Show fit for a Queen … or three

Show fit for a Queen … or three

Dress rehearsal images: BEAK Photographics

Priscilla Queen of the Desert may be well-known for its upbeat musical score and outlandish costumes, but it also has a thought-provoking message that resonates now more than ever.

Redcliffe Musical Theatre (RMT) is bringing the much-loved stage show to Redcliffe Entertainment Centre next month, exploring its different layers while guaranteeing audiences will leave with smiles on their faces and a disco beat in their hearts.

RMT President and Director Madeleine Johns says it is an incredibly brave show for a theatre company like RMT to stage, with high expectations to meet and a complex but incredible set, while also paying the cast and helping the arts industry in its recovery.

COVID-19 also makes staging a musical challenging at presents as production companies manage cast and crew absences.

“Even now, shows are cancelling or being postponed because actors are getting sick,” Madeleine says.

Careful planning for all scenarios is essential and it adds to the cost of staging a production.

“It’s a matter of absolute teamwork. People have got to work together. It’s difficult days for us to be doing a massive show with huge overheads. We need the community to get behind us,” she says.

“I want Redcliffe to come out and see the show. It’s a fun show.”

Show with many layers

Madeleine says it has a fabulous musical score but also tells a deeper story about the unjust way members of the LGBTIQA community were treated during the 1980s.

“It’s a snapshot in time. It was a time when Australia was really grappling with homosexuality, Mardi Gras had only been going a couple of years, there were fears around AIDS,” she says.

“It’s good for us to now look at it and say, ‘haven’t we come a long way and how much more inclusive we are, but we still have a way to go and need to have more discussion’.

“Going to see Priscilla can open up these discussions.”

Auditions were held in November and the result is an experienced and talented cast, ready to wow audiences.

Madeleine says it has been a different rehearsal process and more professional - learning the music first followed by intensive all-day rehearsals five days a week before technical work and ‘bumping in’.

“It’s a high standard of show you don’t have to go to QPAC or the Sunshine Coast to see,” she says.

Her favourite scene visually is the finale which has a distinctly Australiana theme with outlandish costumes, while her favourite number is I Will Survive, set in the outback where Aboriginal culture meets drag queen culture.

“I can’t imagine anyone not walking out and saying that was fun. It will put a smile on their faces,” Madeleine says.

SHOW DETAILS

When: March 12, 2pm and 7.30pm; March 13, 2pm and 6.30pm; March 18, 7.30pm; March 19, 2pm and 7.30pm and March 20, 2pm.

Where: Redcliffe Entertainment Centre

Tickets: $65 adults, $57.50 concession, $50 child, $195 family (2 adults + 2 children) + booking fee

Visit: redcliffemusicaltheatre.com or redcliffeentertainmentcentre.com.au or phone 3283 0407

Meet the stars of Priscilla

Shannon Foley, Bernadette

The Murrumba Downs resident was born in Townsville, studied at the Conservatorium Griffith University Brisbane and Britten Opera School Royal College of Music London. Professionally they have worked with Opera Queensland, Opera Australia and Cologne Opera Germany.

Shannon’s musical theatre roles include Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz for Savoyards Musical Comedy Society, Dr Dillamond in Wicked for Matt Ward Productions, Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Chairman in The Mystery of Edwin Drood for Phoenix Ensemble, Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar for Lynch and Paterson, Harry Bright in Mamma Mia for The Show Co. and Bernadette in Priscilla Queen of the Desert for Mad About Theatre, Jean Valjean in Les Misérables for Lynch & Paterson. Shannon is excited to be Stepping back into the heels of Bernadette for Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Shannon, who identifies as non-binary, has carefully considered the way they want to portray the character of Bernadette, a transgender woman.

“I want the comedy to come from the fact that she’s powerful and funny and knows exactly where she’s been and where she’s going,” Shannon says.

Bernadette has also experienced violence, which was commonplace on the 1970s and 80s.

“The bravery that Bernadette has displayed from the time she decided she was a woman … it wasn’t as known or understood as it’s slowly becoming now. It’s taking longer than we would all like,” Shannon says.

“The beautiful thing about Priscilla is within the three main characters, there’s three experiences of growing up. Bernadette’s experience is steeped in the 70s when walking down the street would easily result in violence.”

Shannon says Tick’s is more reflective of his own, when the community was starting to be more accepting, and Felicia’s reflects a more modern experience.

“It’s a beautiful story of three perspectives,” they say.

Shannon says being in a production that tells a story about your own experience and that of your fellow cast members is special.

“The connection within in the cast in telling the story is something that I haven’t experienced in any other show,” they say.

“To be representing the area that you live in and the community your proud of … I’m really excited.”

Shannon’s favourite scene/number: “I love when Bernadette first comes on for the song Don’t Leave Me this Way. She’s suffered a big loss and is trying to pick herself up … and I love the outfit”.

Their second favourite is when the three queens sing We Belong. “It takes on a new context, finding your family where you belong and fit in,” Shannon says.

Jaden Armitage, Benji

The 10-year-old Margate resident is excited to hit the stage in his 4th show with Redcliffe Musical Theatre.

Jaden made his musical theatre debut as part of the ensemble in School of Rock in 2021. He caught the theatre bug and joined the Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s ROAR Academy shortly after. Jaden performed in the 2021 All Together Now and has been juggling Priscilla rehearsals with ROAR Academy’s Aladdin Jr where he took on the role of BAB one of Aladdin’s comedic.

At the age of four, Jaden started at the Sharon Alback Dance Centre where he studied ballet, tap and jazz and enjoyed being part of their Entertainment Group.

