Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer
What do these words conjure up for you my darlings? Sizzling French fries? An arousing piece of art? How about the timeless tune made famous by the legendary disco diva Donna Summer, a featured number in the Tony-award winning musical, Priscilla Queen of The Desert? It’s electrifyingly sung by Bryan West, who portrays Adam (and his alter ego the outrageous Felicia) in the national touring company. “Hot Stuff” is also a moniker I bestow on him—with a capital “H” and a capital “S.”
This little dreamboat understudied the role of Adam on Broadway, but for the road, he spun that disco ball and made the role his own. A familiar face on Broadway, he appeared in Hairspray, which was created by Baltimore’s favorite son, John Waters. Bryan is also a Baltimore native who chalks up Waters as an inspiration. The lad also performed in Hairspray’s national tour, and in the national tour of Wicked as well. The first Broadway show Bryan ever saw was Rent and he movingly comments, “It…was…life-changing.” This gifted hoofer and belter has been active in the HIV/AIDS community, participating in Broadway Cares, Broadway Bares, Easter Bonnet, and Gypsy of the Year.
For a time, Bryan lived in Los Angeles and was a production assistant to iconic celebrity photographer, Herb Ritts. He worked on the photo shoots of such superstars as Elizabeth Taylor, Tyra Banks, Shakira, and Justin Timberlake.
Though the Priscilla tour ended late last year, echoes of the show remain. Bryan and I meet up at The Blue Stove, an eatery located in his cozy Brooklyn neighborhood, to babble over lunch.
Ruby Comer: This place is enchanting, my dear! Why did you choose it?
Bryan West: It’s like stepping back in time when you walk in here. They bake every kind of pie and cookie and even quiche. [The waiter sets down a slice of key lime pie in front of Bryan.] The coffee is excellent, it has free Wi-Fi, and all the people who work here look like they came from Mayberry, except they have tattoos.
Our waiter does resemble Barney Fife! So the tour ended late last year. Looking back, how do you feel about the experience?
It was so much fun and I miss the show tremendously. I also never had to do cardio because of the physical demands of my role. Now I’m on a treadmill every day.
Alas, back to the gym. [I sample my warm apple cinnamon pie. Yummy!] How similar are you to your character, Adam?
I like to make people laugh and can be a bit of a handful sometimes, but other than that, I am nothing like Adam. He’s so much fun to play though!
You made your Broadway debut in Hairspray. What was that like?
I was so nervous, Ruby, and I had the flu, so it was a crazy out of body experience.
Say, what pops into your noggin when the AIDS epidemic is mentioned?
Immediately, Rock Hudson. I guess I remember my family talking about how he had AIDS when I was very little.
When did you first experience the disease up-close?
While I was working with Herb Ritts….
What impact did it have on you?
I saw him getting weaker and thinner, but he was always so kind—and funny. He had a great laugh. He used to direct a lot from a microphone [during a shoot] so that the actor could hear him, but he still had a soft voice. When he died, his company, Ritts/Hayden, dissolved into another company. It…was…very…sad. [He takes a sip of iced coffee and tenderly looks out the window.] It was a wonderful “family” while it lasted.
….Anyone else you know who died of AIDS-related causes?
My best friend’s father also passed away from complications of the disease.
Have you ever dated anyone who was HIV-positive?
No, not that I know of, but I have friends who have and some currently have HIV-positive partners.
I know you have a beau….
My fiancée’s name is Josh and we’ve been together for just over two years. I proposed to him on stage at that final [Priscilla] show in Seattle. It was very special. Currently I’m planning my wedding and a honeymoon in Mexico.
Pura Vida! [I say with gusto.] By the way, when did you first get tested?
I took my first HIV test when I was eighteen or nineteen.
You’re setting a great example. Do you still get tested?
Though I’m now engaged to be married and have been in a monogamous relationship, I still take the test once a year with my physical.
Bright boy. As you probably know, HIV statistics are on the rise with gay teens and twenty-somethings. How can we best reach these guys?
I think the mobile testing [unit] I saw in Los Angeles is brilliant, especially around popular bars and clubs. If it’s free and easy, people will take the test.
Yes, undeniably. I want to know your favorite film of all time.
I love Thelma & Louise, and anything by Woody Allen and Pedro Almodóvar.
Oh, me too! Woody plays a pimp in Turturro’s newest sweet comedy, Fading Gigolo. He’s simply hilarious. And speaking of sex…playing Adam requires some skimpy outfits. The audience can get full views of your athletic body. I must tell you, you have quite a little tush there. Ruby wants to know what you sleep in.
I sleep in my underwear. [He breaks into a wide grin, exposing flawless ivories.]
What’s your idea of a perfect day, honeybuns? Sorry, I just had to say that [I’m a bit embarrassed, but not really].
My perfect day is tapas-hopping with Josh here in our Brooklyn neighborhood. You get a glass of wine and share an appetizer at each place. It’s so much fun and there are so many amazing places here.
I can see that. Brooklyn has really revamped since I was a Manhattanite in the early eighties. I know you have an audition, but before I let ya go, any other comments?
[He situates himself into an erect position, gazes at me with his sparkling baby blues, and firmly states:] Not to forget all the amazing people our community has lost [to AIDS], because if we’re not careful, history can repeat itself….
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]