Nina West on turning drag queens into Disney princesses for her Disney+ musical
The time has come for drag queens to become Disney princesses.
Disney+ is set to paint the House of Mouse's queerest fantasy yet with the launch of its star-studded musical This Is Me: Pride Celebration Spectacular, which features RuPaul's Drag Race queens Nina West and Jackie Cox performing classic Disney songs through a queer lens alongside LGBTQIA+ superstars like Hayley Kiyoko, Todrick Hall, and more — all in the hopes of reframing classic tales to inspire a new generation of families growing up with the Disney library.
"When you hear 'A Whole New World' sung by two people of the same gender, it's powerful, or when you have someone who identifies as a woman singing a song like 'Kiss the Girl,' that's magic," West exclusively tells EW in a first-look preview of the upcoming concert. "It allows us to see ourselves in these stories."
Read for West's full preview of the upcoming event which premieres Sunday, June 27 on Disney+'s Facebook and YouTube pages.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We're finally doing it; we're talking about Nina West as a Disney princess. This has been a dream of yours for ages!
NINA WEST: I'm thrilled that Disney came to me. I'm hopeful that it can open more doors. This is a great opportunity for Disney to walk into this incredible, wonderful space, and I'm honored that I get to walk into the space with them.
You've been talking about this dream for a while, so you'd identify as a Disney Gay?
Oh, 100 percent. Come on, yes! She's a Disney Gay! But, what does that mean? It means something to everybody!
Well, because this is such a hot topic in the community right now, we have to take a page from Denali's book and talk about crushes on cartoon characters. Who are the dreamiest Disney and Pixar characters to you, confirmed Disney Gay Nina West?
[Laughs] No one fights like Gaston! I think Gaston is wonderful. But the dad in Inside Out is adorable! I just want to eat a piece of pineapple pizza with him.
Let's talk about this special! You have some amazing looks for this. One dress looks like it was inspired by Cinderella with the big sleeves! How did these looks come together?
When Disney asks you to walk into their kingdom, you have to show up correctly, and I wanted to show up like the true queen I am. The one princess look I conceived is an homage to the traditional Disney princess. It has Cinderella's castle printed on the fabric. I worked with Johnny Wujek who's worked with Katy Perry and Dua Lipa, everybody. And he's another Disney Gay! He helped me pull off the Belle Pride look and the castle dress, because he's always dressed Katy for American Idol's Disney Week, and he gets it because [they're both] Disney fanatics.
What did you want the looks to say?
I'm trying to continue to tell the story. Drag, we're no strangers to Disney and appropriating Disney in our performances and our numbers. You have these big drag numbers that lend themselves well, from The Little Mermaid or Ursula to Ariel, we've taken those big villains or princesses and claimed them as our own. I wanted to be able to walk into the space, proudly, as an official Disney queen, and celebrate them in such a fantastic way that only drag queens can do. I took that seriously, so I wear six or seven different looks throughout the whole show, all done by designers…. And really tell a throughline of how fantastically fabulous [drag] is when paired with Disney.
People have long read queer themes into many Disney movies, and the synopsis says this will feature classic songs reinterpreted through an LGBTQ+ lens. What does that mean?
It's allowing our stories to be told through familiar songs. What that means to me is, when I was a kid, even though Beauty and the Beast is not a queer story, I saw Belle as an "other," because she was smart and no one wanted her around. Decisions were made for her instead of her making her own decisions. There's a parallel there that I found when I was young, coming to terms with my own identity. I'm a lot like Belle. I don't fit in and I don't know what's different about me, but I know I'm different. I didn't know how to align that. In my own interpretation, I found songs like "Part of Your World" in The Little Mermaid, it's like, yeah, I want to be a part of it all. If you take "Out There" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where he's gazing out over Paris, and the lyrics are saying that he wishes he could be out there strolling by the sand, because I deserve that, too. Even as deformed as you think I might be, I know I'm beautiful, too. We're reimagining these songs that are in our classic Disney canon and giving them meaning that many of us have ascribed to them anyway.
When you hear "A Whole New World" sung by two people of the same gender, it's powerful, or when you have someone who identifies as a woman singing a song like "Kiss the Girl," that's magic, and it allows us to see ourselves in these stories.
Sometimes it's the simple act of changing who's singing the song to change the whole meaning. Why do you think this special is vital on this family focused Disney+ platform versus something else?
Disney is the gold standard, isn't it? It's the best. Everything is compared to a Disney movie or the action of a Marvel film, the epic adventure of a Star Wars motion picture or a show like The Mandalorian. I'm grateful that I get to be the first drag queen to walk through these doors and say, hey, families who are more like me, you also belong here! There's a beautiful message at the front end of the special that's just that: If you're a part of the LGBTQIA+ community or if you're an ally, we see you, we value you, and your stories are our stories. They're fully stepping in and having queer artists, performers, songwriters, actors, and queens take part in this epic storytelling, and it's humbling. I can't believe I've been the Tiana, gazing out at my window looking up at the evening star, wishing, and hoping that this could happen. Kermit is in this special too, and there's a line at the end of The Muppet Movie that says "keep believing, keep pretending," and Disney is allowing us, as queer people, to keep believing, imagining, and seeing our stories. Not only do we get to say, as queer people, "Once upon a time," but "happily ever after."
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