Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Palace Theatre, London

Michael Coveney
Wednesday 25 March 2009 12:35

I will survive, I'm sure, but the Priscilla wave that caught the Palace Theatre last night was a pretty strong blast of lethal elements: costumes that would have looked dated in a 1970s Talk of the Town floor show, a sick-making reunion between Jason Donovan as a drag queen and his little boy by a real, live woman (a rarity in this show), and a book that rhymes "hormone" with "whore moan" and demands that somebody shuts his Von Trapp. Yes, folks, it's the most successful show in the history of Australian and New Zealand musical theatre.

Jason, it has to be said, seems to have lost what little stage personality he'd developed as Joseph in the dream coat, and turned, well, rancid, while the long-standing drag queen Tony Sheldon, who starts off promisingly as a dead ringer for Kim Cattrall and descends into big-mouthed anonymity, and Oliver Thornton as the wicked Felicia, look like Friday night acts at the long-ago Vauxhall Tavern.

So, what is this show? It post-dates Mamma Mia! as a reverse attempt (not very good 1994 movie translated to Aussie musical in 2006) to cash in on a juke-box musical format without much wit or cleverness. It settles for a tired old showbiz camp that's acceptable to suburban and Home Counties audiences. It references the Village People. It sort of stinks.

"Good evening, ladies and ladies," we are addressed at the start over the public-address system, "place all your purses under your seats." An obelisk shaped like a lipstick moves upstage. The divas descend from Sydney Harbour Bridge, cleverly evoked by legendary designer Brian Thomson. But that's as good visually as it gets.

Simon Phillips's production is slick, well organised and fairly enjoyable. But I don't know whom it's aimed at. The journey from Sydney to Ayers Rock is a relatively modest one, but this lot have been caught up in a disco fever that doesn't justify their travel passes. Big hand, though, for the finale costumes of shellfish and jungle animals that suddenly appeared as if by osmosis in a presentational void. You never know in this over-soundtracked show who's singing, who not, or where the notes are coming from. So, a big hand to musical director Richard Beadle.

To 26 September (0844 755 0016)

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