Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical Review

Darlington Hippodrome – until 28 April 2018

5*****

The latest production from Darlington Operatic Society brings us Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical. This show saw a West End revival in 2016 and is a popular amateur production, despite the challenges of staging such a flamboyant musical. However, it remains big, bold and brash as ever.

Most people will know the film. Tick, a Sydney drag queen, accepts a gig in Alice Springs, partly to see his wife Marion (Beth Hopper) and young son Benji (Matthew Scott and Jamie Collict sharing the role). He takes along for the ride fellow drag ‘artiste’ Adam (AKA Felicia) and the maturely transsexual Bernadette. They head off on their road trip on an old bus named ‘Priscilla’. On the way they discover new friends, homophobia, and the truth about themselves.

The show is a two-hour mix up of extravagant performances, fabulous outfits, risqué jokes and clichés. Each scene is punctuated by a bunch of toe-tapping disco classics, such as Go West, Hot Stuff and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, with high energy dance moves from the full ensemble.  Sometimes the routines and costumes get quite surreal and don’t really fit the story, but that didn’t seem to matter to this audience. This is as much about costumes as content.

The male trio of ‘leading ladies’ do a great job and are all very well cast. Nicholas Fletcher-Holmes as Tick has a beautiful voice and is able to come across as strong but also sensitive when required. Julian Cound plays Bernadette beautifully and again is strong but clearly finds his feminine side, with a powerful vocal range. Luke Oldfield is stunning as Adam/Felicia. Vocally very good. All three do an amazing job in high heels and extravagant costumes and look very comfortable moving around. They work well together, producing some genuinely tender moments in among the crude jokes and bitchy one-liners.

Keeping the whole show flowing are the three divas, played by the talented Rhiannon Walker, Jenny Poole and Tori McDougall who has stunning and powerful vocals which should be heard in the West End. They accompany most of the performances with backing vocals, do-wops, lots of choreography and some excellent solo numbers too.  

As the tantalising trio wend their way to their destination, they encounter and endure all manner of unexpected obstacles and experiences along the way, including emotional and mechanical breakdowns, homophobic incidents, a Thai bride with a unique skill involving ping-pong balls, and the rekindling of a very strong old flame whose burning passion for a certain lady has never been extinguished

The rest of the ensemble cast do an excellent job of taking on a myriad of roles – one minute disco dancing in sequins, the next dressed as country singers doing line dancing. It is a fast-paced show and, as already mentioned, the costumes do take over. There is a huge cast, so a lot of people for such a small space, and they all do well. I saw no uncertainty or accidental crashes on stage – given this was opening night that’s always a bonus. Some stand out more than others but they all work well together.

Huge amounts of praise to Choreographer, Martin Knight. To take on men in heels, in huge head pieces, flapping costumes and full-on dance routines for over twenty songs is a massive achievement. Overall the whole cast keep pace really well. It is the glitz and glamour that wins over in the end, with a fabulous finale number from the whole company that has the entire audience on their feet.

Priscilla owes as much to each and every member of the impressive ensemble cast as she does to the leading ladies. The music, choreography and terrifically sharp one-liners are flawlessly tight and perfectly-timed, the extravagant costumes suitably spectacular, the overall vibe uproariously, gloriously exhilarating, while the entire production is infused with humanity and bonhomie at every turn.  One of my favourite shows, this production by DOS is the best thing I have seen them perform

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