PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, THE MUSICAL. Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott. Directed by Simon Phillips. Resident director: Anton Luitingh. Music director: Bryan Schimmel. With David Dennis, Daniel Buys, Phillip Schnetler, James Borthwick, Taryn-Lee Buys, Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini, Candida Mosoma, Thembeka Mnguni, Chantal Herman, Candice van Litsenborgh. At Artscape, Montecasino Teatro

REVIEW: Karen Rutter

If ever one needed a respite from the real world, it’s now. Need one really explain? The Donald. The Zuma. The Horror. Give us a break.

But if you said that the best cure for the badness was watching a musical, not everybody would agree. Anyway, musicals come in different forms – there’s even one about Anne Frank (downer). And I’m not sure Oklahoma! or My Fair Lady seriously rate as pick-me-ups.

No, what one needs is an outrageous, 100% queer, over the top blow-out with ridiculous costumes, gay anthems and a lot of heart. What one needs is Priscilla, quite simply.

The Divas - 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical'
The Divas – ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical’

The original Priscilla was based on the 1994 Australian movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a zero-budget project which went on to achieve cult and commercial success. One of the original producers called it “a uniquely deranged adventure in guerrilla filmmaking’’. The story ranks low on the literary totem pole but high on LGBTI tolerance ratings, with its underlying message of anti-homophobia and acceptance. Such was its popularity that creator and director Stephan Hill was persuaded, along with an extremely talented team, to write the stage version, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical.

Since debuting in 2006, the show has subsequently become a form of a musical franchise, with performances being staged all over the world from Brazil to Japan, the UK to Italy, Greece to Argentina, picking up strings of awards along the way. Keeping to the spirit of the film, the theatrical release is unapologetically camp, its script ringing with gay innuendos and its stage draped in gorgeous bodies. Not to mention the costumes, which deserve an OMG for every scene.

And now the South African version …

Which has to rank as one of the most fun and fabulous musicals seen in a long time. The ensemble cast are an absolute joy, the character roles such as Shirley (Candice van Litsenborgh), Cynthia (Chantal Herman) and Miss Understanding (Tshepo Ncokoane) plus the crowd-pleasing Divas (Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini, Candida Mosoma and Thembeka Mnguni) providing a solid base for the three leads to bounce off from.

Oh, perhaps now is a good time to tell the story, which is about two gay guys and a transgender woman who travel across Australia in a big ‘ol bus to Alice Springs for a gig. One of them has an ulterior motive for going, another one is recovering from the death of a partner, and the third wants to fulfil his ultimate fantasy – standing in total drag on top of Ayers Rock. “A cock in a frock on a rock”, as one puts it.

Dearly departed - 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical'
Dearly departed – ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical’

On the journey the three encounter prejudice, battle with their own inner bitches, and become friends. With about a thousand costume changes along the way.

Award winning

The trio of travellers are Tick/Mitzi (Daniel Buys), Adam/Felicia (Phillip Schnetler) and Bernadette (David Dennis), who all turn in adorable performances, each with its own poignancy. Buys as Tick has future responsibilities to face up to, and brings a sweet sentimentality to his part. Schnetler as Adam is a girl who just wants to have fun, and Dennis as Bernadette effortlessly dominates as the wiser matriarch and classy gal. There’s an award in his performance, I’ll bet.

It all pulls together in the most spectacular way, with floating divas, ping-pong-ball-shooting (don’t ask) and a bus that is almost part of the cast. And, for fear of repeating ourselves but in making a point – gay. Deliciously, happily, cleverly, upliftingly gay. Which, in a country that has a great constitution but also a great many sexual-orientation-related crimes, including murder, is also a great F you to the homophobes.

Without giving too much away – it’s really awesome to watch the sets, the costumes and the cast surprise one in every scene – take our word for it that Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical is totally worth the visit.

What: Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical
Where, when: Artscape Theatre, 26 March – 23 April, 2017
Where: when: Montecasino’s Teatro, 28 April -18 June, 2017
Book: Computicket
Social media: #PriscillaSA, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
Info: www.artscape.co.za, www.montecasino.co.za, www.showtime.co.za
Hospitality packages, Show & Stay Montecasino: 011 674250,  montecasino.reservations@tsogosun.com 
WS