The Suburbanite
  • Cleveland-bound ‘Priscilla’ musical is anything but a drag

  • In jukebox style, “Priscilla” serves up song after familiar song — “True Colors,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Material Girl,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Hot Stuff,” “I Love the Nightlife.”

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  • “I wondered what it would be like to be in full drag in a place like Peoria,” actor Bryan West said. “And I found out last night, and they liked it!”
    “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” an outrageous Broadway musical about two drag queens and a transsexual traveling across the Australian outback in a bedazzling school bus to the pulsing disco strains of “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men,” might seem to have, um, specialized appeal.
    But at its first preview in this quintessentially Midwestern city — home to the vaudeville expression “Will it play in Peoria?” — “Priscilla” played just fine. The show opens Tuesday at Cleveland’s Palace Theatre for a two-week run.
    “To me this show is a little like Mardi Gras,” said West, who plays the dual role of Adam-Felicia. “People down South allow themselves to be caught up in Mardi Gras and all the craziness, and then they go to church the next day.”
    In ”Priscilla,” which is based on a 1994 film starring Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce, a drag performer named Tick is summoned by his long-estranged wife to come visit the son he has never known.
    Coincidentally, she runs a casino with a showroom in the middle of nowhere, so Tick enlists two of his performing pals to join him, packing up plenty of wigs and heels for their colorful ride through dusty hicksville. (He neglects to tell them the wife-and-kid part.) Misadventures ensue, to a disco beat.
    The show’s more than 500 costumes, which won the show a Tony Award, are eye-popping and over the top. “At one point, I run into the bus to change and I get into a silver-sequined bodysuit with full makeup and a silver-flame headpiece,” West said. “There are four or five people pulling things off me and pulling things on. I get scrapes from the sequins because it is so fast.”
    After he emerges in his silver finery, “I have to climb up the bus, get into a giant silver high-heel shoe and lip-sync an entire Italian (opera) aria.”
    When costumed as Felicia, some of West’s platform shoes and headdresses make him 8 feet tall. Is dancing a challenge? “You can still find ways to move and make yourself look fabulous,” he said.
    In jukebox style, “Priscilla” serves up song after familiar song — “True Colors,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Material Girl,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Hot Stuff,” “I Love the Nightlife.”
    “The songs are not just out of nowhere. They come from what’s happening with the characters,” West said. “It’s a great show about finding your own family.” His Madonna-obsessed character gets his chance to sing the anthemic “Like a Prayer.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “I do three numbers in a row. You definitely have to build up your stamina,” West said. “This character sweats a lot in the show. I felt like a California raisin last night, I was so dry. I’m figuring out how to hide water in the bus.”
    This just-launched national tour is not West’s first experience with “Priscilla.” He was an ensemble member for the recent Broadway production, and as such was garbed as a paintbrush, cupcake and lizard for various musical numbers. On Broadway in “Priscilla” and previously in “Hairspray,” West befriended castmate and Jackson High School grad Ashley Spencer. “We had a lot of fun together,” recalled West, a Baltimore native.
    As a cast member of the national tour of “Wicked” — he understudied Fiero — West once spent a month in Cleveland. “I’ve been on a couple of national tours,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to leave a partner and a dog behind for long amounts of time, but I thought it would be interesting to bring this story to people in random towns who would never see it otherwise, and to kids who are feeling different.
    “When I watched the (‘Priscilla’) movie as a kid, I knew there was something about it that I really liked,” he recalled. “I just didn’t know why yet.”

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