Priscilla Queen of the Desert — the Musical Arrives in London's West End March 10
By Mark Shenton
A stage musical version of "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," the 1994 Australian film about a trio of drag queens who take their show to the middle of the outback aboard a battered old bus nicknamed Priscilla, arrives at London's Palace Theatre March 10 prior to a press night on March 23 and a gala night on March 24.
First brought to the stage in Sydney in October 2006, the show now comes to the London stage with a cast led by Tony Sheldon, who re-creates the role of Ralph/Bernadette (Terence Stamp in the film) that he originated in the original Australian production and has played there for two years in seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland; Australian native Jason Donovan, who has long been resident in the U.K., as Anthony "Tick" Belrose/Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving in the film); and young British actor Oliver Thornton as Adam Whiteley/Felicia (Guy Pearce in the film).
Also in the London company are Clive Carter, who plays the role of Bob (Bill Hunter in the film), the mechanic who falls in love with Bernadette when they meet in the middle of the outback; Zoe Birkett, Kate Gillespie and Emma Lindars as the three Divas; Wezley Sebastian as Miss Understanding, Amy Field as Marion, Danielle Coombe as Shirley, Tristan Temple as Jimmy, Kanako Nakano as Cynthia, Steven Cleverley as Young Bernadette and John Brannoch as Frank. Completing the cast are Phillip Arran, Matthew Cole, Amy Edwards, Mark Inscoe, Zabrina Norry, Will Peaco, John Phoenix, James Rees, Craig Ryder, Jeremy Secomb and Jon Tsouras.
Director Simon Phillips (who has been artistic director of Melbourne Theatre Company since July 1999) said at a press launch for the production last year, "When I was first asked to do this show, I did think that it seemed to me to be the ideal film to turn into a musical. It was actually a film that everyone thought was a musical in the first place, even though it wasn't, and also one that is destined to make the idea of a jukebox musical actually feel that it was a deliberate art form rather than some cynical accumulation of numbers that you could throw together and give everyone a good time, on the grounds that the world of drag and everything that it does has as its very heart the appropriation of great songs of any old diva from anywhere, and the re-rendering of it in the most fantastic costumes you can imagine."
For Sheldon, a leading Australian actor who played Roger de Bris in the Australian tour of The Producers, this marks the fourth, and finally successful, attempt for him to get the West End, and he said at the press launch, "The producers of Priscilla and Simon fought to get me here, and the thrill of playing an Australian character in an Australian story in an Australian production, using our finest talents, is the way it should be. I have spent two wonderful years doing this show with the cream of Australian showbusiness, and now I am looking forward to joining my English Priscilla company and bringing the joy of this show to you here."
For Jason Donovan, playing Tick/Mitzi, the role is finally his, after previously being considered for the movie many years ago: "The original line-up was Richard E. Grant, myself and Michael Hutchence," he revealed. "That changed for whatever reason, but it has come full circle now. I'm extremely excited about being involved in this project — it's a wonderful feel-good piece with an incredible heart, and a wonderful excuse for me to live out my fantasies!" Donovan, whose career on Australian TV included a celebrated stint in the long-running soap "Neighbours," has also worked extensively onstage, including playing the title role in the 1991 London Palladium revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and taking over the role of Caractacus Potts in the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, also at the London Palladium. More recent credits include playing Christian in Simon Phillips' production of Festen for Melbourne Theatre Company, and the title role in the U.K. tour of John Doyle's production of Sweeney Todd. Donovan has also had a record-breaking solo career, selling over 13 million CDs.
Oliver Thornton, who plays Adam/Felicia, has been seen in Rent Remixed (Duke of York's), as Raoul in the Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty's), Enjolras in Les Miserables (Palace and Queen's) and Harrison in Chicago (Adelphi). Clive Carter, who plays Bob, appeared in the original cast of Les Miserables (in which he took over the role of Javert), The Phantom of the Opera, the original London production of Into the Woods (receiving an Olivier nomination for playing Prince/Wolf), and We Will Rock You; he has also appeared in many plays, including A Man for All Seasons (Haymarket) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Lyric).
The musical also features choreography by Ross Coleman; arrangements, musical direction and supervision by Stephen "Spud" Murphy, production designs by Brian Thomson, lighting by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Michael Waters. It is produced in London by Liz Koops and Garry McQuinn for Back Row Productions, Michael Hamlyn for Specific Films, Allan Scott, and the Really Useful Theatre Company.
Plans are also currently afoot for a North American production to open in Toronto in the fall of 2009, when a production will also open in Germany, and a Swedish production to open in 2010.
To book tickets, contact the box office at 0844 755 0016 or visit www.priscillathemusical.com.
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