Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the musical that premiered in Wilmington back in February, is back onstage at Thalian Hall. The show is the centerpiece for Thalian Hall's New Year's Eve Gala with dinner, penny drinks, dancing, and more. The show runs through January 21st.
Priscilla is produced by Opera House Theatre Company. Listen to Director/Choreographer Ray Kennedy and Diva Michelle Braxton above--and read our extended conversation below.
Ray: Priscilla Queen of The Desert obviously was a fabulous movie that opened in 1994. It won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. If you remember, the designer accepted the award and a dress that was made of all American Express cards. It was a mini dress. Never forget that.
And then it opened in Sydney in 2006. Then in London 2009, and it came to Broadway in 2011. Bette Midler was one of the producers and a friend of mine was one of the producers so I saw it many many times on Broadway and love the movie and loved the musical.
Gina: Now this show by the way you know this is being recorded but I'm just going to go ahead and start. This show. It made its debut in Wilmington last year.
Ray: Last February. And we had such a great reaction. You know, when I was getting ready to direct the show I was trying to figure out how do we cut things, how far do we push the envelope and then I saw the movie La La Land and I was so impressed by the vision of the director who had a big vision and he was very creative and I just said to Alice [Morgan], no cuts, we're just going to do it. It was a time period in my life in many p eople's lives that we didn't understand where our country was headed in the far end of the era of inclusiveness and the reaction was across the board so great. People wanted to hear the message. And while it's fun and great and disco and Sydney in the 1980s, there was also a message of accepting people for who they are, and Wilmington responded in the most fantastic way. It was one of my warmest fuzziest memories of 2017.
Gina: I feel like the shows were sold out.
Ray: The last weekend was completely sold out. So I think there are a lot of people out there who didn't get it.
Gina: I see that Michelle Braxton is back.
Michelle: Yes I am.
Gina: Michelle, do you have your ladies with you still?
Michelle: I do, we have a new diva. Her name is Joy Gregory and she's with us from Charleston, South Carolina. She and I shared the stage back in I think 2006 when we both did Best Little Whorehouse in Texas together and that was the first time I had the privilege to work with her. And so working with her again has been very special, especially through the holiday season we've been rehearsing and together and it's just been one big theater family and. And Alissa Smith is also the other diva returning. Yes she's fabulous
Gina: And who else were you able to put back in the show again this time?
Ray: Well the great thing is that Jeff Phillips, Jason Aycock, and Blaine Moyer came back to be Felicia, Mitzy, and Bernadette, which is very exciting because we're not interested in recreating what we did in February. We want to make it better. We want to make it bigger. We want to make it bolder. And when you have three leads that come back that know the characters inside and out is wonderful because you'll see some new things, some new depth some lots of new costumes a brand new bus. Terry Collins has been a complete new buses even better than before. Stephanie White is playing the role of Katya this time and she brings a whole interesting dynamic to the show which we're really excited about. We have some new dancers. Julie Harvey has heightened the costumes, the famous Gumby outfits that they do in the movie in the Broadway production at the end of Act I, she's created and she's created these incredible headdresses for the three leads for Act I that really----they should win some sort of Academy Award. They're so amazing.
Gina: So for folks who missed it completely weren't here in February just missed the whole thing-let's go back to the beginning. What is this show about?
Ray: It's about a journey. It's a journey and a bus that's called Priscilla Queen of the Desert. That's one part of the journey. But the biggest part of the journey is a metaphysical journey about these three gay men and one is transgendered at three different generations. Bernadette's one generation, Mitzy's another generation, and Felicia's another generation. And it's about their journey as humans. And what's important in life relationships--one relationship is with the man, another relationship is with a son, and the other relationship, I think his relationship is with himself, trying to figure out who he is and what his life's paths are going to be. So it's a journey on a bus, but it's also these people discovering themselves and what really matters.
Michelle: And I think the music tells the story as well. It's some...it's very touching. There are several things in there where the music is just so poignant to the storyline that it just makes it you wonder. We we go from It's Raining Men to I'm thinking about True Colors. That is such a powerful song. And Jason Aycock just has such a wonderful moment in the show and.
