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Priscilla Queen of the Desert is on at the Lyric Theatre in Wan Chai until October 22. Photo: Rachel Cheung

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical review: will have Hong Kong audiences in stitches

Based on the 1994 Australian cult film and featuring glitz, glamour and fake eyelashes aplenty, South African production about three drag queens on a journey across the Outback is the ultimate feel-good stage show

When this 2006 stage adaptation of the Australian cult road film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert played to West End audiences in 2009, the reception was mixed. One veteran British theatre critic called the production “underscored and overstated”, with gags that were “cruder and camper” than the 1994 film.

The show must have undergone a few tweaks since then, as the touring version (from South Africa) that landed in Hong Kong over the weekend is thoroughly fun and entertaining. Sure, there are still sexual innuendos and double entendres aplenty – yes, the line “a cock in a frock on a rock” survived the snip – but nothing that can be considered tasteless or vulgar.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical follows the journey of Tick who, together with two other drag queen friends, Bernadette and Adam, has to cross the Australian Outback to be reunited with his son in the small Northern Territory town of Alice Springs. During the adventure, the trio encounter roadblocks (and roadkill, if you count a squashed Teletubby), bogans (redneck Australians), who consider them freaks, and Bernadette’s search for a fine romance.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert in Hong Kong – a backstage look at the hit musical

Created by the original director, Stephan Elliott and co-author of the musical’s script, Allan Scott, Priscilla is a jukebox musical. Feet start tapping right from the word go, as three Motown-style divas, in glittering costumes, descend from above belting out It’s Raining Men.

The divas on stage at the start of the show. Photo: Rachel Cheung

Then it is one hit after another, some used in the original film – Go West, I Love the Nightlife, I Will Survive and Finally – others, such as True Colors, I Say a Little Prayer and Boogie Wonderland added to help tell the story. Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini, Candida Mosoma and Thembek Muguni lend their powerful vocals as the three divas, while an eight-piece orchestra provides live music from the pit.

Daniel Buys, David Dennis and Phillip Schnetler play the leads in the musical.

David Dennis leads the performance from beginning to end with his Meryl Streep-esque portrayal of the lonely Bernadette – the ageing transgender woman still looking for love. Phillip Schnetler plays the cocky and delightful Felicia, who is by far the most convincing drag queen of the three, while Daniel Buys’ subdued Tick could do with an extra boost of flamboyance.

Miss Understanding is a drag queen who performs What’s Love Got to Do With It? in the show. Photo: Rachel Cheung

The set is small but versatile, with the side of Priscilla – the bus that the trio travels in – doubling as an LED wall to create colourful and clever visual effects. There were a few technical glitches on the night of this review, such as the Teletubby roadkill getting stuck on the stage.

Due to the size of the stage, the recreation of that classic cinematic scene in which Felicia is lip-synching to Follie! Delirio vano è questo! – Sempre libera from Verdi’s La Traviata on top of the bus didn’t quite fly. But the wacky costumes, which stay true to those featured in the film, are a highlight.

Bernadette and Tick in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo: Rachel Cheung

The world has moved on a lot since 1994 and so has people’s attitude towards drag queens and transsexuals. While discrimination and bigotry still exists – and the show touches on that – the central theme is one of tolerance and love, as seen with the heart-warming father-son reunion in the final act.

Hong Kong Dance Company’s Vipassana more soporific than serene – no wonder some in audience walked out

With great music and atmosphere, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical is the ultimate feel-good stage show of this autumn.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical , Lyric Theatre, Academy for Performing Arts , HK$445-HK$995, HK Ticketing.

Reviewed: September 30

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: The feel-good show of the season