Priscilla is a conventional story at heart, with its drag twist elevating the spectacle to new heights. There’s no original songs, so it’s essentially a jukebox musical, but for the most part this works. It flies by at breakneck pace, yet still manages to introduce and flesh out its central characters, the key to its success.
Tick, also known by his stage name Mitzi (Jason Donovan) has to get from Sydney to Alice Springs to meet his 6-year-old son for the first time. He takes old friend, veteran transgender performer Bernadette and cocky new kid on the block Felicia (stage name Felicia Jollygoodfellow, Graham Weaver) to provide just the right amount of laughs, conflict and life lessons along the way. And it’s an absolute charmer.
After a scene where they win over a bar full of rough-arse Aussie farmers with a full drag I Love The Nightlife, only to return to find “fuck off faggots” sprayed across their bus Priscilla (“They only love you for the night. We’re not welcome here anymore”, sighed voice of experience Bernadette), watching dejected Mitzi sing True Colours – in a dress made out of flip flops, no less – was unexpectedly moving. It said more in a couple of minutes than any pontificating could.
Some of the songs are shoehorned in, for sure (they really do literally leave a cake out – although there’s no rain in the Outback – purely to set up MacArthur Park, which would have been a bit desperate had the resulting number not been so ridiculously fabulous), and at times the production is a bit rough and ready, but again gets away with it because, hell, so is drag a lot of the time – although it was odd the cast slipped up and called Bernadette ‘Bernice’ a few times. There’s no backdrops, just red curtains and floors – a possible nod to a club drag show, but it would have been nice to see more from that. As goes the well-known mantra, ‘Priscilla’s the star’ and is not to be upstaged.
But by the second act the audience is fully invested in the journey, and with the introduction of Tick’s son Benji, who unquestioningly accepts and adores the dad he’s been waiting all his life to meet (played on this night by James Allen), there could hardly have been a dry eye in the house. Their Always on my Mind was almost unbearably cute.
It’s a happy ending – of course – and incredibly good fun. The three queens are supported by an especially strong cast of backing singers, including a female trio never off the aerial harnesses; a mail order bride whose scenery-chewing performance forgives a dodgy Asian caricature; and a drag compere who does a mean Tina Turner, not missing a note despite flinging himself about with gusto. The disco tracks are great and the costumes colourful, imaginative and joyful. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might think it’s one for the girls but don’t be fooled – Priscilla has balls.