“Every conceivable surface has been decked with sequins, spattered with coloured lights, plastered in mirrored chips or trimmed in feathers and fringe in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” said the New York Times, and it will be the same production which comes in to Milan in two weeks' time.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is one of the most successful Australian movies of all time. Shot almost entirely on location in just six weeks and on a tiny budget, it called for almost guerrilla-style filmmaking. Locals were pulled off the street to be extras, costumes were held together with glue, locations were secured at the last minute and cast and crew battled with both the flies and the heat of the desert. No one really knew what they were making.
The first time that writer Stephan Elliott saw Priscilla projected onto a screen was at a surprise screening at the 1994 San Francisco Film Festival. The reaction was delirious! Then, at the Cannes Film Festival, a near riot broke out as people fought to get a seat at the midnight slot. In the days that followed, a buying frenzy took place as distributors from all over the world snapped up rights.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert went on to win the Grand Prix du Publique at Cannes, BAFTAs, and an Academy Award for Costume Design.
The potential for Priscilla to be adapted as a stage musical may now seem obvious – the costumes, the music, the ‘numbers' were all there – but it took a UK screenwriter and producer, Allan Scott, to set the wheels in motion.
Scott teamed up with Michael Hamlyn, one of the film's producers (and a fellow Brit) and began negotiations to obtain the rights to stage the musical from the film's principal distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Two long years later, in July 2004, they were successful. It was exactly a decade since the film had been released.
The production progressed with the appointment in September 2005 of Simon Phillips as director. He began working with the show's writers – Allan Scott and the film's creative visionary writer and director Stephan Elliott, who had been ensconced in London developing the script, or ‘book', of the musical.
With stiletto flat to the floor, the musical began to take shape as it secured the remainder of its creative team: the film's award-winning costume designers, Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel, renowned stage designer Brian Thomson, the most experienced choreographer in Australia, Ross Coleman and, fresh from winning a Helpmann Award for Best Musical Direction for Dusty, musical director Stephen ‘Spud' Murphy.
In October 2006 at Sydney's Lyric Theatre, the AUD$6.5 million musical opened to advance sales of 50,000 tickets where it played for 11 months before transfering to Melbourne for a further 7-month sell-out season. A short visit to Wellington, New Zealand was followed by a return Sydney prior to the production crossing halfway across the world to open at London's Palace Theatre in spring 2009, and on Broadway earlier this year.
Now, in the last weeks of 2011, the musical opens in Milan. Antonello Angiolillo, Simone Leonardi and Mirko Ranù take on the three central characters. Bette Midler, producer of the Broadway version, cleaned up the script to make it more family friendly. As the Italian show will be translated there is no word on whether it will be as raunchy as London's hit, or tamer as Ms Midler demanded. Whatever it will put a smile on thousands of faces, and that's exactly what Italy needs right now.
For booking and information: tel: 02-27225 – www.priscillailmusical.it – email@example.com
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.