Preview: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Helen Nugent speaks to former pop star Noel Sullivan on what it’s like to harness his inner drag queen in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert

Hero image

There has been a rash of musical adaptations of popular films in recent years, many of which have been massive hits. However, compared to the likes of Mamma Mia!, Flashdance and The Bodyguard, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert treads a different path.

“It deals with serious issues even though it’s wrapped in this big camp world,” says Noel Sullivan, who is starring in the nationwide tour of the show. “Not a lot of musicals deal with themes like this.”

Adapted from the 1994 film of the same name, Priscilla opened in Australia in 2006 and has since enjoyed successful runs in both the West End and on Broadway. On its original cinematic release, Priscilla caused quite a stir and was credited with promoting Australian cinema across the globe. Its central premise – the journey of two drag queens and a transsexual woman across the Australian outback – delighted audiences and critics alike and the film was praised for its positive portrayal of homosexuality.

Years later and the stage show is still drawing them in. A combination of dancefloor favourites, outrageous costumes and a roll call of leading musical theatre actors means that Priscilla has won new fans as well as keeping long-term devotees happy.

Sullivan is sharing the role of drag queen Tick with Jason Donovan. While Sullivan is best known as a former member of the band Hear’Say, the Welsh-born singer trained as a chorister and has built a career in musical theatre, starring in shows such as We Will Rock You, Flashdance and Grease. So appearing in Priscilla shouldn’t be too much of a culture shock.

“It’s full on. I came from We Will Rock You into Priscilla and physically Priscilla is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I have 40 seconds to a minute to change costumes. I’m like a racing car coming into the pits. All the cast had about five weeks to ramp up to crazy town whereas I learnt the show in about ten days. But you just have to throw yourself into it and let yourself go.”

The film version of Priscilla won an Academy Award for its costumes and was nominated for a raft of other accolades. Its soundtrack was a bestseller and, according to Sullivan, the production has every audience dancing in the aisles.

“I’ve not seen one show where the audience wasn’t on its feet,” Sullivan, 33, says. “The film Priscilla had such a cult following and it’s a such a perfect piece to turn into a musical. Priscilla has a great story to start off with and some of the best disco hits around. There are lots of guilty pleasures. And everyone leaves the show buzzing.”

Like Mamma Mia!, Priscilla relies on a raft of popular hits to inject energy into the show. The show is peppered with so-called camp classics ranging from Go West by the Village People and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive to It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls.

Unlike his previous musical performances, splitting the role of Tick with Donovan means that Sullivan gets a bit of time off.

He explains: “Jason does a few weeks on and then I go on for a few weeks. This is new for me. It’s been nice to have a life as well.”

Next up for Sullivan and the show is the Lyceum in Sheffield, followed by a stint at the Hull New Theatre in early November. “I was at the Lyceum with Flashdance in 2009,” says Sullivan. “I’m looking forward to going back. Touring is great as you get to go round the country and see how the towns and cities are changing.”

The Priscilla tour is a far cry from Sullivan’s days on the road with Hear’Say, a band formed on the first series of the reality TV show Popstars. The group’s debut single became the fastest selling number one single in the UK chart at the time but the band disbanded less than two years later.

“I don’t miss being in Hear’Say.”. Sullivan reflects. “It was an amazing experience but it was right at the start of what is now the X-Factor machine.

“We were the guinea pigs for what the show became.”

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the Sheffield Lyceum from
29 October until 2 November

Interact: Responses to Preview: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.