Priscilla Queen Of The Desert

Date 27th April 2022
Society Darlington Operatic Society
Venue Darlington Hippodrome
Type of Production Musical
Director Joanne Hand
Musical Director Nigel Ball
Choreographer Joanne Hand

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Author: John Holliday

Having to confess that I have never seen the film, nor did I see the show when Darlington last performed it, I was incredibly excited to see this performance of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. An emotion clearly shared by the packed audience at the Hippodrome Theatre.

After a very warm welcome by committee members Andy Myers and Sarah Singleton we took our seats to be greeted by a huge colourful map of Australia instead of the traditional curtain. This attention to detail is a theme that would continue for the whole production.

The show opened with a fantastic overture medley then into a showstopper of It’s raining Men, a perfect opener, with the whole ensemble led by the quite simply breathtaking vocals of “The Divas”, Claire Wilmer, Jess Harrison and Jenny Poole who would thankfully appear numerous times through the show often rotating the lead vocals. Each one of them was faultless with delightful harmonies and simple yet highly effective Ronette-style dance routines.

You may think that there were no scene changes in this show as the entertainment continued with great links, on this occasion we had the hysterical Miss Understanding, played by Eddie Taylor-Jones giving us a genius Tinia Turner tribute with What’s Love got to do with it.

The story of Priscilla involves Drag Queen Tick reforming his trio with Bernadette, a transexual previously named Ralph and a highly energetic drag-queen Felicia (Adam) to join him on a road trip to Alice Springs where they have a show lined up, but with the real purpose being to meet his 8-year-old son for the first time.

The set and scenery for the show was spectacular and used to great effect from the backdrop of an outback bar to one of the stars of the show, Priscilla, the unreliable yet wonderfully glamorous tour bus with a stiletto roof terrace to shag pile rugs, cocktail bars and naturally plenty of sparkle and shine.

If ever a show review needed photos and music to back it up, then this was the show requiring this facility. Every number was mind blowing, from the Colour My World routine with dancing paint brushes, the dancing cupcakes, an amazing country bar routine through to an exceptional Casino Floorshow Montage with the ensemble acting as the Trio to highlight an energetic and action-packed showstopper performance.

There were some outstanding cameo roles throughout the show, with the members also appearing in the ensemble. Kirsty Furness as Marion was perfectly cast as Tick’s wife showing lovely friendship and compassion for him. Cynthia, played by Natalie Robinson was hysterical and her rendition of Pop Music was a brilliant routine, and I am still shocked by the use of the Ping Pong balls. Other smaller roles, yet huge in performance, were Stacey Dobson with a wonderful Opera intermission; Jacky Ball as Shirley, the slightly odd bar local hanger on and Alex Taylor-Garthwaite as the less than compassionate Pastor as well as many other cast members in very important roles.

Whilst the glitz and glamour of this show will always be remembered as a spectacle, what blew me away were the underlying messages and ability of the cast, and the 3 main characters to draw on the emotional side of the story.

Ben Connor as Tick was exceptional in this lead role, his journey to finally becoming a father was a joy to watch and his final scene where he would meet his son, and become a father was beautiful. I loved the contrast in the character from partying away on the bus with Adam to his softer side. Take a bow Ben, you captured the very soul of this role and your stunning vocals

Luckily I managed to return to Alice Springs to watch Alfie in the role. I loved how each of the boys brought out their own personality. Alfie gave a much softer side to the role with a very almost naive element to understanding of his Dad where as Noah had a much cheekier and confident side to him. Both young actors had wonderful vocals and brought out the fun in the character. You have 2 fabulous future leads Darlington and i look forward to watching them progress over the years.

The life and soul of the party was Adam, played by George Hurley, who clearly embraces his lifestyle at a million miles an hour. The energy that he put into this role was exhausting and yet he showed an ability to show a softer side when attacked by a group of thugs and fully showed his vulnerability from this point on. The vocals on his main number Girls Just Wanna Have Fun were fantastic and I loved his desire to permanently breaking into Kylie hits.

Julian Cound played the elder of the three, and was sensational as Bernadette, the quick and sharp one-liners demonstrating Julian’s skill for comic timing yet using this a great smoke screen for her loneliness. Julian acted as a wonderful mother figure to the other two, the cutting comments unable to fully hide her caring and compassion for her younger proteges.

The relationship that developed between Bernadette and Bob, brilliantly played by David Murray, was a joy to watch with Bernadette letting her guard down to accept that a man could love her for who she was and for her to love a man a world away from her life. David clearly understood his character and was not afraid to show a great range of sides to this character. The reprise of a Fine Romance was a lovely soft rendition.

If one number summed up the true meaning to this story it’s, We Belong by the Trio and Ensemble. Priscilla had taken the 3 on a journey, not just across Australia but also on their own personal journeys to find themselves and to realise that people can also accept them from behind the mask they put on in a show. I want to describe this moving number with the 3 of them as a sisterhood, a brotherhood but actually it doesn’t need a gender tag – it was the 3 of them embracing their love and friendship for each other.

There are simply not enough adjectives to describe this wonderful performance. A huge congratulations must go to Joanne Hand for her creative vision with the direction, choreography and to oversee the whole production. Darlington are lucky to have you Jo, and the amount of work put in by you and your team behind the scenes, from the stunning costumes to wonderful orchestra led by Nigel Ball, this must have taken over your lives.

The costumes in particular will forever stay in my memory, some hired from Carry On Costumes, DOS have an amazing wardrobe team who made a vast majority of these show stopping costumes. Alongside dazzling hair and make-up, led by Steven Metcalfe, the impact of this attention to detail was highlighted in the finale number with a masterpiece in how to get your audience leaving wanting more. The audience were on their feet dancing and clapping away to recognize what was a performance of professional quality.

Well thank you from myself and a packed auditorium, you gave us an outstanding performance and took us on a roller coaster of emotions. The songs may finally get out of my head in time to visit the Swamp in October.