GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Kyle Brown of 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert'
Two and a half years ago Kyle Brown made his Broadway debut in Legally Blonde at the same theater, the Palace, where he's now performing in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Like Legally Blonde, Priscilla is a stage musical adapted from a popular nonmusical movie. And like Legally Blonde, Priscilla is a crowd-pleaser where audiences giddily await—and respond to—moments they remember from the film. "Priscilla's in a similar vein in that, even if you're tired, when you step on stage in front of that crowd, the way they react gets you through it," says Brown, who turned 26 the same week Priscilla opened in late March.
But for a male ensemble member, Legally Blonde isn't the most exciting show: Elle Woods' sorority sisters get most of the big chorus numbers. That certainly isn't the case with Priscilla: When the principals need backup, it's usually the men in the chorus who provide it. Of course, since the principals are drag queens, the men in the chorus are sometimes dressed as women. Or as cupcakes ("MacArthur Park"). Or paintbrushes ("Color My World"). Or...well, who knows exactly what they're supposed to be during "I Will Survive," with those extravagant headdresses, exposed chests and pant legs that flair out at the bottom into huge foot pods; Brown says the company calls those getups "the Gumbys" for their resemblance in shape to the claymation character.
In all, Brown goes through about 15 different costumes in Priscilla. He's dressed as a showgirl for Bernadette's (Tony Sheldon) Act 2 flashback to his Les Girls days, a giant package of Minties candy for "Boogie Wonderland" and a greenish emu in the finale. Brown is the muscley guy in red during the opening number, "It's Raining Men," and the first Lars who comes out of the bus for "Go West." And at the funeral early in Act 1, he wears a tutu and dances en pointe to "Don't Leave Me This Way." That's Brown's favorite number in the show, and not just because he has a solo. "I love the way the song builds," he explains. "I think it's really well-executed as far as storytelling with that song and the choreography. It's really exciting every night to have that curtain fly up and all those costumes be revealed and we just strut downstage. You can hear the audience getting into it as the beat kicks in."
Once upon a time, Brown was the audience member who got instantly psyched by Priscilla's razzle-dazzle. He went to see Priscilla on a trip to London in 2009 (the year it opened on the West End, after world-premiering in Australia in 2006). "I remember sitting in the audience, and when the disco ball drops [at the beginning], I was like: 'I have to be in this. I have to be in this; this is the show for me,'" says Brown. "It's just so fun—for an audience member and I knew it would be fun to perform every night." Coincidentally, a couple of days after Brown saw the show and while he was still in London, his agent called him about auditioning for the American production.
At 6-foot-2, Brown is one of the tallest guys in Priscilla's chorus, and since many numbers are, in his words, "kick line-ish"—which means shorter dancers fan out from the taller ones—he's often center stage. He's also noticeable for his physique, which he maintains through a daily regimen of "strengthen and lengthen": hot yoga in the morning, and at least an hour of weight training in the p.m. "Standing next to Nick Adams, amongst the other guys in the show, will make you work harder, that's for sure," says Brown.
His only experience with cross-dressing prior to Priscilla was performing "Today 4 U," a song sung by drag queen Angel in Rent, in high school. Brown wasn't that familiar with the Priscilla movie, either. He says he found the film "weird" when he saw it on video years ago and couldn't even watch it straight through without repeatedly stopping and restarting. He rewatched it before auditions. "I still think it's fairly strange," he comments. "It's definitely not as joyous as the musical."
Brown was in Priscilla during its Toronto run last fall. He didn't meet Bette Midler then, though the Divine Miss M is one of the producers who brought the show to North America and she attended several performances in Toronto. In New York she's been "super-friendly" with the cast, Brown reports. "She's had a lot to say about the show and she's had a lot of influence on it, as far as giving the director ideas of where to take things for an American audience. She has a good idea of how to put a show together, obviously—the diva herself."