A Sydney drag queen accepts the offer of a gig from his ex-wife in Alice Springs. What follows is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is endurance, as he has to deal with the vicissitudes of his fellow artists, a temperamental bus and the prospect meeting his son.
Based on the 1994 movie, this stage adaptation takes the road-movie concept and translates it, fairly successfully, to the stage. Brian Thomson’s set is an awe-inspiring spectacle, incorporating glitter-ball sunsets and a life-size bus that moves around the Palace stage. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s outrageous costume designs mirror Thompson’s camp splendour, bringing to life a plethora of dazzling drag queens in all shapes and sizes.
From the ensemble Steven Cleverley and Wezley Sebastian get great opportunities to strut their stuff as the young Bernadette and Miss Understanding respectively, whilst Daniele Coombe and Kanako Nakano bring the house down, the latter garnering cheers of applause simply from her opening line. This familiarity with the source material is a mixed blessing, and director Simon Phillips ensures his cast milk every verbal and visual punchline dry. Thankfully this is counterpointed by some genuinely tender moments, particularly from Jason Donovan as Tick. Oliver Thornton makes a splendid Adam, joyously lip-syncing through Semper Libera whilst seated astride a ten-foot platform shoe that is strapped to a bus - surely a highlight on anyone’s CV. Ultimately the star of this show is Tony Sheldon as the classy, aging transsexual Bernadette. Playful, acerbic and glamorous, Sheldon imbibes Bernadette with a believable past and an equally plausible future with Bob, played by Clive Carter.
This Australian show may have the capacity to rival the remarkable Mamma Mia!, but whether or not it has the staying power is another matter.