An interview with the SA cast of Priscilla Queen of The Desert, The Musical

Daniel Dercksen shares a few words with David Dennis, Daniel Buys and Phillip Schnetler, who step into the shoes of the iconic and colourful Bernadette, Mitzi/Tick and Felicia/Adam in the highly anticipated musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical.


Daniel Buys, David Dennis and Phillip Schnetler

It tells the heart-warming and uplifting tale of three drag artist friends who hop aboard a battered old bus aka “Priscilla” and go off on the adventure of a life-time through the Australian Outback, to perform in Alice Springs.  On the way they find friendship, love and far more than they ever dreamed of.

With a dazzling array of over 500 award-winning costumes, 200 extraordinary head-dresses and a hit parade of dance floor favourites including I Will Survive, Hot Stuff, Finally, Boogie Wonderland, Go West, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I Love The Nightlife, this wildly fresh and funny musical is a journey to the heart of FABULOUS!

The proudly South African, exceptionally talented 28-member cast, live band, crew and creative team will give audiences a night of unforgettable performances, nostalgic music and an entertainment experience with all the sparkle to share in Priscilla’s “fabulousness”.

The originally opened in Australia in 2006 and after a sell-out two year run, opened on London’s West End followed by Broadway in New York. The show continues to wow audiences across the globe with recent return tours to the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It has won awards all over the world, including prestigious Olivier and Tony awards.

The critically-acclaimed hit musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert based on the Oscar-winning hit film makes its South African premiere at Artscape, Cape Town on Tuesday, 28 March 2017 before touring to Montecasino’s Teatro from Friday, 28 April to 18 June 2017Book your seats at Computicket or 

When I interviewed you in November last year you had no idea how Priscilla will change your lives. What has the experience leading up to opening night been?

David Dennis: I could not have imagined the fun and how emotional the journey would be. Although it has been a great physical challenge I seem to have lasted the distance with relative ease and have “hit the boards running” as I promised back then. I suspect I may be the oldest geezer to have played Bernadette so I hope I can claim a little pride for having met the standard. An amazingly supportive young cast, fellow principals Phillip Schnetler & Daniel Buys – with whom it is such a great pleasure to share the stage. Hazel Feldman (producer RSA) – Thank you for making that call getting me out of “retirement” and the Australian creative team of Andy Hallsworth (choreographer) & Dean Bryant (director) – thank you for the respect & faith you have shown me – I have found the joy of performing again…at the very theatre in which I made my acting debut.

Daniel Buys: The experience so far has been very challenging and quite overwhelming.  It’s so different to anything I’ve ever done and becoming a drag queen has not been easy.  The biggest surprise so far is how the audiences have reacted to the show.  Their response augments our performances and has made us understand how this show has been a success for so many years.

Phillip Schnetler:  The experience thus far has been absolutely amazing!! We are playing to incredible audiences and the joy I get from the first moment I walk onto stage is just the most amazing feeling ever!! I am completely overwhelmed by the responses we have been receiving from the public, David puts it really well when saying that it feels like a pop concert from beginning to end… it’s roaring!

We have been working our buts off to get this show up and running, the last week has been quite a challenge, trying to make it on stage with all the quick costume changes, and voices being a little tired, but we carry on and just fight through until everything is smooth and even. I must also say that our creative team has been an absolute blessing. They are completely amazing!!

What do you think audiences can expect? 

David Dennis: Judging by the response so far – it is a show worth every cent & more. Laughter & tears and utter amazement at almost 500 costume changes in the space of just over two hours. Young and old alike

have been on their feet at every preview. It sounds like a pop concert from curtain up and there is no let up until curtain down. Thank you Capetown!

Daniel Buys: Audiences can expect to have a lot of fun watching Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, full of laughs and for some, tears.  It is a great night out!

David Dennis

David Dennis

Why do you think Priscilla fever has had such an everlasting impact worldwide – on film and now immortalised live on stage?

David Dennis: Not much to laugh about just now is there – at home and abroad. However the sun still rises in the east and sometimes we just need sheer unadulterated entertainment.

Daniel Buys: So many people yearn to do things they want to.  To find acceptance for who they are and celebrate that.  It’s a warm hearted story centered on a very vivacious and flamboyant story.

Phillip Schnetler: I believe it is because it is such a relevant topic. It is current and people don’t like to always talk about the issues addressed in the show. It is way easier rather see a show about it, than to just talk about it. Then also because the music is just AMAZING, the costumes are quite extravagant.

You must be over the moon landing one of lead roles in this iconic musical?

David Dennis: It has come as a surprise especially after a long absence from the Musical Theatre scene. Didn’t have much time to think about it really as it took about four days from first hearing of the audition to the final casting. I told a colleague afterward that I had a feeling that I had just auditioned for the film and not the musical.

Daniel Buys: Yes I am very excited and proud to have landed this role.  It was a stressful audition process and it’s a wonderful validation to get the role I auditioned for.

Phillip Schnetler: I am completely over the moon. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be part of such an iconic show. Not to mention playing one of the main characters. I am just so blessed that I have the opportunity to put my own energy and stamp (If I could call it that)  on the character Felicia. I still have to pinch myself every time I think about it.

Daniel Buys

Daniel Buys

Did you ever dream you would step into the shoes of one of the most colourful and celebrated characters the world has ever seen?

David Dennis: Certainly not this one. There have been other iconic roles such as Riff Raff and later Frank ’n Furter in the first full SA production (1991/92) of The Rocky Horror Show and the shows 21st anniversary season a couple of years later both directed by Christopher Malcolm. Before that,  there was King Lear and many other Shakespearean and classic greats…and then the TV role of Sol from 10 seasons of Soul City has become something of an iconic character I hear.

