It’s a homecoming for singer/actor Bryan West – and family members will be there for him in his Las Vegas debut tonight in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at the Venetian. They knew he’d shine under the spotlight, but they didn’t expect him to be doing it in his former hometown -- while prancing around in sexy women's lingerie!
Bryan plays Adam, whose drag-queen persona is Felicia, in the musical about two female impersonators and a transgender entertainer on a trip through the Australian outback.
His partners in the scandalous-sequins show are actors Wade McCollum and Scott Willis. They’re all here with their battered bus -- Priscilla -- until Aug 18.
Bryan's grandfather was a Las Vegas fire chief for 25 years and he still has family here.
I talked with him as cast and crew ended their Los Angeles run and packed for Las Vegas. Our interview has been edited for brevity and clarity:
What do you enjoy about "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert?"
Out of all the shows I’ve ever done, it’s the reaction from the audience that’s probably the most overwhelming feeling I’ve ever had. They keep you going with their screams and their singing along. You can see people that have probably never had that much fun in a theater experience, just kind of letting go. It just makes me feel so good to bring that to other people. Plus the outrageous subject matter of the show is also just fun to do on a nightly basis. It doesn’t really get old, ever.
It looks and sounds as if you’re having a party up there on stage.
Totally. When I’m laughing on stage it’s for real -- almost every emotion that I’m feeling on stage, it happened. I’m really going through that on stage because the way the show is written you can’t fail to have a good time.
Talk about the message of tolerance that comes through in the play. If you were to tell people you were doing a story of three drag queens traveling in the desert to lip-sync at a disco show, you’d say somebody’s lost their marbles, it can’t possibly work. Yet the tender love, friendship and the message of tolerance ties it together.
We’re very lucky to not only have a show that is very funny and entertaining, but that people also can take something away from. Personally, I feel like the audience comes maybe expecting only to have the party side of it, but they can’t help but relate to each of the main characters in the show. The way the characters are written is very endearing and real. We’re not just drag queens, we’re just being who we are and I think that as long as you do that; as long as you are who you are and just put it out there, people can't help but accept it eventually.
Does the tender story between the lead (Bernadette, played by Scott) and Bob the mechanic ever rub people the wrong way?
I think because Bernadette is such a classy broad, so to speak, because she is so beautiful and always presented from the beginning as being a woman, which she is at this point, I feel the audience doesn’t ever really question it. It’s surprising because you would think, "Oh, a transsexual is gonna maybe have this love story with this mechanic," but I think when you see the show it’s almost like Bernadette is the one that people relate to the most. I feel like my grandma would be like, "Oh Bernadette, she’s like my friend, you know."
This musical is almost a 100-percent accurate reproduction of the 1994 movie.
Yeah, and I love that about it. I did see the movie, too. I was just a kid and an only child. I’d always been singing in school but never really thought about it seriously. I just remember the whole Australian authenticity of the film was so different from anything that I’d ever seen, except for "Rocky Horror Picture Show," or something that was just as bold and outrageous. I'd really hoped the script and everything in the show would be very similar.
Keeping the three of you leads straight, and that’s not a pun, you’re the bitchy antagonist right?
Yeah, I am. Every show needs some shock value, every show needs somebody to stir the pot a little bit and I kinda keep that spark going the whole time.
Looking forward to the Vegas run?
I am, I really am. I haven’t been to Las Vegas since I was a kid, but my mom, Sherrie West, grew up in Vegas. My grandpa, Frank Dossing, was the chief of the fire department there for 25 years. I have a lot of family in the area that’s looking forward to seeing the show. I just don’t think they expected me to come back starring in women's underwear though!
The Vegas run at the Venetian is longer than most of your tour stops with this national company.
Yes, and we’re really looking forward to that as well. It gives all of us a chance to unpack properly and lead a normal life for a while. This show is so big: Can you imagine doing it for just one week and moving this complicated production to another city in one day? That’s what we kind of did the first half of the tour and it’s such a challenge for our crew and everybody involved to unload a show like that and then reload it all within like a day or two. So Las Vegas is going to be really great.
"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" opens tonight at the former "Phantom of the Opera" theater in the Venetian. Check that chandelier for G-strings because a ton of sparkling confetti, feather boas and glittering garb will go flying. Read our interview with head of wardrobe Gillian Austin, who keeps track of the hundreds of whimsical colorful costumes, here.
"Priscilla" ends its Las Vegas run Aug. 18. Tickets start at $59.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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