|Joe Dinn (Tick) - Jarrad West (Bernadette) - Connor Banks Griffith (Adam)
(Photo: Helen Musa)
Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott.
Jarrad West – Associate Director: Steph Robert
by Michelle Heine – Musical Direction by Alexander Unikowski
by Fiona Leach – Set Design by R James Entertainment.
designed by Phillip Goodwin – Sound Design by Nick Cossart.
Free – Rain Theatre Company.
The Q -
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre - 26th April to 22nd May
Night Performance on 28th April reviewed by Bill Stephens.
years, Free- Rain Theatre Company have earned an enviable reputation for the
quality of its musical theatre productions. Unfortunately their current
production of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” will do little to add to that
reputation. As presented on its opening night, despite the best efforts of all
concerned, it fell well below Free-Rain’s best efforts.
2006 the musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is based on the highly
successful 1994 Australian film, “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the
Desert”. It quickly became one of the most successful Australia musicals ever,
enjoying productions on the West End and Broadway as well as other countries
around the world. Its accolades include nominations for Olivier Awards, as well
as Helpmann and Tony Awards in the costume design category.
Part of the
attraction of the musical is its affecting story following the adventures of Bernadette,
an ageing trans woman and former Les Girls star, and two professional drag queens
Tick and Adam who convince Bernadette to join them in an adventure travelling
across Australia in a bus they’ve nicknamed “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.
Their destination is Alice Springs, where Tick has accepted an engagement from his
ex-wife, Marion, to present a drag show at her venue. Unbeknown to the others,
Tick’s motive for accepting the engagement was to allow him to reconnect with
his young son, Benjie, who has been questioning Marion about his father.
of this show include the clever way popular 1980’s pop and disco songs have been woven into the
score to underline significant moments in the story, and And while the witty
and wonderful award-winning costume designs which incorporated iconic
in this production were a major disappointment. The mammoth task of providing,
according to the program, in excess of 400 costume items needed for this show
seems to have defeated Free Rain Theatre’s indefatigable costumier, Fiona Leach
and her team.
not necessary to duplicate the original costume design, there is opportunity to
re-interpret them. An excellent example of that in this production is a
re-interpretation of the iconic thong dress where Covid masks replace the
thongs, teamed with a headdress representing the Covid sphere. However the
effect of these costumes is ruined by the many ill-fitting poorly made costumes
which should never have been allowed on stage.
Divas, for example, who should be the epitome of disco glamour, instead are
costumed in dowdy, ill-fitting outfits and scruffy wigs. Professional drag artists are fastidious
about their costumes so it’s hard to imagine that any would have presented
themselves in the outfits chosen for the climatic Alice Springs show that was meant to
wow Alice Springs, and in particular, Tick’s son, Benjie.
there seemed to be little cohesion in the costume design. Many outfits looked as
though they had been thrown together with components pulled out of wardrobe
with little attention given to style, appropriateness or even to whether they fitted
the wearers. Scruffy wigs, even for the
principals, and ill-fitting headdresses which forced their wearers to hold on
to them to prevent them from falling off, seriously detracted from the overall
look of show.
|Cupcake dance - Priscilla Queen of the Desert"
Photo: Janelle McMenamin.
lead performances, despite being hampered by unflattering wigs and costumes, Jarrad
West gives an impressive performance in the leading role as Bernadette,
managing to invest her with dignity and warmth. These qualities were
particularly evident in his second-act scenes with the mechanic Bob, another
lovely performance by Pat Gallaher once again exhibiting his ability to bring
an unaffected authenticity to his characterisations. West even provided convincing
proof of Bernadette’s skills as the star of Les Girls in the climatic Darwin
cabaret scene, something Terence Stamp was unable to manage in the film.
played the role of Tick for four years in Europe with Norwegian cruise line,
Joe Dinn brought confidence and a fine singing voice to this role, neatly nailing
his big scene with Benji, played by 11 year-old, Zavier Martin in his first
stage role, with a sweet rendition of “Always On My Mind”.
As the third
member of the trio, the young, impulsive and charmless drag artist, Felicia,
Garrett Kelly pushed rather too hard at the wilfulness, making it hard to
sympathise or care about his horrifying poofter bashing. This was also the case
with Jessica Marchant’s curious choice to play Tick’s ex-wife, Marion as ditsy
and disorganised, rather than efficient and warm, and the over-the-top, bizarre
performance by Dave Collins as Miss Understanding.
|Dancers - Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Photo: Janelle McMenamin
Maclaine provided an unexpected highlight with her magnificent singing of “Sempre
Libra”. Michelle Heine stumped up with her
usual inventive choreography for the many colourful musical numbers, performed
by the large ensemble with enthusiasm but rather less precision than we’re used
to seeing from Free-Rain. Alexander Unikowski kept toes tapping with his fine
band providing irresistible, spot-on accompaniments. Priscilla herself proved impressive if rather
cumbersome, as did the large, curiously under-used setting.
despite the best efforts of all concerned, and the boisterous first-night
claque who did their best to convince that this production was as good as it
should have been, the end impression was that with “Priscilla Queen of the
Desert”, Free-Rain Theatre had bitten off more than it could manage, ending up
with a mis-guided, under-rehearsed bargain basement version of a show that