Desert fun, in drag
Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the most successful Australian musical of all time, is making its Philadelphia premiere now through March 3 at the Academy of Music.
Adapted from the 1994 Academy Award-winning film, the production follows a trio of friends searching for love and friendship on a road trip as they travel across the Australian Outback to a remote town to perform a drag queen show. Priscilla features a hit parade of more than 20 dance floor favorites including It’s Raining Men, I Will Survive, Say a Little Prayer and others.
One of those “friends” is played by Bryan West, who takes the dual role of Adam and Felicia, and joins the tour direct from the Broadway run after having amassed a number of other Broadway credits.
“I guess you could say I’ve been pretty lucky, since I always wanted to be a performer and here I am today doing just what I always wanted to do,” West said. “Growing up, music was always around me all the time. My parents had a big collection of music. And whenever I sang at family functions, which was as often as I could, I got lots of attention, and what kid doesn’t like all that attention? So, for me, I think that’s how it all started.”
Living in Baltimore, West went from performing at family functions, to enrolling in the High School for the Performing Arts, where he said he got his first formal training. “And by the time I was 16, I really got the bug when I got a summer job in Nashville singing in a show at Opryland and opening for Tammy Wynette.”
Urged by his parents to get more education, West returned to Nashville after his high school graduation to enroll at Belmont University. But when a chance to tour Europe with a pop band came along, everyone, including his teachers, urged him to take the job.
“You know,” he said, “I think I’ve been pretty lucky my whole life. I never had any horrible jobs. I’ve been working in show business almost non-stop from the beginning. When I got back from Europe, I moved to Los Angeles where I heard they were holding auditions for Hairspray. I tried out and got a part, which was my first Broadway show.”
There have been others, and now Priscilla, which, West insists, is one of the most fun shows to do, both for the performers and the audience, and one of his favorites. This is the story of two drag queens and a transsexual who contract to perform the drag show at a remote resort. The three friends encounter any number of strange characters, as well as homophobia, while widening their comfort zones and finding new horizons. West admits that he and other cast members were a little nervous while performing the show in small towns throughout the Midwest, but everything has worked out well.
“In smaller towns, it takes the audience a little longer to warm up, but eventually, they get there,” West explained. “At first, they’re not sure what they’ve gotten themselves into, but soon they get into the show just like other audiences in the bigger cities. They can’t help themselves. This is a dance-in-the-aisle kind of show without question.”
Prepared to stay on the road touring for the next year, West is happy abut his current role and looks forward to continuing in this business. His advice to other young talents would be to be persistent and stay focused.
“I would also tell them to get as much training as they can and develop a very thick skin, since they’ll probably get turned down 95 percent of the time when trying out for roles. But if you love this and can’t see yourself doing anything else, then just stick with it.”
For times and ticket information, call 215-731-3333. ••