Review: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until January 5)

During its successful run in the West End Priscilla, Queen of the Desert quickly became an audience favourite thanks to its dazzling sets, outrageous costumes, and tremendous singalong hit after hit musical numbers spanning at least three decades.
Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul ColtasGraham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul Coltas
Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul Coltas

Now in the middle of a long and equally successful tour – stopping off at Brighton for the Christmas season – the show is a little stripped back, especially when it comes to the sets. But it is as bursting with fun and vitality as ever, a feelgood show for the festive season, complete with some brilliant star performances.

The show is based on Stephan Elliott’s cult 1994 film, which was crying out to become a camp and colourful stage musical. And if you think the story of two drag queens and a transsexual travelling across Australia in a pink coach isn’t the coolest way to spend Yule then get yourself down to the Theatre Royal immediately for a true journey to the heart of fabulous.

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Anyone in the slightest bit disappointed that Jason Donovan is not reprising his West End role of Tick (the drag queen making the journey from Sydney to Alice Springs so he can meet his young son for the first time) on this leg of the tour can forget their reservations: Noel Sullivan more than does the role justice. Those of us who saw Noel playing the role earlier in the tour knew already that he was first class; several months on he is simply superb, camper than a row of tents and with a heart of pure gold, packing a powerful voice to go with the phenomenal performance.

Graham Weaver is wonderfully bold and brash as the mischievous Adam/Felicia but also manages to find the more serious side of the character in his flamboyant and heart-tugging performance, Alan Hunter is divatastic as Miss Understanding, while Frances Mayli McCann’s every line, gesture, and gyration as Cynthia rightly brings the house down.

If they steal the stage, then Richard Grieve storms the theatre with one of those performances that should truly garner a shelfload of awards. He played Tick for a spell in London and always turns in performances of style and watchability. But as post-op transsexual Bernadette he is sensational, delivering some of the show’s funniest lines with waspish glee, yet bringing a tear to the eye as her fading flame is relit by an encounter with mechanic Bob, played with bearish relish by Giles Watling.

Many of the numbers are real showstoppers, from Go West and I Love the Nightlife to a weird and wonderful Macarthur Park, complete with lavish dancing cakes. Thank goodness Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s glorious costumes have graced both screen and stage versions.

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Yes, I do miss the sparkling illuminated Priscilla trying to steal the show, and I also miss the gorgeous and moving Both Sides Now (replaced by the Broadway version’s less poignant True Colours) and the flying Divas – but that personal preference is the only slight hint of ‘bah, humbug’ you will get as director Simon Phillips and the entire company wash away any qualms with a splash of glitz, glamour, and gusto.

For this Priscilla is energetic, wickedly and shamelessly uplifting and entertaining, a dazzling and delicious delight that you will want to colour your world every season of the year.