With Priscilla Queen of the Desert fever hitting Cape Town this month from 26 March to 23 April, presented by Showtime Management, you obviously have your tickets booked already and are just dying to know more about the production with its book penned by two Australians, Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, and its music a collection of well-known pop songs.
It is big, it is bold and as is to be expected, everything about this musical is unconventional, with its familiar tunes, amazing staging and very naughty (some may even say raunchy) humour. Adapted from screen to stage in 2006, it tells the story of a transgender woman and two drag queens who get booked to perform at Alice Springs, a resort somewhere in a forgotten corner of the Australian desert. As they set off on their colourful bus, the journey turns into a life changing self-discovery adventure. But as super musical theatre fans, you probably know all this already, so here is a Spotlight interview with Phillip Schnetler and Daniel Buys about their Priscilla experience, as they get ready to entertain you as Adam/Felicia and Tick/Mitzi.
Both of them had a very definitive moment when they realised that musical theatre was something they wanted to pursue as a career. Daniel was initially studying cooking in Cape Town when he realised he liked the taste of performing more. “I think I decided I wanted to do it professionally when I did an amateur production of Grease for the Pineland’s Players in 2004”, he remembers. A few years later, Phillip also walked into a theatre and didn’t look back, “I actually saw the Lion King at Monte Casino in 2007 and being from a small town in Mpumalanga the show truly spoke to my soul”. So with some intervention by the theatre fates, both of them fell in love with musical theatre and now find themselves starring in Priscilla, an iconic and much loved trendsetting musical, but not always an easy one to sell as it deals with love, sex and identity in a very open way.
It is definitely a multi-layered musical theme wise, with Phillip on the one hand describing it as “vibrant, fun, heart-warming… [a story about] friendship and connecting with family – doing what you want to do in life, and forgiveness”, and Daniel agreeing that it is a story about “cherishing friends and family and taking a chance in life” but on the other hand also seeing it as a “spectacular, bizarre, extravaganza… about acceptance and understanding. Adventure awaits the bold!”
In that it definitely it sounds like a larger than life musical, but who will it appeal to? “It will appeal to anyone who loves theatre, enjoys live performance and laughter”, Phillip explains. Actually the more people it appeals to the better it hits its legendary musical mark of inclusiveness, as “it’s also about being more accepting of people, not judging them from what you see on the outside, but getting to know someone first.” Daniel echoes this sentiment, “I think it will appeal to anyone and everyone. Yes, the story revolves around three drag queens [of which Daniel and Phillip portray two], but anyone can relate to the characters, and the show is just so much fun that before anyone may feel uncomfortable they’ll be on the edge of their seats having a jol.”
With Priscilla billed as the musical adventure of a lifetime, it looks to be a life (career) changing experience for both guys too. It is definitely a huge moment for Phillip career wise –
“It’s my first principal role in a big international musical, so it is super exciting for me. My character Adam/Felicia is a drag artist and young at heart. He is very difficult to get along with as he has a very sassy sense of humour. I usually play the innocent nice guy, so this is such a great experience doing something else.”
For Daniel, his Priscilla experience appears to be bringing the change home, so to speak –
“Well it is definitely the first time I’ve ever played a drag queen. My wife Taryn-Lee plays my wife in the show too. Although, for obvious reasons we are no longer together in the show and she (Marion) has been raising our six-year-old son who I am estranged from. It’s the first time Taryn-Lee and I will be sharing a stage since we got married and the topic of children is on the cards, so me having to become a father is very poignant. We’ll see how ‘career’ changing it is after the run.”
Playing two of the lead roles with such amazing, yet challenging, backstories, the audition process could certainly not have been easy. “The auditions were tough,” Phillip admits, “so many talented people were there, so you always wonder what makes you suited for that specific part. It’s quite intimidating having the entire Australian creative team sitting in front of you whilst you pour your heart into an audition. At the time of the auditions I was busy with another show, so I just took time between shows to prepare the song I sang for the audition and made sure my voice was in tip top shape… There are so many people who audition for productions such as this, so it is quite a shock when you book such a great role. I was super excited but yet taken aback.”
Daniel recalls that the stressful audition process actually made him want to be part of the fun Priscilla experience all the more, “It had been a lot of fun so far. Embarrassing at times but a great test in letting go of inhibitions. At the end of the week it looked like it was between me and a friend of mine, Zak Hendricks, who is a very talented performer, so I was anxious and uncertain. So when I heard I had got the part I was very proud, relieved and excited. And again, to get in with my wife was a bonus.”
That they are both seriously excited about this opportunity is undeniable, especially as far as their characters are concerned. Phillip finds the honesty and naivety of his character Adam/Felicia really appealing, “He says exactly what pops into his head. He has no filter”, while Daniel is completely embracing his character’s personality, “I can relate to the character Tick/Mitzi in that he has a flamboyant side but is still reserved. So exploring the contradiction is interesting.”
And that is precisely what the Priscilla experience is all about, allowing everyone a spot in the sun to be there vibrant self! Which also explains Phillip’s favourite song being “Colour my World”. He definitely gets the Priscilla vibe! But that is but one amazing song you will hear when you get yourself to the Artscape Theatre to experience this fabulous journey for yourself. You will also hear, “We Belong” and “Always On My Mind”, two of Daniel’s favourites, and so many many others that will make you want to get up and dance along!
With no drama (off stage), and everyone getting along, that fun feeling will be further amplified by the energetic and super talented cast as a whole! “The cast is great…the dynamic is cheerful and supportive”, says Daniel. Phillip also can’t wait for you to meet this “enthusiastic and vibrant” bunch! So if you don’t have your tickets yet, you better book those toe-tapping seats today still at Computicket. With a dazzling array of over 500 outrageous costumes, 200 extraordinary headdresses, 23 tons of scenery, and a 10 metre long customised bus weighing six sparkling splendor tons, you definitely don't want to miss out on this theatre experience that will definitely be the talk of the town.