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Tuesday, June 13, 2017


(Daniel Buys as Tick, David Dennis as Bernadette & Phillip Schnetler as Adam)

Marvellous performances, fantastic costumes, great music, splendid choreography, stunning technicals ... and enough energy to drive a nuclear power station! (Review by Caroline Smart)

A trip to Johannesburg lately allowed me the chance to catch Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, which is now in its last week at the Teatro at Montecasino.

A vast lipstick dominates the stage as you walk into the auditorium. Behind it is a full tab showing a map of Australia with shiny marks showing the journey of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This is the name of the revamped old bus that travels across the Australian Outback from Sydney to Alice Springs carrying three drag artists - Bernadette, Tick and Adam.

They each have their own reasons to have a change of scene and aim to “boldly go where no drag queen has gone before”. Proceeding to cause chaos in the process, they are certainly an eye-opener – often an unwelcome one - for the people they meet en route, especially when they decide to go to a local bar in full hysterical drag.

It’s glitz and glamour from the word go as the sparkling curtains are raised to reveal an ever more glittery Sydney Harbour Bridge whereupon the cast explode onto the stage and belt into the high-energy It’s Raining Men.

From then on, it’s a fabulous feast of marvellous performances, fantastic costumes, great music, splendid choreography, stunning technicals ... and enough energy to drive a nuclear power station!

Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is a hit musical which is based on the Oscar winning film. It has been brought to South Africa by Showtime Management in association with Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and Nullarbor. The Priscilla international director, Dean Bryant, together with choreographer, Andrew Hallsworth came to South Africa to mount the show’s SA debut together with Resident Director, Anton Luitingh; Musical Director, Bryan Schimmel and Resident Choreographer, Duane Alexander. As Schimmel is currently on holiday, Kevin Kraak was leading the band through the ever-popular numbers such as I Will Survive, Hot Stuff, Go West, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I Love The Nightlife.

Featuring a local cast, the production triumphantly uses the splendid Teatro Theatre space and technology to the full. The thunderous and rapturous responses from the audience throughout are testimony to the show’s impact.

The stage management and crew deserve high accolade. Here’s an idea of what it’s like backstage. There are 28 cast members, over 500 award-winning costumes and over 220 costume changes per performance. Added to this are 200 headdresses; 45 wigs, and 120 pairs of shoes. Each month 40 lipsticks in five different shades are used as well as 3,3 kg of make-up glitter. The scenery weighs 23 tons and the 10m customized bus weighs six tons!

The costume designs are incredible, ranging from the sublimely glorious to the hilariously ridiculous. My favourite was when the bus gets defaced by anti-gay graffiti and the trio sets about repainting, which provides the opportunity for some magical paintbrush costumes in Colour My World. Also medals to all for performing intricate movements with some truly outrageous shoes!

A totally unrecognisable – and I’ve known him for years - David Dennis is splendid as the transgender Bernadette, champion of the cutting barb. He creates exactly the right nuances and pathos for the more poignant scenes but mostly he’s in full-steam ahead mode and bitchy dialogue comes in a fusillade!

He is strongly supported by the other members of the trio who also give standout performances. Daniel Buys is Tick/Mitzi, who describes himself as a “drag queen on the verge of a nervous breakdown” and is in the throes of trying to cope with issues from the past. Phillip Schnetler as the outrageous and daredevil Adam/Felicia is a superb dancer and skilfully handles the innate helplessness required of the character.

KZN is represented with former Durban actresses Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini and Thembeka Mnguni who form part of the glamorous Divas threesome, often gracefully descending from the fly-bars in glorious white feathers. Taryn-Lee Buys, who is originally from Durban, plays Marion, Tick’s former wife.

In the midst of all this glitz, glam and outrageousness is James Borthwick who is excellent as Bob, the typical pragmatic mechanic clad in down-to-earth shirt and shorts who is called to help when the bus breaks down. Another delightful performance comes from Chantal Herman as Bob’s volatile wife and from Candice van Litsenborgh in the pub scene. Levi Maron impressed as Benji, Tick’s son.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical originally opened in Australia in 2006 and after a sell-out two year run, opened on London’s West End followed by Broadway in New York. It continues to wow audiences across the globe with recent return tours to the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It has won awards all over the world, including prestigious Olivier and Tony awards.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical runs in the Teatro Theatre at Montecasino until June 18, 2017, and – if you can get tickets – it’s truly well worth the drive up to Johannesburg. It’s a show not to be missed and hopefully it will come back to South Africa after its international tour.

Booking is at or on 0861 915 8000. Group bookings for 20 and more are available at – Caroline Smart

This musical contains some strong language and adult themes, therefore parental guidance is recommended for children under the age of 14.