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Priscilla Queen Of The Desert review

Süddeutsche Zeitung: A step closer to heaven in drag

Gil Mehmert’s musical production “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” at the Munich Gärtnerplatztheater has the makings of a legend - by Klaus Kalchschmid

The audience in the just reopened Gärtnerplatztheater is raving in grand applause right from the first song “It’s Raining Men”: seven hunks in long robes fall from the drawing floor unto the stage and perform a striptease in fast motion by ridding themselves of their long manteaux’ and leather harnesses hugging their muscular chests. They dance half naked through the first of many perfectly timed, quick, and precise choreographies. Even more roaring applause after the famous shaky bus from the legendary movie from 1994 “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” enters the stage for the first time.

In 2006, Simon Philips adapted the whacky and at the same time endearing and humorous movie by Stephen Elliott about three drag queens travelling from Sydney through the Australian outback to Alice Springs into a musical with arrangements by Stephen “Spud” Murphy. It is only now, after its world premiere in Sydney, after London, and after more than 500 performances on Broadway in New York, and after numerous guest-performances, that the musical’s acclaimed German version finally premiered at the Munich Gärtnerplatztheater. Outstanding singing and dancing by the lead characters: Tick (alias Doris Gay alias Armin Kahl is extremely likeable in his reluctance as well as in his struggle for assertiveness), the young, keenly provocative, ballsy Adam (sometimes also Felicita Jollygoodfellow) played by the wonderfully lively and wound up Terry Alfaro, and the aging transsexual Bernadette (a textbook example of a grande dame with wonderful quirks played by Erwin Windegger). Bernadette, once a member of the legendary “Les Girls”-troupe, just lost her partner. Bound by destiny, the three men form a tight community during their week-long trip through the desert. As a trio they endure through many tensions and innuendos. However, the three drag artists face a different main challenge: it is having to stand up against rejection. The social rejection of singing and dancing men in drag. During their journey they are ridiculed, their bus is defaced by a “Fags, go home!”-graffiti, and Adam is almost raped. It is only at the journey’s end and at the trip’s destination that the story takes a positive turn: upon request of Tick’s wife (Tanja Schön), the three men perform their grand show and a terrified Tick finally stands in front of his son Benji (Timothy Scannell) whose reaction to his father’s job and homosexuality turns out surprisingly unperturbed. Also Bernadette finds love in a relationship with the elderly and at the same time tolerant and charming mechanic Bob (a cuddly Frank Berg) who for the last part of the trip dedicates himself to repairing the old bus.  

Director Gil Mehmert teams up with choreographer Melissa King and Jens Kilian, whose fantastically interchangeable settings simply create the perfect illusion of over a dozen different locations, and succeeds at staging an event that amazes as a grand show in a “jukebox musical” with a lineup of over thirty popular (often legendary) songs listed in the program. He also succeeds at telling the story of three very different men with empathy, humor, and tempo. The brutal game with beer-benches prepares the audience unambiguously for the violence to come; intimacies are exchanged on the runway protruding from the deepness of the orchestra pit while on all other levels dancing and singing is frantic. Jeff Frohner directs the orchestra, a grand and ingeniously amplified combo. One would never expect that only some days later this same orchestra will perform the late Romantic opera “Hansel and Gretel”.

Every single location mirrored in the musical’s narration is magically brought onstage at the blink of an eye: be it a changing room or children’s room, saloon or fast-food joint, or a stage on stage, and repeated times the bus with its plushy interior and the huge pink sparkling ladies’ shoe on its roof – in which Adam lip-synchs to the Traviata and mocks its mimics and gestures, or even Ayers Rock. It is on the top of Ayers Rock where Adam finally fulfills his dream of becoming and singing “a cock in a frock on a rock”.  The same goes for the costumes. Be it shiny patent or real leather, over-the-top wigs, glitter and glamour for the male-trio and the “divas” (Dorina Garuci, Jessica Kessler, Amber Schoop), seventies trash, miners’-gear, lumberjack shirts for singing cowboys, white feathered tutus for ballet dancers or a funeral party with black quilling and wheel-like huge hats: Alfred Mayerhofer is not lost for any variation – be it elegant, colorful, or decisively tacky.

After the excellent staging of “Cabaret” and “The Man of La Mancha” four years ago at the Reithalle in Coburg and of “Dangerous Liaisons” in 2015 at the Cuvilliés Theater, this first musical production at the Gärtnerplatztheater, his new old home, has all it takes to become a legend.

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