It’s raining men!

It’s raining men!

Bernadette, Mitzi and Felicia are waiting to take you on the ride of your life. Be sure to get a ticket, because this is one bus trip you don’t want to miss. By Rebekah Kendal

Admittedly, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is not a musical for everyone. It may make those still clinging desperately to outdated notions of gender and sexuality squeamish. It’ll be hell for those who hate a good sing-a-long. And those with no sense of humour will definitely be annoyed by the raucous laughter.

But, for everyone else, what a treat!

‘Priscilla is essentially a celebration of diversity, wrapped up in an extravagant onstage party – sheer, unadulterated entertainment. The production is flamboyant, bold, brash, fabulous and perfectly suited to a rainbow nation like ours,’ explains SA resident director Anton Luitingh, who will be joining forces with local music director Bryan Schimmel and resident choreographer Duane Alexander.

‘Inevitably, a production about drag queens, transsexuals and mirrorballs may be considered risqué, but for those looking for something deeper, Priscilla is – in essence – a show about family: a gay father reuniting with his son; a man falling in love with a woman who just happens to be transsexual; and three central characters, friends who may not be brothers by blood, but who proclaim at every opportunity that “we are family!”’

Based on the award-winning 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the musical opened in Australia

in 2006. After a sold-out two-year run Down Under, it moved to London’s West End and, later, Broadway in New York.

The musical, which is peppered with popular hit tunes (think ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’), follows two drag queens and a transsexual woman as they journey across the Australian outback in a battered old bus called Priscilla. As they make their way to Alice Springs, they meet quirky characters, come face-to-face with ugly homophobia, and form relationships they never knew were possible.

Although the cast, live band, crew and creative team are made up entirely of locals, the production still has an international flavour. Worldwide international director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth will be joining the South African directorial team. ‘I first saw Priscilla in London a few years ago – starring Jason Donovan as Tick – and what surprised me about it was how funny and moving the show is,’ says SA director Luitingh. ‘Audiences were in fits of laughter, and it has so much heart.

‘Yes, it’s a feast for the eyes – there are incredible award-winning costumes at every corner and the music takes you on a remarkable trip down memory lane, but what I appreciated the most was how Simon Phillips’s direction beautifully captured the essence of a good old-fashioned road movie, with endearing characters who are on a journey of discovery. In a way, they are misfits with hearts of gold. The costumes are as big and bold as any of the characters. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who designed the costumes for the original film, won an Academy Award for their spectacular work.

‘Some of these designs, such as the glittery Gumby suits (outfits with huge floral headdresses and great flared legs), have become an iconic part of the world of Priscilla and so were recreated for the stage. The wigs and altogether more than 500 costume pieces create the flamboyant disco world of “glitz, glamour, and quivering bottom lips”.’

So, how does a cast of 28 cope with so many elaborate costume changes? With a lot of practice, says Luitingh. ‘Many of the cast in the show have never worn wigs, dresses or heels, so the rehearsal process is an interesting one – to say the least. The cast members are taught to do much of the work themselves, eventually speeding up their costume changes to around 15 seconds, applying all of their own make-up – lashes, lips and whatever else it takes to express themselves artistically through cosmetics and illusion.’

The principal roles will be played by South African favourites David Dennis, Daniel Buys, Phillip Schnetler and James Borthwick. They will be joined by a cast of other local performers — including Londiwe Dhlomo, Candida Mosoma and Thembeka Mnguni — who will quickly have you tapping your feet and humming along to your favourite songs.

‘This is the ultimate feel-good show,’ says Luitingh. ‘I have seen South African audience reactions to shows such as Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You and Jersey Boys. The response is electric. Our audiences love to have a good time in the theatre, to sing along to songs they know well, and to ultimately end up on their feet dancing at the end of the show. Priscilla Queen of the Desert guarantees all of this and more!’

Photography: Courtesy Images

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