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Jon Santos and Leo Valdez lead Philippine production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

by Jennifer Dugena
Apr 14, 2014
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will be staged at the Newport Performing Arts Theater starting May 9, 2014. A lucky raffle winner (wearing shades) gets to pose with the Priscilla cast members including (from left) Red Concepcion as Adam/Felicia, Leo Valdez as Tick/Mitzi, Jon Santos as Bernadette, and Michael Stuart Williams as Miss Understanding.


Resorts World Manila will be staging the multi-award winning musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert starting May 9 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater.

Originally a 1994 Australian film that won the 67th Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert became a musical that premiered in Sydney on 2006. It won the 2008 Sydney Theatre Awards for Best Production of a Musical.

Priscilla also debuted on Broadway in 2011 and won an Outer Critics Circle Award as well as the Drama Desk Award for the category of Outstanding Costume Design.

Award-winning thespians, singers and production staff have been tapped to mount the musical’s Philippine premiere.

Singer and multi-awarded performer Leo Valdez will play the role of Mitzy, a drag queen who was once married and is now a father to an eight-year-old child.

Comedian and impersonator Jon Santos will play sophisticated transsexual Bernadette.

Jon Santos revealed that he auditioned for the role of Bernadette: a part he long dreamed of portraying after he saw the musical in New York.

“Ayoko sana maging weird masyado, kasi ang weird, weird ko na…nung pinapanod ko sa Broadway, parang tinatawag ako nung karakter na Bernadette, `Uy, bigyang buhay mo rin eto balang araw!’ and it happened.

“Sa pakikipagtulungan kay Michael Williams, Menchu Yulo, Jaime del Mundo and buong Resorts World team, it’s an honor to be working with them for the very first time.”

Was it his first time to audition for a musical?

“Dalawang beses lang ako nag-audition sa buhay ko,” admits Jon. “First time, [iyong] unang unang Miss Saigon...nung 1980s kung san natanggap si Michael Williams, at eto. Kasi ganun ako ka nerbiyoso…”

How much can he relate to his character?

“[Iyong] katangian [ni Bernadette] na nakaka-relate ako…she found love very late in life and was given a second chance. It’s a very special character to me. I have a feeling it’s going to be my favorite project ever, ever, ever, ever.”

When asked how the Philippine production of Priscilla will differ compared to West End and Broadway productions, Jon explained the uniquely Pinoy elements that will be incorporated in the show.

“Kung ano nakita niyo sa Youtube or Broadway version...or pictures ng West End version, iba pa dun. Magkakaroon ng Pinoy invented look and approach sa storytelling...”

“Noon pa man…it’s all about the audience. Bida is the audience. I felt very special when I saw it in New York, in Sydney. Ganun din layunin namin: maging very special sa Pinoy na manonod ngayon [ang Priscilla].

“Ang acting kakaiba [pati] choreography. Mas may tribute sa dekada ‘70 and ‘80.”



FROM BEING KING TO DRAG QUEEN. Leo Valdez, on the other hand, was invited to play the role of a drag queen and didn’t need to audition.

“I was invited I think it’s because of what I’ve done sa King & I so they asked me to join…awa ng Diyos, maganda [naging] performance [ko] sa King & I.”

Considered as one of the most talented and versatile actors in the country, Leo has played the role of The Engineer in London’s Miss Saigon and Jean Valjean in the local adaptation of Les Miserables. How is it like for him to play a drag queen for the first time?

“I love it. It’s a very different thing..it’s an interestingly great feeling..”

What are the preparations he did for the role?
“Preparation, [I had to] trim down…aside from the physical, also the mental. I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a great idea. [When they] invited me to do Priscilla, I said `Oh my God!’ I’ve never thought of this..”

“…I dig deep into the character and assume what a gay person would do…I go to O bar…I watched the drag impersonators and they’re amazing, fabulous, world- class! I love O bar. I went back to watch how they do impersonators..I want to go back stage and ask them..do a little research..”

“It’s not so new. I have many gay friends who do drag impersonations. When abroad we all go to gay bars, the whole Miss Saigon company. We have fun, straights go. Gays go. They have all these acts, it’s over the top..their heels are ten inches..”

Leo Valdez is not bothered by rumors insinuating that he is gay.
“At the end of the day, it’s not even an issue. People respect my work, my career. I think it’s a mutual thing. Thankfully it’s been smooth sailing all the way.”

Instead, he focuses his energies on playing his part to make it relevant to society.

“I represent the guys who have kids who are married [and] who try to hide it.. his son--actually he thought doesn’t know--he does drag."

When asked to whom he would recommend the show, Leo points out:

“I recommend it for everyone, for guys in the closet or guys who are straight…It’s a musical that will give more understanding to the whole situation..

“I invite the whole bunch, the straights and the closeted ones. It’s a show for everyone. There’s a little something for everyone here.”

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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will be staged at the Newport Performing Arts Theater starting May 9, 2014. A lucky raffle winner (wearing shades) gets to pose with the Priscilla cast members including (from left) Red Concepcion as Adam/Felicia, Leo Valdez as Tick/Mitzi, Jon Santos as Bernadette, and Michael Stuart Williams as Miss Understanding.
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