He is excited to be the youngest cast member in RMT’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

“It’s really disco, music and fun and I like the costumes,” he says.

Adrian Carr, Bob the mechanic

The experienced performer’s bio includes more than 80 shows over the years, mainly in Melbourne – some independent and professional shows but mostly community theatre.

Carr, of Ipswich, has just finished performing in Jersey Boys at Star Casino and is looking forward to playing Bernadette’s love interest, Bob in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

“Bob is the heart of the show. He’s ‘every man’ in the show and accepts the boys without any judgement,” he says.

“He’s the romantic lead in the show … the leading man who gets the girl.”

Carr says Bob shows complete acceptance of the LGBTIQA community, which is central to the show’s message.

His favourite scene/number: “I have one little song in the show, so I guess it should be that one. It’s A Fine Romance”.

Alex Watson, Felicia Jolly Goodfellow/Adam

Hailing as a 2018 graduate from the Bachelor of Musical Theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium, Alex prides himself on being charismatic, confident and a self-proclaimed pocket rocket.

The South Brisbane resident said the arts was a vehicle for sharing with the world what he loves most – joy.

“I was always dancing on the kitchen table as a kid but didn’t discover musical theatre until my later high school years,” Watson says.

He saw his friend perform and knew it would be something he would enjoy.

In 2021, audiences saw Watson perform as Carmen Ghia in The Producers (Altitude Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse), Eddie/Ensemble in Mamma Mia (Matt Ward Entertainment, The Star Casino), Laurence/Featured Ensemble in Mamma Mia (The Show Co) and as a vocalist in The Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols (The Little Red Company, Riverstage).

He is embracing the role of Felicia +Jolly Goodfellow/Adam in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

“As a queer Australian, it’s really rare you get to share a story on stage that’s queer and Australian,” Watson says.

It’s important to him to be able to tell the story and he loves the indestructible energy of Felicia’s character, which he can relate to in many ways.

“It’s really special in this current climate to make people laugh and cry,” he says.

Favourite scene/number: “Go West’ because it’s so inspiring and out of this world and Hot Stuff – it’s an indestructible moment”.

Paige McKay, Manly

Maddison Coleman, Morayfield

Laura Greenhalgh, Paddington

Paige McKay, Manly; Maddison Coleman, Morayfield; Laura Greenhalgh, Paddington - Three Divas

The dynamic trio will be performing the songs the main characters lip synch to and add an ‘omnipresent sense of fabulousness’ by contributing to the colour and fun of the show.

All three are excited about the show and love the powerhouse opening Raining Men, which is ‘goosebump material and like a runaway train’.

Paige McKay discovered a love for performing at a young age, studying a Bachelor of Musical Theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, and graduating in 2018.

She performed in a number of shows during her studies and credits include The Golden Thread with Dead Puppet Society, performing as a guest artist for the Brisbane Helpmann Award Nominations, working on the creative development of Fangirls with Queensland Theatre Company, a Top 30 finalists for the Rob Guest Endowment and a recent tour across Australia in Margaret Fulton the Musical.

Laura Greenhalgh, originally from Brisbane, graduated from the University of Ballarat Arts Academy in 2013 and has since toured internationally with live shows including Chatterbox Playtime! Show (Hi-5), Aladdin’s Adventure (Pen2Stage) and Paw Patrol Live! The Great Pirate Adventure (Lifelike Touring.) Her musical theatre credits include Merrily We Roll Along (Watch This) and Memphis the Musical (StageArt.) At the end of 2019, Laura returned to Australia after completing a 7-month contract aboard the Norwegian Epic, performing in Priscilla Queen of the Desert as the Female Swing. She recently completed Jersey Boys the Musical at the Star Casino.

Maddison Coleman, originally from the UK, has been involved in the musical theatre community for as long as she can remember. She has completed a Bachelor of Musical Theatre at Griffith University and has performed in a variety of roles since then.

Liam J O’Byrne, alternate Bernadette and Miss Understanding

The Kelvin Grove resident grew up in Redcliffe and is a graduate of Humpybong State School and Mueller College.

He started performing in community theatre when he was five years old with Mousetrap Theatre before he could read.

“This is a full circle moment for me,” O’Byrne says.

He is looking forward to performing as the alternate Bernadette and another character Miss Understanding, who is a drag queen in Sydney and opens the show, hosting a night at the club where Tick and Adam perform. She has a conversation with the audience and sets the tone and mood for the show.

“I feel like Bernadette is really the heart of the show and her story is such a special one … a trans woman in the 80s and 90s. It was very different to now,” O’Byrne says.

“She’s a mother figure, a unifying figure to Adam and Tick. She’s fierce as all hell but deep down is really supportive and will be there if you need her. She’s a well-rounded character, not two-dimensional at all.

“I think Priscilla is the great Australian queer musical. It’s done so well and been so successful and really paved the way for the drag artists of Australia. It’s a story about acceptance and a story within a story.”

Conor Ensor, Tick

The Springwood resident is a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and also has a teaching qualification from the University of Queensland.

Ensor is a versatile performer with a wealth of knowledge to bring in from both within and outside the industry.

He recently toured with Margaret Fulton The Musical and was in London before COVID-19 hit.

“It kind of put a dampner on it. I’m waiting for things to take off again. I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to do this. There aren’t many jobs where you can do this,” Ensor says.

He says Tick’s character fascinates him because he is insecure about his sexuality, having been married and having a child, and struggling with society’s barriers to the gay community at that time.

“For me, it’s a representation of how far Australia has come and how far we’ve all got to go,” Ensor says.

He has two favourite scenes, Always on My Mind, a moment of connection between Tick and his son after years of separation and Colour My World.

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