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‘Priscilla’ performer West glad career has given him seat on bus

Saturday, February 9, 2013
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From left, Wade McCollum as Mitzi, Scott Willis as Bernadette and Bryan West as Felicia in the number “I Love the Nightlife,” from “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”  The show is at Proctors from Tuesday to next Sunday.
From left, Wade McCollum as Mitzi, Scott Willis as Bernadette and Bryan West as Felicia in the number “I Love the Nightlife,” from “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” The show is at Proctors from Tuesday to next Sunday.

Singing on stage was something Bryan West always imagined himself doing, but as member of a rock band, not as part of a musical theater troupe.

“Musical theater was never my ultimate goal,” said West, who plays Adam/Felicia in the national touring production of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” coming to Proctors for five days beginning Wednesday.

“I kind of fell into it. It was a way for me to perform musically and in front of an audience, and I found out just how much I loved singing in front of an audience.”

West was a part of the ensemble when “Priscilla” opened on Broadway in March of 2011. The play was nominated for two Tonys (winning for Best Costume) and, when the show closed in June of 2012 and plans were made for a national tour beginning just last month, West was selected as one of the leads.

‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $70-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org

Based on 1994 film

The play was based on the 1994 Australian movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” that starred Guy Pearce, and it was Australian director-writer Stephan Elliott and co-writer Allan Scott who adapted the film to the musical stage, using a number of well-known popular songs from the time period.

The story centers on three friends, two drag queens and a transsexual, and their trials and tribulations on their way across the Australian outback to perform in a drag show at a popular resort. Before its Broadway debut, the show was a huge success in Sydney in 2006 and in London in 2009.

“The Broadway production was a great experience, because we were working with a totally Australian creative team,” said West. “They had never done a Broadway show before, and it was very refreshing to get their take on things. They didn’t have any preconceived notions about how to do a show on Broadway. They just came to New York and cast the best people for the job. The show opened and the reaction from the audience was crazy. They loved it, and we’re still doing it.”

Getting the bug

West, who also was part of the Broadway ensemble when “Hairspray” opened in 2002 and with “Wicked” in 2003, had always figured his performing outlet would be as a member of a rock ’n’ roll band.

“During the boy band craze, I spent a lot of time in Europe doing a lot of singing,” said West, who grew up just outside Baltimore. “I went to an arts school and then I studied music at Belmont University in Nashville. I went there because when I was 16, I still had a year of high school left. I spent a summer in Nashville. I did three months of summer shows and just loved it. That’s when I really got the bug for musical theater. I had always thought I was going to be more practical. Going to college for the arts was a big step, but because I had so much fun in Nashville I decided to do it.”

West is joined on stage by Wade McCollum as Tick/Mitzi and Scott Willis as Bernadette, his two companions on the trip. Rounding out the key characters is Joe Hart as Bob, a small-town mechanic who befriends the group by working on Priscilla, the lavender bus that is home to the trio while they’re on the road.

“Priscilla is the bus, and my character is a sassy, but not dumb, kid who says and does things before he really thinks about it,” said West. “Each character is missing something about themselves, and together we kind of make up a family. For me it’s the father character that is missing, the guidance. My character is a bit aimless, and that’s why he’s always coming up with these one-liners. He’s always trying to shock people.”

Songs of ’80s and ’90s

Throughout the show, the three actors have various opportunities to belt out some of the top songs from the 1980s and ’90s.

“We sing ‘I Will Survive,’ after Act 1, and my character is also obsessed with Madonna, so we get to do ‘Like a Prayer,’ ” said West. “These are great songs, and it’s great fun to get to sing them every night.”

As much fun and musically satisfying as the show is, there’s a much more important aspect to it according to West.

“A lot of people go into the show not really knowing what to expect,” he said. “But I think they feel pretty comfortable about what they’re watching. We address certain things, but we don’t force anything down their throat. When we take this show on the road in middle America, it’s not like anything they’ve seen before, and that’s why this is such an important piece of entertainment. That’s why I care so much about the show and will never get tired of doing it.”

Along with “I Will Survive” and “Like a Prayer,” other pop tunes performed in the show include “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Material Girl,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “MacArthur Park,” and “Colour My World.”

The tour opened in Minneapolis the second week of January, and then visited Cleveland from Jan. 15-27. It is winding up a 12-day run in St. Louis before heading to Schenectady.

Critical praise

Andrea Simakis, critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote of West’s performance two weeks ago: “Speaking of gorgeous, under all that Milli Vanilli nonsense are the pipes of a true pop sensation. As Adam/Felicia, West has a Broadway voice in a boy-band bod. When he lets loose near the finale dressed as a gladiator crossed with a feathered Vegas showgirl, it’s Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera all wrapped up in one tight little package.”

 
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