Priscilla Queen Of The Desert is the film turned musical and story of three Australian drag queens who travel across the Australian Outback from Sydney to Alice Springs on a tour bus named Priscilla. Tick (or Mitzi), Bernadette and Adam (Felicia) enlist the help of mechanic Bob en route to help their battered bus survive the journey.
Australian actor Jason Donovan who originated the role of Tick/Mitzi in the West End production is only touring with the show in the earlier venues (with Hearsay's Noel Sullivan taking over later) but Donovan has pre-arranged days off from the production, two of which are in Birmingham. At this performance to the delight of the local crowd - Birmingham boy Wayne Fitzsimmons steps into his shoes... heels of course. First making headlines in the 2010/11 pantomime Dick Whittington at the Birmingham Hippodrome Fitzsimmons took over the role of Queen Rat from Hollywood actress Joan Collins when she was taken ill with flu.
With ease he wins over the crowd, mastering MacArthur Park which with four large green cupcake dancers is one of the highlights of the show. There is a sweet connection between Fitzsimmons and Coventry schoolboy Oscar Francisco who plays Tick's son Benji that warms the heart. Richard Grieve adds sophistication to proceedings as post-op transexual Bernadette. No stranger to the show Grieve played the role of Tick in the West End production and having seen him in both roles this is where he shines most brightly. The third of the trio is Graham Weaver (Save The Last Dance For Me) as Felicia. Understudy to Oliver Thornton in the London production Weaver is more than experienced in the role. The youngest and more carefree of the girls, Weaver has fun from start to finish, hotting things up with Venus and Hot Stuff - mincing around in hot pants and leathers his serious talent is shown in the Kylie medley bringing the house to rapturous applause with a powerful Confide In Me.
Also worthy of such applause are the incredible divas. Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansell descend from the sky (at least now they do, unlike Birmingham opening night) and belt the dance floor classics. Regan Shepherd hilariously goes full out as Farrah with monstrous eyelashes and is a convincing and most glamorous Young Bernadette. Alan Hunter wins early attention as Miss Understanding and Frances Mayli McCann works the crowd as mail order bride Cynthia in Pop Muzik popping ping-pong balls.
A new addition for the tour was a ticker tape screen that was there throughout the show and told us where each scene was taking place, such as "BOB'S KITCHEN". Unnecessary I thought, it seemed a little like they were suggesting we couldn't work it out for ourselves.
The limitations of touring often work to the shows disadvantage and unfortunately the West End production of the show was always too ambitious for the road. The bus which was a star in it's own right of the London show is replaced by majority a framework with video screens for windows. It works, and for those who hadn't seen the London production it was probably rather exciting, but it's hard not to compare and this was a little underwhelming. Timing issues with sound effects and the various roadkill lost the impact of one of the shows funniest visual gags. The famous "shoe" was replaced with what looked like a life guards chair and again lost the impact that the London show had by which it came out on a platform above the audience. Follow-spot operators on makeshift platforms balancing on seats at the back of the circle were clunking around which was distracting, far worse than sweet wrapper crinkling. There were noisy set changes behind curtains that could clearly be heard over dialogue. The running of the show just isn't as slick as the near perfect London production.
In no way though does any of this stop Priscilla Queen Of The Desert from being the flamboyant, fun and feel-good night out. The talented cast could no doubt pull off the show without any scenery and it still be a hit. Well worth a visit when the bus stays for a pit-stop in your town. Venues and tickets here.