The West End came to the Theatre Royal last night, as the cast of Priscilla burst onto the stage, took the audience by storm in the opening moments… and simply never let up. This musical is an update of the well-known 1990’s film, and the basic premise of the story remains intact: two drag queens and one transgender woman take off on a road trip in an old bus, fondly nicknamed Priscilla. On the journey, their relationships, peculiarities and demons each come to the fore, as they encounter a number of obstacles along their way.
This is such a well-crafted piece of musical theatre that everybody in the cast deserves a mention. The ensemble pieces consistently left a smile on my face, with nice touches including a group of audience members unwittingly involved in a spontaneous barn dance. There’s also the most uplifting funeral scene you’re ever likely to witness on stage – and if you want to experience a completely novel way of playing ping-pong, catch what Cynthia (Julie Yammanee) and the company do during the song Pop Muzic.
The lead characters complement each other beautifully; their connections are convincing throughout, and all three actors are thoroughly watchable. Duncan James did a fantastic job as the tortured drag queen Tick, torn between what his true self needs and wants, and his role as an absent father. His super-camp friend Felicia (Adam Bailey) strutted his stuff effortlessly around the stage, causing chaos wherever he went. But my attention was held the most by Bernadette (Simon Green), who took command of the scene whenever she appeared. In contrast to the high-energy musical numbers and fast-moving script, Green delivered a particularly toughing portrayal of the struggle with the possibility of a new relationship. I found myself utterly caught up, willing everything to work out for her, hoping for the fairy-tale ending.
I loved the re-vamping of some iconic songs of the 80’s, with clever, totally unexpected twists on the interpretation. And the familiar music meant the whole auditorium was alive with people singing along. It’s all accompanied by some precise and raunchy choreography – and by costumes that were simply genius, which a truly laugh-out-loud quality that just got more and more flamboyant as the show went on.
It’s as though we’ve all been invited to the biggest dressing-up party in town – and sure enough, from start to finish, the cast looked as if they were having the time of their lives. The fun is infectious, and the whole audience wanted to be part of it too. All in all, this is as close as you’re likely to see to a flawless production: with great music, first class entertainment and a feel-good vibe, it’s a show that’s not to be missed.