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  WINDY CITY TIMES

NUNN ON ONE: THEATER Legend Honey West does Priscilla in Chicago
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2017-01-11

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Before the popularity of To Wong Foo and The Birdcage there was a little movie called The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that became a cross dressing cult hit. It was eventually transformed into a Broadway musical that went on tour.

The story followed three friends on a bus nicknamed Priscilla driving in the middle of the Australian outback. The soundtrack to the musical featured a mix of gay anthems including "Go West," "I Will Survive" and "It's Raining Men." For Chicago audiences, Priscilla is returning.

The talented Honey West left small-town life behind to seek new adventures in Chicago years ago after graduating with a degree in musical theater from Indiana University. This led to a long-running cabaret show.

West won two After Dark awards for Outstanding Cabaret and a Best Actress Award from BroadwayWorld.com . She was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2012.

Past credits include Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Diva Diaries and Dirty Dreams of a Clean Cut Kid. Now she adds Bernadette to the resume in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert the Musical.

Windy City Times: Hi, Hon. How has the road to Priscilla been?

Honey West: It has been a unique rehearsal process. There is so much music, dancing, singing, and costumes. The book is not huge but it is concentrated. There is so much going on.

We had two weeks of music before we even got into staging. We lost time with the holidays.

It is a big show in a very small place. It is going to be an experience.

WCT: Did you see the Broadway in Chicago tour when it came?

HW: I did not. When I was cast I started looking at the Broadway clips. I was excited to be cast but I didn't know how much heart was in the show and not shown in those video clips. I then went back and looked at the movie. It is just as topical and important right now as it ever was. It deals with family relationships and extended families. All three of us go on a journey. Tick reunites with his son, and Bernadette loses a love and finds a new one. It is like Wizard of Oz. We go to one town and there's homophobia. There are pitfalls on the way to them finding a new life. It's a really special show.

WCT: Talk about your character.

HW: Bernadette Bassinger is the older one of the group. She's a veteran star of the show Les Girls in Australia. She is retired and talks to her friend Tick at her husband's funeral. She is encouraged to travel to perform in a show in a middle of nowhere. She finds a new love and a new career on the way. She goes full circle.

WCT: Who are the other people in the show?

HW: Luke Meierdiercks is a great actor in the show, who used to come to my karaoke night and I always loved his voice. Jordan Phelps is also a great actor with a great voice. I just adore them.

I am the one of age, myself and John Cardone, who plays my love interest Bob. We are the ones over 50 and everyone else is 22. They jump around like hyenas!

WCT: Do you show the new kids the ropes?

HW: Well, I don't know what they gain from me after I limp off from a dance number but maybe they see my past experience.

WCT: Are you the first trans person to play Bernadette?

HW: As far as I know I am the first trans woman to play Bernadette, who is a post-op transexual. In the movie it was a straight man that played the role. On Broadway and the tour the role was played by men.

There may be some sensibilities that I bring just by my experiences that they couldn't.

WCT: Do you watch the television show Transparent?

HW: Of course. My best friend Alexandra Billings is in it. I could watch Jeffrey Tambor play that role everyday all day. I could just watch Maura on live cam like reality TV!

WCT: How do you feel trans rights have changed in Chicago these days?

HW: My whole life, even when I identified gay, I ran to the city because there was a blanket of acceptance for people who are different. This is where we can find extended families and peace. I am lucky to live in the state of Illinois because we do have hate crime laws. I just heard that if you are a city employee they will pay for surgeries related to your gender identity.

Chicago has been a great place to be who we are. I think I have told you this in the past, it was so difficult for my generation to know who we were because at the time we didn't have any information. When I finally acknowledged I was transgender I was 41. I was performing as a female character for years and it was still difficult for me to understand what I was feeling.

To go to a small town where they don't have that acceptance or information readily available, it breaks my heart to see people that didn't have my positive experience. I can't imagine that.

WCT: How long have you lived [in Chicago]?

HW: Right after college in Bloomington, Indiana, I started touring on cruises and golf resorts. I sang on the road for seven years, then came to Chicago. I have been here a little under 30 years.

WCT: Priscilla sounds like a similar journey after the small-town life.

HW: It is a very personal story for me. Everyone that sees the show will see themselves up there. There is love and experiences as part of the journey. On top of it you have a great soundtrack with songs like "Boogie Wonderland" and "I Will Survive."

It is a roller-coaster where you will tear up at some places and tap your foot at others.

WCT: Do you have a favorite song in Priscilla?

HW: After the bus gets painted with negative graffiti we sing "True Colors," and it is a wonderful moment. I also I like when I sing the middle section of MacArthur Park and Bernadette realizes Bob is different and might be a new love of her life. I love that moment in the show.

WCT: How does the show play in a smaller space than a typical huge Broadway theater?

HW: I think people will be surprised how it translates. It is very intimate. It works because the setting is in a small bar or on a bus. People are going to enjoy it because it is a good feeling show.

Explore the Outback and see The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert the Musical at The Broadway, part of the Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Jan. 15 through Feb. 12.

Visit PrideFilmsAndPlays.com for tickets and details.

le will be surprised how it translates. It is very intimate. It works because the setting is in a small bar or on a bus. People are going to enjoy it because it is a good feeling show.

Explore the Outback and see The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert the Musical at The Broadway, part of the Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Jan. 15 through Feb. 12.

Visit PrideFilmsAndPlays.com for tickets and details.


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