“Who is that woman?”, I asked my friend Paul at the After Show Party for the World Premiere of Priscilla – The Musical (based on the 1990s Australian film). She’d just sung a dance version of “California Dreaming” (by the Mammas & Pappas) which was pretty groovy, but leading to me assume she was one of those nameless, faceless backing singers who had released a disco tune or two. “I don’t know”, he said, “but she must be famous for ONE song”. For the next five minutes or so we canvassed a range of possible names. Not for one moment, though, did we pick that it was Charlene, who famously wrote and sang “I’ve Never Been To Me”. Thank goodness, she told us who she was, because no one in the room had any idea.
“You guys are ossom”, she told us on more than one occasion. “The movie is ossom, the musical is ossom and you guys are ossom”. And without further ado… “Hey lady, you lady cursing at your life. You’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife”. We all knew the words, and so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when she walked into the audience singing “I’ve Never Been To Me”, often directly with people in the audience she walked up to them. How could you possibly follow that up? With a dance version of the same song, of course. This was just one of the moments that had me shrieking with laughter last night.
The other moment that had me literally in tears laughing was the much anticipated ping-pong ball scene, one of the most controversial moments in the movie which concerns three drag queens undertaking a road trip through the Australian outback. Arriving in the middle of nowhere, the drag queens are truly shocked to discover a “Fillipino Bride” with a special talent for projectile shooting ping-pong balls from her vagina. As soon as the character arrived on stage, the whole audience took a deep breath wondering “Oh my goodness, are they gonna do it? How are they gonna do it”. Suffice it to say the most-anticipated scene in the musical was just as funny on stage, maybe even moreso because it was done live without any special camera angles.
Another show-stopping moment was the arrival in Broken Hill, as actor, Genevieve Lemon gave a tremendous performance as the “bogan chick” in the pub who challenged Bernadette to a drinking competition. The audience cried with laughter as she sang a country music-style version of “I Love The Nightlife”.
All of the songs were there, and some others, with the exception of ABBA, due to a copyright issue. So instead of carrying with him one of Agnetha’s poo’s, and being obsessed with ABBA, the younger drag queen loves Kylie. As there are so many production numbers, the musical also brings in a broader range of songs from the 60s-90s than were evident in the movie.
Almost every production number went over incredibly well, with great singing, terrific costumes, and one of the best stage props I’ve seen in a while – the bus. On occasions, though, some of the touches are so incredibly Australian – such as the road kill sequence – that I had to wonder how it would translate to the rest of the world, and to those who haven’t seen the movie.
I guess what saves it is that surprisingly, the plotline is quite good, focussing heavily on the relationship between Mitzi and his son, often poignantly, with one moment where I found myself a little teary. The musical also focusses on the relationship between Bernadette and the mechanic (the one married to the Fillipino Bride), meaning that all three leads were presented as well-formed complete characters.
I guess it was because it was such a complete musical that the audience responded so well, with a spontaneous and totally non-contrived standing ovation at the end. And this from a group of cynical media types, as the audience consisted of an A-list of Sydney and international celebrities. Locally, there was the likes of Mel & Kochy (they were sitting behind us), “Everywhere” Eddie Maguire, Jackie O, Hi-5 members, Neighbours cast members etc. Internationally, I spotted Neil Morrisey (Men Behaving Badley) and Barrie Humphries (who requested Heart Of Glass at the disco later), as well as Terrence Stamp (who played Bernadette in the movie) and Stephen Elliott (who wrote and directed the movie). Actually I spotted those two chatting outside at the After Show Party, wondering what they thought of it all.
And as for the party? Well, Charlene was a good inclusion. In keeping with the whole night, the party was also great fun, with great music, and loads of champagne (Chandon) though I was a little disappointed with the food. But it was, overall, a really great night, and I can’t help but recommend seeing “Priscilla – The Musical”.