Priscilla review: Frock stars shine in Players and Singers' latest musical

Peri Strathearn reviews Murray Bridge Players and Singers' production of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.

This post is the author’s personal opinion, and has been made free to read under Murray Bridge News’ editorial policy on upcoming events. Please consider supporting our work by subscribing.

Murray Bridge Players and Singers’ latest musical adventure, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, has sold out the rest of its run after a raucous opening weekend.

Regrettably, that means that unless you’ve already got a ticket, you’ll miss a treat.

The 1994 road trip movie about two drag queens and a transgender woman makes for a top stage show, and I’ll tell you all about the acting, the singing and all that stuff in a moment.

But we have to start with the costumes.

The original film won Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner an Academy Award for costume design.

What’s the equivalent for Samantha Pope – an Australia Day volunteer of the year award?

She and her team have spent something like 18 months sewing for this production, and it shows.

The entire cast seems to change into something new for every song, you’ll find yourself playing Where’s Wally with the characters hiding in the chorus, and a parade of Australiana during the finale has to be seen to be believed.

If it were a two-hour fashion parade, set to the same music, you’d still walk away entertained.

Anyway, Max Rayner brings his considerable experience on the Adelaide stage to Bernadette, the ageing showgirl whose life is at a crossroads.

It’s a challenging role, but he plays it convincingly, delivering his dialogue – including many of the best one-liners from the film – with a breathy voice and a haughty air.

Trent Baker steps back into the spotlight and summons all the camp-ness he can muster as Adam, or Felicia; his quivering opera lips are a highlight.

As to the role of Tick: find someone who loves you like Kurt Miegel loves the spotlight when he starts singing Macarthur Park, smoothly as usual, or dancing without a care in the world.

The show’s central conceits work well, including the bus, built by Lee Spurling at Bridge Aluminium, and the idea of lip synching, which makes the most of the divas’ considerable vocal talents as they sing most of the main numbers.

Cassie Brion gets some soulful runs, Prue Cartledge gets to flaunt her operatic ability, and Joanne Ahrens and Breigh Angove get their turns to shine, too; no doubt Lorelle Barton looks forward to rejoining them on the last weekend after being caught up in the recent COVID alert at Tailem Bend.

Other noteworthy performances include much-loved former town hall manager Don Watts, on the stage instead of tucked away behind the scenes; Nikki Madula giving 100 per cent as a free-spirited performer with a thing for ping-pong balls; Robyn Bates as a beer-swilling sheila with a great entrance; a sassy Peta Davis as Miss Understanding; and – if I’m not mistaken – was that fabulous figure in a yellow feather boa Hamish Plummer?

The obstacles faced by the main characters don’t quite bring out the same raw emotion they did on the big screen, perhaps for reasons to do with the translation to the stage; but in the second act, particularly during Miegel’s touching duet with young Ledja Gray, the heart-strings stir.

The ensemble members sing well, the lead dancers are especially high-energy, and the lighting and music are up to the company’s usual high standard.

The whole show is a credit to director Mari Reu, and to the team that has helped her realise her long-held dream of bringing this show to the local stage.

Can we draw any encouraging conclusions about our community’s acceptance of diversity when a show about two drag queens and a transgender woman sells out in Murray Bridge?

One can hope.

Either way, we can certainly enjoy this latest entry in a long line of wonderful Murray Bridge Players and Singers shows.

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert will play at Murray Bridge Town Hall until September 18.

Disclosure: The author’s wife, Keren Strathearn, is a member of the ensemble; and lead actor Kurt Miegel is a contributor to Murray Bridge News.

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