REVIEW: “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical” – The Wight Strollers

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Anyone who has been to a Wight Strollers pantomime will be familiar with their quality acting and singing performances and snazzy costumes, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before they took the leap into a West End musical production: Priscilla is one of the most demanding from all aspects – and the Strollers have smashed it!

From the moment the three Divas – Amanda Gregory, Elisa Jones and Emily Scotcher – appeared on raised staging to lead ‘It’s Raining Men’, backed by perfectly choreographed dancers and singers in colourful suits, the audience as one was absorbed into the show, clapping and singing along. These three ladies’ voices formed the backbone of the music throughout the show, and what beautiful voices!

We then met Miss Understanding, flamboyantly portrayed by Robert Steel-Bingham (who also did a fantastic turn as a hoedown singer and, among other things, a singing paintbrush!) and were introduced to Tick as he spoke over the phone to his estranged wife Marion. This set up the premise of the show – Tick agrees to travel from Sydney to Alice Springs to meet up with Marion and their young son.

The story is really the least important part of the show, a framework for the singing and dancing, yet the three main characters, as they travel together, genuinely engage the audience through the quality of the acting.

Tick himself, a drag artiste whose stage name is Mitzi, is played sympathetically by Ben Spurling; as well as giving plenty of laughs, there is real emotion in the scene in which he sings ‘Always on My Mind’ to and with his son Benji, played by William Gregory – a young talent to really watch in years to come.

Tick’s friend Bernadette, a transgender women who performs alongside him, is played by Marc Phillips. Her witty quips were delivered perfectly, and Marc managed to make Bernadette not only completely believable as a woman, but to convey both the outward toughness she has needed to survive, and her inner vulnerability: her scenes with Bob are particularly touching.

The travelling trio is completed by Casey Delaboud’s Adam – Felicia on stage. Again, Casey portrays more than a two-dimensional drag queen: Adam’s inexperience and youthful arrogance are conveyed incredibly well, and the scene in which he is beaten up genuinely moves us.

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Mitzi (Ben Spurling), Bernadette (Marc Phillips) and Felicia (Casey Delabould)

Supporting the three main roles are a variety of characters, often played by members of the ensemble, and all engaging. Bob, the bus engineer and Bernadette’s love interest, is played with understated aplomb by Andy Ball; Becky Dueck gives a hilarious turn as his ‘mail order bride’ Cynthia, and Michael Mullin struts his stuff as a Young Bernadette. There is also a beautiful dance routine from Izzi Rudd. The show is in danger at one point of being stolen by director Sarah Scotcher, a consummate comedy performer, whose turn as Shirley, complete with black mullet, pelvic thrusts and tea towel, is hilarious.

Despite all these amazing actors, the backstage team are almost more important to this show. Musical director Kim Ball and her orchestra provide a perfect backing to the singers throughout the show and deserve real credit. The stage manager and crew did slick set changes, and the set itself was a delight! The raised stage proved to be the top of an open top bus – Priscilla herself! Cleverly constructed, the bus could be revolved onstage – look out for the message on the rear end! – and we could see the inside or exterior. The swift change of colour of the bus was an art in itself. Andrew Wilson-Jenner, set designer, is to be congratulated.

The costume team could almost be the stars of the show: whether it was the drag queens’ stage gear, the Divas’ silver gowns (and parakeet outfits), huge flowered headdresses, singing cupcakes and paintbrushes, or a hoedown scene, the costumes were over-the-top perfect. The finale was a perfect riot of colour and costume, worth the ticket price alone!

Sitting in the audience I could have believed I was in the West End – the singing, dancing, acting, costumes and setting all have that Wight Strollers high quality, and Sarah Scotcher should be very proud of her directing skills and of her team.

To sum up, the show is hugely enjoyable and just utterly brilliant! If you have tickets, you’re in for an absolute treat. If you haven’t got tickets – take my advice and get them quick! Tomorrow is sold out, but there are a few seats for today’s matinee and evening performance. Trust me – you’ll be sorry if you miss it!

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