IT’S amazing just how easy it was for 1980s pop heart-throb Jason Donovan to reprise the role of drag queen Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose (aka ‘Mitzi’) in Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott’s camp musical take on Elliot’s 1994 film ‘The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ which opened for a week-long run at Milton Keynes Theatre last night.
Having twice starred in the show at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, the 47-year-old Aussie is no stranger to cross dressing on stage as he also made quite a name for himself in Richard O’Brien’s ‘Rocky Horror Show’.
In this glittering touring version of Priscilla, he’s joined by fellow drag queen Adam/’Felicia’ (played by an extremely camp Adam Bailey) and the transgendered Ralph/’Bernadette’ brilliantly portrayed by experienced West End thespian Simon Green.
The story revolves around this colourful trio driving a beaten up bus named ‘Priscilla’ on a lengthy Australian road trip from Sydney into the outback bound for Alice Springs.
With the gender-bending threesome set to perform their raunchy act for a month long stint at an Alice Springs casino owned by Tick’s wife Marian (Naomi Slights), there’s plenty of flesh on show along with loads of glamour and glitter, outrageous wigs, feather boas, whips and leather costumes. All this is accompanied by plenty of gyrating hips set to a classic dance soundtrack of around 30 hits while a multi-coloured light show turns the whole theatre into something akin to a gay disco bar!
Naturally there are plenty of surprises and discoveries for all three of Priscilla’s occupants along the way… and none more so than when Tick’s six-year-old son Benji (played on this occasion by Alesandro Bonelli)) turns up at the casino with his mum.
Little Benji is a child that Tick has only really seen photographs of while the youngster seems to ignore the fact that his dad is a cross-dresser and he simply asks him to read him a bedtime story at which the pair sing a lovely melodic version of Elvis’s ‘Always On My Mind’.
The show actually opens with a garish neon map of Australia and a giant pink lipstick while the leggy ‘Miss Understanding’ (Callum MacDonald) teased a latecomer with the jibe “Can I get you anything? Maybe a watch!”
There’s a spectacular entry for the three female Divas – Catherine Mort, Laura Mansell and Lisa-Marie Holmes – who hang from harnesses high above the stage wearing huge red wigs and glittery dresses while the quips and one-liners delivered by Bernadette, Felicia and Mitzi often bring the house down.
The lengthy overland trip takes the trio to the desert outpost of Broken Hill where they are literally run out of town after breaking down en route. However they are joined by local mechanic Bob (Philip Childs) who fancies former Les Girls star Bernadette after he had attempted to repair their bus. Bob also decided to leave his sexy wife Cynthia (Julie Yammanee) who is far better received in the local bar than the three cross-dressers who attempt to put on a drag show!
The singing Divas are really great and there was certainly plenty of lip-synching going on by all three gender benders. Meanwhile the seven piece band under the direction of musical director Matthew J Loughran never missed a beat while a chorus line of dancing paint brushes helped get graffiti off the side of the bus after the drag act upset the Broken Hill residents.
Some of the garish frocks worn by the cast could easily outdo even the most outlandish pantomime dames and with so many outrageous costumes and a string of pulsating dance hits like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Go West,’ ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and the iconic ‘I Will Survive’, there’s loads of glitz and glamour, high energy dance routines and plenty of laugh out load moments.
It was also no surprise to see the audience being encouraged to join in… and many were happy to oblige at the opening of the second act as the company sang and danced to John Denver’s ‘Thank God I’m A Country Boy’.
Jason Donovan became a household name thanks to a highly-successful pop career following his appearance in Australian soap ‘Neighbours’ opposite Kylie Minogue and there are plenty of references to her, although Jason quips: “I always fancied Scott!’
Having also had a series of starring roles in shows like ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ (he played Captain Von Trapp), he has also been a regular on television in shows like ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’, ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and latterly ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!’, a show that he claims revitalised his career.
Due to some ‘industrial language’ and sexual innuendos, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is not suitable for youngsters under 15. The show runs for 2 hours 20 minutes (including the intermission) and plays Milton Keynes until this Saturday (February 6) with shows at 7.30pm each evening and a matinee performance on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets are bookable online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652 (booking fees apply).