Stage actor Bryan West takes his first leading role in a major musical as Adam/Felicia in Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical. The Tony Award-winning musical tracks the cross-outback adventure of a trio of Aussies seeking love and acceptance -- in drag. West's flamboyant, over-the-top performance is garnering him critical acclaim. We chatted with him as the show prepares to make its way to Houston September 29 to kick off the 2013/14 season of Theatre Under the Stars.
Did you always want to act?
I actually started more from the musical side. I went to a performing arts high school in Baltimore. But they were all classical there, opera and stuff like that. And, while I was excelling at that, it wasn't for me. I was going home at the end of the day and singing what was on the radio. I got a chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry at 16 and I tried to get a record deal through my music, but that didn't happen. Later on in my early 20s, I decided to go out for an audition for Hairspray and I landed the part immediately. That's how I got into musical theater and I found that I really liked the storytelling element and being to combine that with my love of music.
You've performed on and off Broadway in shows from Legally Blonde to Wicked, what's been your favorite role so far?
When I was in LA, I got to be a part of the Wicked production there. I actually got to play Fieryo opposite Megan Hilty as Glinda for about a week and it was a really great time. But this role in Priscilla really is my favorite.
What do you love and hate most about being part of a traveling show?
My least favorite thing is the constant packing and unpacking. It sucks to live out of a suitcase and certainly some hotels are not so much fun. And then other times they're really nice. The truth is I love to travel, I always have. I find now I'm like the cruise director, I love to find the best restaurants and the best bars and things to do in whatever city we're in.
Talk to me about the dynamic between yourself and your two primary co-stars Wade McCollum and Scott Willis.
It's really good. This is my first lead role and it's been great to start this production from the beginning. We don't actually get to see a lot of the rest of the cast. So I've gotten to be a lot closer with Scott and Wade than with anyone else. We're all very different but we make each other laugh a lot. Scott and I are constantly going at it during the show, so we sort of jokingly carry that on offstage.
Priscilla obviously resonates with gay audiences more than a lot of shows. What's the core message of it for you?
I think it's really cool to be part of a show that's about acceptance of all different types of people. You have this one guy in drag who has a kid, a classy transsexual lady and me acting all crazy. We're putting out these flamboyant characters and the audience goes with it, they accept who we are. Folks can relate to it when they realize there's no shame. I believe it's a show about family and acceptance.
What will audiences love about this particular staging?
This is a really in-your-face show, filled with crazy huge costumes, a huge bus that moves around the stage. When we were in New York in the Palace Theater, it was really small and kind of overwhelming. Now many of the touring houses are actually bigger, and the show fits better. And I think the music in particular resonates with people. They will recognize songs like It's Raining Men and I Will Survive and they'll be interested to see how those famous songs are incorporated into the story line.
I know from your Twitter page that the It Gets Better Project is something that is important to you. Do you see yourself as a role model for young LGBT people?
After one of our shows in Minneapolis, this mom and her son who was only 11 or 12 came up to me at the stage door. She was telling me how badly he gets teased at school. And then she thanked me for playing such an awesome character. She couldn't imagine anything better for her son to see than someone being exactly who they are and being proud. As a community, I think it's important for us not to be scared to be who we are, to stand up.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert opens at the Hobby Center Sept. 29 and runs through Oct. 12. Get a discount on tickets now.