Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch – until 26th May 2018
It’s easy to dismiss the jukebox musical as a lazy iteration of the form. And whilst there are shows that worthy of such a slight, there are others which deserve far better. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is one of those, a musical which has worked hard to integrate its music into its storytelling in interesting and different ways, allied with a book that is moving and funny and just a little fabulous. Directed by Douglas Rintoul for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, this production marks the show’s regional professional premiere.
One of Rintoul’s innovations is to make this an actor-musician production, a decision that pays off handsomely here. There’s a wonderful sense of democracy about this ensemble, who subsume the singing parts of the Divas here, as everyone gets a moment (or three) to shine under the Australian sun. To name but a few, a burst of stunning vocals from Molly-Grace Cutler aka Keyboard 2/Jules, the raucous slide of Natasha Lewis’ trombone, the sure-fingered delicacy of Josh Tye’s acoustic guitar (at its best as the interval comes to a close).
And they provide an ideal backdrop, along with the use of a community chorus to bolster the various crowd scenes, to this ultimately rather simple and touching road movie of a plot. A gay man preparing to come to terms with being a father, a young performer reaching for the Kylie-soundtracked heavens, a transgender woman daring to dream of love. And respectively, Tom Giles’ Mitzi, Daniel Bailey’s Felicia and Mark Inscoe’s Bernadette (the show’s MVP) balance the emotional heart of their stories with a winning gregariousness.
Visually, there’s a bit of an issue as Joanna Scotcher’s design finds itself caught between trying to capture all the fabulousness of drag and dealing with the fact they don’t have a West End-sized budget. Some innovative solutions work, as in the stripped-back simplicity of the bus; others, as in some of the wigs and costumes, would have RuPaul saying ‘sashay away’ before they’d even opened their mouths. But such is the warmth of the performances, and the strength of the musicality here, that this production can’t help but slowly but surely win you over.