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Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Duncan James and the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo: Paul Coltas Duncan James and the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo: Paul Coltas
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For a musical celebrating Australian drag at its glittermost, with a gloriously garish rites of passage story that pitches prejudice against pride, all held together by a playlist of instantly recognised jukebox anthems, this second UK touring production is a bit like a cupcake without the eye candy topping.

A reliance on rather drab-looking red drapes instead of full-on scenery, especially in the second act, transforms a production that ought to deliver a showy saga of three drag acts finding empowerment by travelling through the outback to perform on Ayers Rock into what begins to look as if austerity has gripped Australia.

Against this less-than-glitzy background, even the show’s titular star, Priscilla, the iconic bus that transports transsexual Bernadette and “gender illusionists” Tick (Mitzi) and Adam (Felicia) on a quest to find acceptance, begins to look like a jalopy in dire need of servicing.

Fortunately, the costumes are still as cartoonishly funny as they were in the original London production, while the cast and ensemble never put a high-heeled foot wrong. His days as the glamour boy of Blue rapidly fading into the distance, Duncan James has already transitioned from arena concerts to musical theatre via Chicago and Legally Blonde and here manages to make gay transvestite dad Tick a surprisingly rounded camp character, plucking heartstrings when he finally gives fatherhood a shot and bonds with his son. Adam Bailey, too, finds redeeming features in vicious little sissy Felicia, while Simon Green’s ex-show queen Bernadette is a never just a fella in a frock.

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A bright new cast take Priscilla on the road again, but are let down by drab sets