Daniel Buys: I never dreamed I’d play a ‘drag queen’ but as my career has gone on I’ve slowly done more and more surprising gigs.  These ‘shoes’ are particularly challenging.

Phillip Schnetler: Never in a million years. It is such an honour and a privilege to step into the shoes of this character. So many other guys  – all over the world- have played this part, from the original Australian production Daniel Scott, to the amazingly talented Nick Adams, a broadway superstar, Oliver Thornton who played it on the West End  and now my name can also be added to the list…  WHAT??  I am without words.

Tell me about your first encounter with the film Priscilla? What impact did it have on you?

David Dennis: The sheer brilliance of its storyline – remove all of the glitz, glam & hype and it’s still a great film narrative.

Daniel Buys: I may have watched the film when I was very young but I only recently watched it again.  It’s a fun, playful story with beautifully  sensitive moments. It made me excited to play the role.

Phillip Schnetler: I can’t even remember the first time I saw the film… I was but a baby when the film was released. A mere 4 years old… Growing up on a farm in Limpopo I had very little experience or encounters with drag artists  or female impersonators. It was only when I moved to JHB that I became more aware of everything around me. When I saw the film this year I was completely obsessed with it. The music, the costumes the dialogue. Every aspect of it was amazing!’

Phillip Schnetler

Phillip Schnetler

The musical is different from the film in that you get to burst out in song and fully express your emotions? 

David Dennis: There are of course many great musicals in the Hollywood Film Musical genre – what distinguishes the Theatre from the Cinema is the living, heaving, sweating, rawness of live performance, the triple threat. It’s all a ‘bit of a song and dance’ really….at least that’s what I remember it to be.

Daniel Buys: We’ll I’m involved in musical theatre because I love to act and sing and dance so this I’m sure will be a blast.

Phillip Schnetler: I think it’s FANTASTIC!! People get to experience not only a beautiful show, but also ground breaking music. I mean, if you want to give someone a show, you should always give them some tunes to listen to. It’s amazing how they incorporated the songs into the story, to advance the storyline and not to be filling gaps in the show with random music. I promise you, you will know all the music from this show.

What do you think makes musicals such an entertaining romp?

David Dennis: All the backstage shenanigans.

Daniel Buys: Musicals are beautiful whirlwind of emotion that explore the human condition.  This particular show is an orgy of light, sound and sight.

Phillip Schnetler: It combines everything people like. Dancing, singing, visual stimulation. Its an escape from reality and it combines three different forms of entertainment in one.

How do you relate to your character? What do you draw from to play this role?

David Dennis: With some difficulty – the heels, the hair the lashes and twice on Saturdays and Sundays!!. Inspiration, standing In the shadow of great work and learning from that – I was struck by the integrity of Terence Stamps performance ….an astonishing transformation.

Daniel Buys: I can relate to Tick/Mitzi in that I know how it feels to look for acceptance particularly as a performer.

Phillip Schnetler: Well we are both born to perform. We both love the stage (even though I think Felicia likes the spotlight a little bit more more) Felicia is very witty and fun, in a way more than I am. I consider myself a little bit more of an introvert, where Felicia is super out there…I could learn so much from this character in the sense of just being me and not pretending to be something I am not. She is outspoken and maybe even a little obnoxious, She LOVES having fun, and the audience should enjoy her witty sense of humour. She is still a quite young.

It gloriously celebrates the freedom of sexuality and self-expression….

David Dennis: I am all for freedom of self- sexpression and with freedom comes responsibility.

Daniel Buys: Yeah people’s sexuality is still a taboo topic.  Maybe less so these days but we’re still fighting for acceptance and understanding for all the different ‘colours of our rainbow’.

Phillip Schnetler: I truly believe every person has the right to express themself in any way they feel comfortable with, whether you are gay, straight, bi or trans,  freedom to do what you desire is a BIG yes for me!!

Tell me about how you are preparing for the role, to step into the shoes of an iconic character and wow local audiences?

David Dennis: One has to start getting performance fit several months in advance, although at the moment I feel like something out of Jurassic Park, I intend to hit the boards running.

Daniel Buys: I think I’ll start with trying to get into shape.  Gotta look good in those outfits.

Phillip Schnetler: I have to get myself to the gym every morning  and learn how to walk in heels, (even though I used to walk in my Moms heels all the time when I was a kid) these shoes are quite different…

Your favourite Priscilla moment?

David Dennis: The ‘cock in a frock on a rock’ bit and the /red lizard costume with flared collar …I wondered at the time… just how far can this go.

Daniel Buys: When the three ‘girls’ are refused service by a particularly unattractive woman in an outback bar.  Bernadette makes a joke about her putting a cracker up her fanny…it’s very crass but very funny!

Phillip Schnetler: When Felicia lip sincs on top of the bus, dressed from head to toe in sequence, sitting on a giant silver stiletto. And in the musical my favourite moment would be the entire “Color my World” scene and song. Where they paint the bus bright Pink.

Any comments you would like to share?

David Dennis: The Guptas had nothing to do with my getting the part. I have never met a Zuma in my life.

Daniel Buys: I’m excited and nervous to don my heels and frocks and can’t wait to hit the road in this bus.

Phillip Schnetler: I can’t wait to meet everyone after the show. Please come and say Hi, in the foyer!!

Book your seats at Computicket or  Hashtag – #PriscillaSA

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen All Rights Reserved.  Published with permission in OUT Magazine, December 2016.