Johannesburg - This stage version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is so slick and sexy that I didn’t even miss the Abba songs. In the 1994 Australian film, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp glam up an old bus, christen it Priscilla and brave the backward outback.
In the movie, Pearce’s character Felicia is an Abba superfan, but in this production, he has been morphed into a Kylie Minogue superfan, making the story more contemporary.
In this age of films being made into stage productions (think Dirty Dancing, Singin’ in the Rain and The Colour Purple), it was a no-brainer to convert this seminal piece.
It has taken 11 years for the show to be given the South African treatment and, unsurprisingly, the 28-member cast of locals are, quite simply, spectacular.
David Dennis leads the cast as the transgender Bernadette, who joins her friend Tick (Daniel Buys) and frenemy Felicia (Phillip Schnetler), who are both drag queens, on Priscilla to travel through the Australian outback to do a gig.
As they argue, sing and dance their way from Sydney to Alice Springs, each character also fights their demons.
Although the overall message of the story is tolerance, it does deal in stereotypes, which is a criticism that has followed it from screen to stage. However, it is impossible not to get drawn into the fabulousness of the set, costumes and performances – even if there is a niggle of sexism to contend with along the way.
What sells this show is the glam factor, the music and the giant, glittering theatricality of it all as the cast don 500 costumes, and – with the considerable vocal talents of the three divas, Candida Mosoma, Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini and Thembeka Mnguni – whip through the greatest songs of the last quarter of the 20th century, among them Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive), CeCe Peniston (Finally), Cyndi Lauper (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun), Donna Summer (MacArthur Park) and, of course, a Minogue medley to finish.
A fellow critic described this show as “a shot of serotonin”, and that pretty much sums it up.
It hums with energy, sparkles with wit and yet again proves that anything an international cast can do, we can match and usually improve upon.
Event information for Priscilla Queen of the Desert in Johannesburg:
Venue: Teatro At Montecasino
Ticket prices: R250 - R500
The production's run ends on Sunday, 18 June.