But the new costumes are exciting to me because it's just so much fun to get dressed up and have so much fun. And the dancers are costumes and it's just it's a magical time of the year for me. I love the holidays I love New Year's. I love Christmas. And so I think that it's going to be a great thing for Wilmington to have this in January because a lot of people go through the blues in January, you know Christmas is over New Year's has started.
Everybody's at the gym trying to lose that five pounds I gained. And so this is a fabulous time to get out and go to the theater and enjoy a great show, some fantastic music, amazing costumes and really be moved by the moments that you get throughout the entire show. And also to be able to walk away with a great message of tolerance and acceptance and because if we can do anything on theater on stage for me personally as a performer, if I can get to one person in that show and make a moment for them where they think I will think a little bit differently about that next time I'm approached with the situation then I've done my job.
Gina: Michelle tell me a little more about the music... What's your favorite piece that you're singing?
Michelle: Oh gosh, well I love the opening number. The Divas are featured in the opening number with It's Raining Men. We have fabulous dancers that joined us onstage but our costumes just make you feel so glamorous and so pretty.
Ray: And she sings Girls Just Want To Have Fun.
Michelle: I do.
Ray: And she's channeling her inner Madonna.
Michelle: I'm telling you, I am absolutely channeling that. One of my favorite songs to sing in the show probably is Say a Little Prayer, and I'm featured in that and I love that. We sing that along with Jason Aycock, his character Mitzi, and so that's a lot of fun for me. The harmonies are what make it and I will say that Joy and Alyssa and I have worked very hard on making the harmonies come together, our voices blend so well together. It's almost like singing with sisters soul sisters. I'm telling you is just as tight. It's so pretty and we've had a new music director and I don't know if you'll want to use this one but we've had a new music director come in this time. Unfortunate circumstances and so they have stepped right in and done an awesome job.
Ray: We have a new musical director Timothy Maddox and we have Kaitlin Bayden come in to help us. And then we have a guy from Broadway this coming in to play New Year's Eve name Brian Whitted that's Bette Middler's vocal coach and accompanist and he is on the national tour of Chicago but he happens to be home in North Carolina for New Years. So he's playing the New Year's Eve show.
Michelle: Yes. Your eyes are wide open. Yes that's true. It's amazing. And I'm telling you, Ray doesn't take enough kudos for himself. But he is like a magnet. Ray is one of the only men in my life that my husband says I cannot say no to. If he calls-I mean because the rehearsals were like, we started like the day after Thanksgiving and we ran through, we worked all the way up till the 24th of December we were off the 24th and 25th and right back at on the 26th. And nobody complained. We were all there. We had so much fun at rehearsals and working hard but having lots of fun at the same time. But Ray is like a magnet for talent and the orchestra to the actors to the costumers everything everybody wants to come in and have a have a piece of this. I'm hoping and Wilmington will join us.
Gina: And in terms of the musicians, how many pieces are there in the orchestra?
Ray: So in disco you have to have two percussionists. You have to have a trap set and then you have a wonderful musician that can play congas and bongos and [?]. And then we have two synthesizers, not one, we have two, plus the keyboard, plus a fantastic guitarist and bassist and a trumpet and a saxophone. We have a really nice pit.
Gina: Nice. Let's talk about the New Year's Eve Gala.
Ray: Well it's going to be an amazing evening. The theme is the 1970s. So you come to Thalian Hall at 6:30, red carpet, hors d'oeuvres open bar then dinner. Then you move into the theater at 8:30. You see Priscilla Queen of the Desert. You come back out of the dinner and they've transformed the ballroom into Studio 54 and you dance the night away and ring the new year in. It's going to be a great evening.
Michelle: And it's black tie. So it's an opportunity to dust off that tuxedo and pull out that fur coat and have fun.
Ray: And also costumes, so you can also dust off your leisure suit and your spandex dress that you wore so you can be as free and wild as you want to be for this one.
Gina: There's also karaoke in the studio theater.
Ray: Yes absolutely. It's going to be lots of surprises. So funny story, I got stuck on the runway the other night getting here, which is usual for me and the guy beside me had never been to Thalian Hall. He was flying home from a business trip in New York. He and his wife had no plans, and he texts me yesterday, they bought tickets for Thalian Hall for New Year's Eve. I said, What a great way to discover the Hall-on New Year's Eve.