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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Palace Theatre       2009 - 2011

In the realm of theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre, Priscilla is not a cheat. It's big, colourful and full of familiar and catchy songs, it features a popular star and, if you're in the right mood, it delivers a Fun Night Out.

If it's not particularly inventive, if the star proves to be something of a blank, and if you are more likely to remember the costumes than any of the music or performances - well, that just means that it is an OK example of the genre, and not much more.

It is based, of course, on the 1994 Australian film about two drag performers and a transsexual who journey into the outback in an old bus called Priscilla for a gig in Alice Springs and the reunion of one of the queens with the son he managed to father in an earlier life.

Along the route they encounter various outback types, winning some over and being bashed by others, and bonding in heart-warming ways.

The film featured a lot of ABBA songs, but they've been co-opted by another musical, so adapters Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott and 'song selector and interpreter' Simon Phillips have set it to a magpie collection of pop songs from the 1960s to the 1990s, with a heavy emphasis on disco.

About half the songs are sung by the actors and the rest broadly mimed as part of their lip-sync acts, with the actual vocals provided by a female trio generally suspended from the rafters.

Some of the songs are integrated into the book - the father sings 'I Say A Little Prayer For You' to a photo of his son - but most are self-contained fantasy sequences or performance pieces from the drag act.

There are big production numbers to 'Don't Leave Me This Way,' 'Go West,' 'Boogie Wonderland' and, most improbably, 'MacArthur Park' (featuring dancing cupcakes - earlier 'Colour My World' had dancing paintbrushes).

And of course the principals appear in ever-more-elaborate and garishly coloured gowns and wigs which are a big part of the fun.

Indeed, combined with the multicoloured bus, the fantasy chorus lines and the flying divas, all the production money is visibly up there on the stage.

(The recent show Priscilla most resembles is 2006's Daddy Cool, which also featured a random collection of pop songs subservient to a brightly coloured spectacle.)

The show is being marketed as a starring vehicle for Jason Donovan as the father-in-drag, but he turns out to be bland to the point of near-invisibility, consistently out-acted, out-sung, out-danced and out-camped by his costars Oliver Thornton and particularly Tony Sheldon as the motherly trannie. Clive Carter as a friendly mechanic and Wezley Sebastian as a drag show compere also score.

This is tissue-paper theatre, your mind discarding the memory of each sequence as you move on to the next. You'll leave with some fading images of colour and movement, and not much more - though that may be all you want from a Fun Night Out.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Priscilla Queen Of The Desert - Palace Theatre 2009