Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical, Bradford Alhambra

A LIPSTICK-drawn map of Australia decorates the safety curtain as a voice-over requests theatre-goers place any large wigs under their seats. This is as polite as the next few hours are going to get and these simple touches ingeniously get the audience all abuzz as instrumental disco music plays.

The opening number sets the tone with designer Brain Thomson going for big in every aspect of stage production. It’s an assault on the senses, way too much to take in and complex in choreography, with simultaneous busy action sequences and a live band. Three 'Diva' singers (Lisa-Marie Holmes, Laura Mansell and Catherine Mort) are lowered on wires from the ceiling onto the stage wearing silver mermaid dresses and vibrant red wigs, belting out Petula Clark’s 'Downtown'. Meanwhile, Jason Donovan, playing Tick, strips down to his pants accompanied by wolf whistles and whoops as a rag-tag bunch comprise the chorus, dancing abreast of him.

Meeting Tick, the simple story premise is introduced as his ex-wife, Marion (Naomi Slights), asks him to come and finally meet their son to play a show in her Alice Springs casino. After the death of mutual friend, Trumpet, Tick convinces pals Felicia (Adam Bailey) and Bernadette (Simon Green) to join him for an outback 'comeback tour'. The show centres around the getting there with emphasis put on the journey, both emotionally and physically.

As a scenario, three heavily made-up drag queens driving through the outback in a spangly tour bus, clearly has plenty of scope for absurdly comedic run-ins, and Priscilla the show does not disappoint here. While there are more sobering moments tackling sexual discrimination, responsibility and personal image, Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott’s stage adaptation is a celebration of difference and full of energy through a dizzying array of costume changes, unashamedly camp routines and big vocals.

Performances are a mixture of intentionally hilariously bad lip-synchs, gutsy vocals and the occasional less impressive slightly strained number. As Miss Mitzi Matoisis lip-synching, Donovan is comically bad with gesture and facial expression so over-exaggerated it’s more like sign language. There’s a very funny physical theatre rendition of Tina Turner’s 'What’s Love Got to do With it?' complete with pink feathery fro. The funeral routine to The Communards’ 'Don’t Leave Me This Way' is refreshingly upbeat while the trio singing 'True Colours' together is a touching moment and Felicia’s final cover of Kylie’s 'Confide In Me' will haunt. A surprise rendition of 'MacArthur Park' is possibly the most surreal and unexpectedly funny moment, alongside mechanic, Bob’s (Philip Childs) Sydney flashback and Cynthia’s (Rebecca Botterill) exceedingly crude ping-pong number. The climactic montage sequence is one of the most impressive as the trio’s much awaited show is acted out in double time with multiple exceedingly rapid costume changes.

Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s vibrant costume designs are highly original, unsurprisingly including some 500 costumes, 200 hats and 200 wigs per show. In addition to depicting character, they often add humour by introducing costumes unrelated to the act or inventive outfits made from unexpected items such as neon flip-flops, cup-cakes or paint brushes. Even the encore includes gratuitous whole cast Australia themed costume changes.

Fun, flamboyant and frivolous, Priscilla far exceeds expectation, entirely deserving of the standing ovation it received. Its star gives some disappointing solos but the rest of the ensemble blow any of these minor disappointments away with phenomenal performances from Green, Bailey and its three divas. Unashamedly absurd with tongue-in-cheek multi-levelled rather cheeky gags, Priscilla, the musical, is likely to charm any sceptic.

by Leo Owen