PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT - A BONZA PERFORMANCE BY THE WIGHT STROLLERS
The Wight Strollers have been staging their sell-out pantomimes at the 400 seater Medina Theatre for years. Two years ago they staged ‘Joseph’, another sell-out, which was fantastic and of an extremely high standard. This year I was delighted to hear that they were doing a production of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ – one of my favourite musicals. The Wight Strollers are renowned for delivering high class productions, and it was wonderful to see an amateur company take on a huge production such as Priscilla. The direction, music, choreography and accomplished performances from all the cast made this a superb show and will be a very hard act to follow.
Based on the 1994 Oscar-winning movie of the same name, ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’, follows the journey of two drag queens and a transgender woman as they travel across Australia in an old bus. Tick, a drag queen, is invited by his wife Marion to travel from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform a show in the casino she manages. He is also looking forward to meeting his son for the first time. Determined to make the journey Tick persuades a young drag queen, Adam/Felicia and a transgender friend, Bernadette to go with him. The three set off in a bus that they name Priscilla. Outback Australia gets quite a culture shock when they see the trio. Amidst all the razamatazz was the brutal reality of transgender life as Tick, Bernadette and Adam are attacked by a group of red necks, but the verbal and physical abuse they are subjected to only brings the three of them closer together.. Despite having plenty of adventures, arguments and fun along the way, it is ultimately a story of friendship, acceptance and a journey of self-discovery.
The stars of the show were undoubtedly Ben Spurling (Tick/Mitzi), Marc Phillips (Bernadette) and Casey Delaboud (Adam/Felicia). All three delivered superb vocals, high energy, raw emotion and great comic timing bringing out every ounce of comedy– faultless.
Ben Spurling as Tick/Mitzi gave a stellar performance as the tired drag queen desperate to get to know his young son. His tear-jerking rendition of ‘Always On My Mind’ with son Benji (William Gregory) was very moving. But for me his performance of ‘Macarthur Park’ showed his superb vocals, and I loved the dancing cupcakes in this number.
Marc Phillips gave an outstanding portrayal of transgender Bernadette, exuding sophistication and charm, but delivering great comic put downs with aplomb when needed. Bernadette’s poignant moments with Bob were quite moving – a classy act.
Casey Delaboud was an absolute joy to watch and utterly believable as the young, exuberant, reckless, bitchy and extremely camp drag queen, Adam/Felicia. I loved his ‘Siempre Libre’, which was accompanied by the very graceful Izzy Rudd performing a ballet.
Other standout performances were Elisa Jones, Emily Scotcher and Amanda Gregory as the three Divas, who showed off their amazing vocal in a range of numbers, mostly from on top of the bus. At times they provided the singing voices for the lip synching drag queens. All three women were superb, displaying great vocal, harmonies and plenty of soul.
There were some excellent cameo parts. Andy Ball gave a delightful and sensitive portrayal of mechanic, Bob. His moments with Bernadette were very touching, and he endeared himself to the audience with a poignant rendition of ‘A Fine Romance’. Bob’s mail-order bride, Cynthia was hilarious. Congratulations must go to Becky Dueck, who stood in at just one week’s notice and totally threw herself into this role, delivering an accomplished performance that will remain with us for a long time. Every time I hear ‘Pop Musik’ in the future I will be reminded of ping pong balls – the audience loved it.
Rob Steel-Bingham was also excellent as Miss Understanding – I loved his rendition of ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’. Sarah Scotcher not only directed but took the part of the lugubrious Shirley, complete with mullet hairstyle, and boy did she play it for laughs, rolling her belly, scratching her backside and almost dragging her knuckles when she walked – hilarious.
The delivery of ‘Always On My Mind’ from Tick and his son Benji was enchanting. I mentioned young William Gregory in my review of Wight Strollers last panto Cinderella, and was pleased to see how well he performed in this show. Playing the part of Benji he gave a lovely performance and showed us what a good voice he has.
The musical was very well interpreted and skilfully directed by Sarah Scotcher. Although this was an amateur production it was worthy of a west end stage, the choreography by Cheryl Rudd was superb. The whole cast were incredible, working to a professional standard. The standing ovation was well-deserved.
Musically, this was a hit due to the amazing vocals and well-known songs. The show is packed full of classic disco songs including It’s Raining Men, Go West, Venus, Hot Stuff, I will Survive, and Boogie Wonderland, all of which were delivered with great vocals and high energy. I loved the harmonies and all credit must go to Musical Director Kim Ball and her terrific nine-piece band who set a high musical standard that was maintained throughout.
Priscilla is a visual and audio spectacle packed with glamour, disco fever and plenty of glitter. The countless colourful and flamboyant costumes and head pieces certainly played their part in making this spectacle, with dancing paintbrushes and cupcakes amongst the fabulous costumes.
The bus, Priscilla, which was designed and built by company members was well thought out and provided a good focus and backdrop for much of the show. The back stage crew worked quietly and efficiently to ensure scene changes flowed seamlessly and it was interesting to watch the transformation.
This show was an exceedingly professional production. The set, the costumes, sound and effective lighting added to the visual effect. Well received by a very receptive audience this production was energetic and vibrant from start to finish.
The packed auditorium was buzzing from start to finish and the atmosphere was amazing as the audience joined in and sang along to most of the songs. The standing ovation saw everyone singing along and dancing to the final number.
Congratulations to all involved on such an entertaining evening and for the monies raised for Isle of Wight charities.
Photos by Allan Gregory