FOR Newcastle's Metropolitan Players, life has been imitating art in the company's quest to stage the blockbuster, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Just as the characters in the musical go on an epic journey, defying all manner of challenges to put on a show, the Metropolitan Players have been on an odyssey to get Priscilla into the Civic Theatre.
"We've been travelling longer than Priscilla the bus," said Julie Black, the artistic director of Metropolitan Players.
Unlike the performers on the bus in the musical, the Metropolitan Players' long journey has been due not to a desert but COVID-19.
The production was originally slated for 2020.Then the pandemic forced it to be postponed, and the season was rescheduled for August this year. Then came the latest lockdown, so Priscilla was bumped to October. Finally, Priscilla is due to reach its destination and roll onto the Civic stage from Wednesday for seven performances.
As Mrs Black, the production's director, put it, "Fourth time lucky."
Julie Black said she never lost hope that Priscilla would be staged. If it wasn't, more than just a production was at stake. Metropolitan Players, one of the cultural cornerstones of this city, could have gone under.
"It got to the stage that if we didn't put [the production] on this year, we were through after almost 45 years," she said.
"So this show is make or break."
This is the first time Priscilla has been staged in Newcastle, and the production marks a return to live shows in the Civic Theatre.
And if the end of lockdown means people can frock up once more, then is there a more joyously eye-popping, jaw-dropping example than Priscilla?
"Over the years, I've seen lots of costumes, but I've never seen anything like this before," said Julie Black.
About 400 costumes feature in the show, each one created and crafted by the hands and design talents of Bev Fewins and Steve Harrison.
Having worked together on shows since 2010, the designing pair said Priscilla wore the crown as the most dazzling and challenging.
"I think this might have topped it, with the diversity of costumes," Mrs Fewins said.
"We've got everything from giant paintbrushes to flowers, frilled-neck lizards and koalas to gumnuts," added Mr Harrison, who had intended to retire before deciding to pull out the needles and thread once more.
"I thought because it's Priscilla, it's a good chance to go wild."
They sourced materials from as far afield as the United States and Britain, then, in their homes, they created the costumes over the past two years. For three wattle dresses, Bev Fewins used about a kilometre of yellow fabric.
Steve Harrison created some patriotic jackets, after he saw some material imprinted with the Australian flag for sale in a Spotlight store in Lismore.
"I thought, 'Hmmm', and it was reduced to two dollars a metre, so it was a bargain," he said.
The upside to the COVID-created delays was that the designers had more time to produce costumes, to concentrate on the detail, and to really pile on the wow factor.
To weave their costume magic, the designers had a budget of more than $30,000. Another $10,000 went to headdresses and wigs, designed by George Francis, in a production that is costing about $350,000, which Julie Black hopes pays off at the box office.
"If you choose Priscilla, you've got to put the money into these magnificent things, otherwise it's not the same show," she said.
The further easing of restrictions had been a "stroke of luck", Mrs Black said, with capacity for the 1474-seat theatre returning to 100 per cent on Monday, "so that plays in our favour".
As well as the 37 actors and singers on stage and 15 musicians in the orchestra pit, there are about 15 hairdressers and five make-up artists.
"We have about 10 dressers, because of the quick costume changes," she said.
In all, there are about 100 people working on the production. And after waiting for so long to put on a show, the cast members are "jumping out of their skin" to belt out the big numbers in Priscilla, including "I Will Survive", which carries even more meaning after the past 21 months or so.
"It's funny, it's colourful, and the music is so wonderful, you want to get up and dance," said Julie Black.
"It's just the show Newcastle needs after the COVID lockdown."
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