Cougar Morrison is excited for ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical’

Drag star Cougar Morrison has been working hard getting ready for her role in Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical.

The acclaimed cabaret performer has been locked in rehearsals for weeks preparing to play the role of Anthony “Tick” Belrose, who performs as drag queen Mitzi Mitosis. Hugo Weaving played the part in the original film, but Cougar Morrison is all set to make it her own.

As we chat on the phone during a break from rehearsals, I comment that there’s something Russian Doll-like in that Clint Strindberg is playing Cougar Morrison, who is in turn playing Tick, who performs as Mitzi.

“It absolutely is,” Cougar responds, “Clint hasn’t performed for years as well. So it’s like there’s another layer of like, ‘Oh God, I feel so exposed.'”

While most drag performers are known for their skills in lip-syncing, Cougar Morrison is a brilliant singer in her own right. Over the last six years Strindberg has taken the character of Cougar from cabaret to the world of drag and back again, slowly developing the character and their performance skills.

There’s a big difference though between a nightclub spot, a cabaret show, and a massive musical. So the last few weeks of the performers life have been a hard slog and the cast get ready for the show which opens at the Crown Theatre on Saturday night.

“This is huge,” Cougar said. “I’m a hard worker already. But going into this, like, our creative brains are running for eight hours every day. So we get home and I have to have a nap before I can cook my dinner. I just don’t have the energy. It’s the most terrific fun, we do use our brains and our bodies a lot at rehearsal, but it’s also fun stuff like we’re dancing around to Go West or It’s Raining Men.  These are wonderful things to feel exhausted from, but no, my previous experience did not prepare me at all, this is a huge undertaking.”

At the time we chatted Cougar shared that the rehearsal process has reached the point where they’d learned the lines, the dance routines, and were now tackling the added element of shoes.

“We learned the entire show in about two weeks. That things like the lines, choreography, and that that made everyone’s brains just turn into a bloody mush. But we haven’t even added the costume changes in yet. Yesterday, we added in shoe changes and that was the conundrum.

The mix of songs, dances, many costumes and scene changes, means the show is quite a roller-coaster ride for the performers.

“The audience can be guaranteed that we are going to be so present every night because terror makes you live every second like it is your last. We have I think we have about nine costume changes in the first act, and six of those are fast changes.”

Cougar herself first saw the musical production in London a few years ago, and says it while it’s different to the original film, it keeps all the best bits and adds a whole lot more.

“It is different, but all the best parts are still in the production. I saw it in the West End years ago. I had seen the film recently before that, but I remember going, ‘Oh, this is fantastic!’ It’s a big concern anytime that we love a book or something, and it’s getting turned into another genre, we’re always very protective. It just takes all the best parts, it’s a fantastic celebration.”

While many of us might have seen the original film and held in close to our hearts since when it was first released in the 1990s, Cougar didn’t watch it for the first time until just a few years ago.

“I was watching it at a friend’s house, the said ‘Oh, Surely you’ve seen it?’ and I it was when I’d just started the very first origins of Cougar, back at the beginning I was super androgynous, I didn’t even regard myself as a drag queen yet because I was like, in my naivety, “I was like, well, I sing, I think surely I’m disqualified.”

“I was actually quite confronted by it. Because, you watch a film that is set so far in the past, you think, ‘Oh, I’m not going to relate to this’. But I related to it hugely, like just a wanting to be accepted, wanting to be free, but at the same time having that conundrum of wanting to be safe, and that’s that’s a huge thing.

“Hugo Weaving’s character Tick has to go through, and I still relate to that enormously. Like I want to be as frivolous and expressive as as my my gorgeous little gay heart can handle. But I’m also acutely aware that when I go step into my Uber, I’m wearing flat shoes, and I’m carrying my heels in my bag, just in case I have to run. That’s a very real reality still to this day.

“The thing that has really stuck with me from the film is that you just can’t judge people on face value. You have to have a conversation with someone before you cast judgment, and we can apply that to sexuality, to race, to language, to occupation, you name it.” Cougar said.

The story of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has been noted for it’s themes of found family, but over the decades since it first came out we may have overlooked how groundbreaking it was for including Indigenous representation.

“It was really revolutionary for when it came out.” Cougar said. “They suspected when the film was getting produced, it would attract an underground, maybe cult following. They did not expect it to be such a global phenomenon.”

After the film’s success in the mid-90s, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical made its debut in 2006. Since then it’s played around the world picking up major award nominations along the way.

Appearing in the Perth production alongside Cougar Morrison will be Kath and Kim star Peter Rowsthorn as Bernadette, while WAAPA graduate Nick Mayer will play Adam, aka Felicia, the youngest drag performer in the trio. Also in the cast is drag performer Dean Misdale, comedian Janelle Koenig, musicmaker Joel Davis and singer Rukua Kavakura (AKA Bebe Babow) alongside a swathe of local talent.

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert: The Musical is at Crown Theatre until Sunday 30th May.

OIP Staff

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