Will Swenson Reveals the Crazy Secret to Drag Queen Quick Changes in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Seth Rudetsky   Will Swenson Reveals the Crazy Secret to Drag Queen Quick Changes in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from Tony nominee Swenson and the story of Shoshana Bean learning her audition song for Wicked.
Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon, and Nick Adams in <i>Priscilla Queen of the Desert </i>
Will Swenson, Tony Sheldon, and Nick Adams in Priscilla Queen of the Desert Joan Marcus

Where am I, you ask? Well, it’s summer so that means I’m sitting on the porch of the Anchor Inn Beach House in Provincetown. I’m here doing shows with Will Swenson and next weekend, I’ll be with the fabulous Playbill Travel alum Sierra Boggess then Liz Callaway. Click here for tickets and info.

Sierra starred in one of my most popular Obsessed! videos and she made the phrase “…and in a bed” a classic! Watch:

Will Swenson and I had a great time doing our show. We were talking about his early days when he was doing a local production of The Secret Garden in Utah in the non-Equity theatre his parents ran. He showed up the first day of rehearsal...and there was a full sing-through of the entire score! No one had rehearsed the music, yet they were just expected to sing it.

He was playing the role of Dicken, who sings tons of high notes and he marked it since it was, again, the first day…of rehearsal. Well, right after, the director decided he couldn’t sing the role and decided to fire him. He also decided his mom should tell Will he was fired! His mom told him, Will explained to her that he was marking and he kept the role. He did half the run of the show and—one month before it closed—he got cast in an Equity show and quit. The moral of the story: you literally can’t fire me, I quit!

Will also talked about being one of the stars of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and how he was constantly changing in and out of drag. I wondered how he was able to get rid of his eyebrows and draw on new ones and he said they had masks that went over the over part of their faces with eyebrows, eye makeup, etc., so they could quickly change. The only problem was the top half of their faces couldn’t change expression. Hm. It’s not a problem for half of Hollywood.

The trick for their over-the-top lips was they would put on Chapstick and then stick their lips in glitter! They would be able to remove it for the next scene by running offstage and being greeted by dressers standing there with a large piece of packing tape. The guys would frantically kiss the packing tape and the glitter would come off. It was a great way to get glitter off super quick as well as dry out/burn their lips every show. Speaking of lips in a drag show, here’s an Obsessed! with my good friend Drew Geraci. Watch!

Right before our show, Will and I sent Audra McDonald (his wife) a photo of us right before we went onstage:

Will Swenson_Seth Rudetsky

She replied, “New phone, who dis?”

I wrote a lot about Judy Kuhn in my last column and forgot to mention that I’m doing another show with her at Molloy College September 15.

I was talking to Judy about doing Les Misérables before it came to NYC. She told me that the out-of-town tryout was in D.C. and the opening went great! However, the day after opening night they had a two-show day. Don’t forget, people celebrate their opening by staying up late and having a (many) celebratory drink(s). The next day, everyone was exhausted and not feeling completely steady but determined to get through both 3-hour-and-15-minute performances.


The signature turntable started turning near the start of Act 1…but it was malfunctioning. The only speed it would go was crazily fast. Everyone was already not at their steadiest and being on a speeding carousel was not helping their equilibria. It was borderline terrifying. The stage managers had no choice but to stop…and cancel both shows. YAY! The hangovers won!

I had Shoshana Bean on Seth Speaks my SiriusXM radio show because she’s doing a huge concert tonight (July 30) at the Apollo Theater in NYC with special guest stars Ledisi and Cynthia Erivo!

Shoshana Bean and Megan Hilty
Shoshana Bean and Megan Hilty Joan Marcus

Shoshana made her Broadway debut in Hairspray and then went on to be the stand-by for Idina Menzel in Wicked (after Eden Espinosa left). She first auditioned for Wicked when the show was coming to Broadway and was asked to sing “Defying Gravity.” It was before the CD came out, so she didn’t know the song…however she knew that Stephanie J. Block had done the original readings of the show. So, she left Stephanie a message asking her how the song went. She expected Stephanie to call back and sing a little of the chorus and verse…just enough to give a sense of the song. Well, that’s not what happened. Shoshana said that Stephanie left a message and was obviously calling from a street corner because you could hear traffic noises in the background. Stephanie said "Hi" and then proceeded to sing the en-ti-re song…full out. With all the acting choices and every fully belted note. Shoshana said it was hilarious and AMAZING. I have this story in Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 2 and when I did my book release, I had (a very pregnant) Stephanie recreate her famous phone message. Watch!

If you want the whole Wicked story (including the hilarious time Shoshana didn’t fly during “Defying Gravity”) get Seth’s Broadway Diary here.

Shoshana did a brilliantly executed combination platter of all my favorite riffs (featuring Funny Girl, Godspell, and Hair with an ending using her patented whistle tone) in this Obsessed! which is a must watch.

Peace out until next week!

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