‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert Musical’ was colourful.
Audiences were invited to “shake their groove thing” as Spotlight Theatrical Company hosted the opening night of ‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ to a sold-out crowd.
This iconic show needs no introduction, featuring a killer disco soundtrack and outrageous script. Best known as the 1994 film, ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ starring Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving, this musical adaptation follows the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman crossing the Australian outback en route to a casino performance. Along the way, they encounter issues and people of all kinds, in a comical and risqué tale. That being said, this critically acclaimed show, whilst classic and very funny, is in need of an update, as some of the jokes and quips have not aged particularly well.
‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ opened with a bang; showcasing upbeat songs, sharp choreography and dazzling costumes. The lighting and design components by Leonnie Jones were seamless and cleverly considered throughout the entire show, with vibrant use of colour and dynamics. Sound design by Nick Willner was very polished, with all vocals clear and well balanced, which is no easy feat for a cast with such range and fast-paced changes between songs and dialogue. Moreover, the clever use of the cyclorama to change scenes added to the show’s energy and pace. Overall, the professionalism of the sound and lighting boosted the slick and polished feel of the production.
One cannot discuss set design for ‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ without mentioning the iconic bus, by Joe Burke Jnr. In this rendition, it became an additional character in the show and was strategically maneuvered within the confined stage space. The interior of the bus, within which multiple scenes take place, was extremely well decorated, with thoughtful set pieces, useful props and intricate details, not to mention the beautifully busy and eclectic general design. Potentially the most fabulous aspect of this production is the costuming. This entire review could just be an outpouring of adoration for Nada Kulic’s costume design and the sheer spectacle it created. Every scene called for a new costume; each one more camp and outrageous than the last and this show did not disappoint. From the beautiful ensemble costumes to the over-the-top drag looks, the colours and explicit details of every outfit were absolutely fabulous. Given this show is so heavily predicated on costuming, it was clear that time was dedicated to ensuring every look was well crafted and relevant to the story being told. Additionally, each costume was well-tailored and added to the characterisation of all cast members.
Jamie Watt’s direction was extremely well executed with sharp and consistent blocking choices for all cast members. In addition, the choreography (assisted by Jackson Kook and Jessica Ng) was tight, clever and dynamic with a fantastic display of musicality. Each number added to the overall camp and fabulous vibe of the story and launched this show forward from being not just a production, but a celebration. It is clear that Watts has a great range of knowledge and creativity and has meticulously blocked this show to keep up with the fast pace of the script. Numbers such as ‘Colour My World’ and ‘I Will Survive’ were so smooth, despite containing a mass amount of cast members, and gave the audience so much to take in without being overwhelming. Smart and creative staging and blocking really allowed these numbers to soar.
Every performer, from leads to ensemble, delivered great characterisation and comedic timing and there was a clear cohesion between the entire cast. Act 1 in particular is very fast-paced but the cast and crew delivered it with seamless transitions, which made for a comfortable and fun ride for the audience. On top of this, there was a beautiful shift among the cast to the more heartfelt numbers of Act 2, moving the show from the raucous beginning into a deeper emotional dive for each character.
As far as lead performers, it is incredibly difficult to single anyone out. All performers had strong vocals and fabulous characterisation, solidifying the musical as very well cast. Bryn Alexander Jenke’s performance as Felicia was incredibly fun to watch. Jenke’s vocals were clear as a bell and extremely well balanced with such strength and quality. His dancing, particularly in heels, was sleek and effortless. Jenke’s characterisation of the flirtatious and at times bitchy Felicia was also so genuinely executed that one would be forgiven for thinking he wasn’t acting at all. Huge credit goes to his training and talent as well as his ability to connect a character to an audience. His consistency throughout the show carried a throughline of fabulous energy.
Dean Giltinan’s performance as Tick was beautiful. With very rich and effortless vocals, as well as great comedic timing, Giltinan inhabited the character so comfortably. This allowed for a beautiful connection and chemistry to other characters, as well as an incredibly strong performance that really carried the show forward. From the up-tempo numbers to the heartfelt and vulnerable moments, Giltinan delivered a very considered performance with heart and authenticity.
David Valks as Bernadette was fierce with the delivery of some of the show’s more poisonous lines. Valks also displayed beautiful vocals and hilarious acting/character choices. Valks managed to hold their own in a role alongside two other incredible performers, who could easily steal the show if allowed – and Valks didn’t let them. All three performers had great chemistry with each other, with witty banter and hilarious back and forth moments.
The ensemble in this show had so much to do and every cast member delivered much passion and skill. All choreography was done with lovely technique and transitions were smooth and timely. Every ensemble member was “on” from the moment the curtain rose. Special mention must be made to Elizabeth Buckley whose performance as the rough as guts Shirley was hilarious and exquisite. Another standout supporting performer was Jessica Papst, who opened the show with chill-inducing vocals that were strong and welcoming. Maddi Jennings’ performance as Marion was delivered with great clarity and authenticity. Finally, Cody Mutch absolutely blew the audience away with a sharp, cheeky performance that one could not take their eyes off. Mutch’s dance technique was flawless and his dazzling skills and energy were a huge asset to this production.
Overall, the audience impact of this show was palpable. From the deep belly laughs, the infectious cheering and the raucous applause, this show has clearly done justice to a show that is held dear by so many. A standing ovation was the perfect end to this witty and fun show.
‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ ends with a heart-stopping rendition of Pat Benatar’s ‘We Belong’ and ushers in a fun but beautiful message of acceptance, love and friendship. In Spotlight Theatrical Company’s performance, the cast is extremely strong and the creative team have created a truly wonderful spectacle for audiences to enjoy.
‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’ is scheduled to perform until Saturday, 21 August 2021 at Spotlight Theatre, however lockdown and restrictions may have affected performances. Visit Spotlight Theatre Company’s website for more information.
Photography by Vargo Studios.