the Nightlife”, “I Will Survive”, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”. Kudos to Musical Director Nick Williams, who delivered the 70s and 80s hits with energy and panache. Complementing this was Lucy Panitz’s fun choreography, with cast members grooving, gyrating, sashaying and line-dancing through the big numbers. 

Mary Quade’s sensitive and at times quirky direction made this production unique, from the high energy ensemble numbers and emotion-charged interactions to the unfortunate “road kill” moments the adventurers encounter behind the wheel. 

Costume/Scenic Designer Madeleine Barlow, a NIDA graduate fresh from a Broadway internship with Alexander Dodge and under the mentorship of Tim Chappell, created a spectacular vision (sans sequins) that gets better and better as the show goes on. The transformation of the rusty 1969 bus “Maud” into the Queen of the Desert in “Colour My World” delivered the magical moment we expected –and more.

Costume Master Debra Nairn fearlessly overcame the many wardrobe challenges this show creates with breathtaking outfits and headpieces that evolve from the gaudy glitz of the nightclubs to the gloriously slick black cockatoos in the final scene. They are a display of brilliance reminiscent of the classic chorus musical, both cheerful and anachronistic. A special nod also to the dressers - the mind boggles at the logistics behind the flurry of costume changes occurring backstage.

Strip away the glitz, glam, showstoppers, frocks and stilettos and what remains is a heartwarming story about three characters who courageously explore their humanity – their vulnerabilities, brokenness and need for love and acceptance. It matters not who you are or where your belief or persuasions lie, this is something to which we can all relate. 

And that’s the true beauty of Priscilla.

Madeleine Tiller 

Images: Kingfisher Creative.

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