The inspiration for Tony Sheldon's Bernadette
PRISCILLA, Queen of the Desert is a theatre musical by Australian film director-writer Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, using well-known pop songs as its score.
Adapted from Elliott's hit 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the musical tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman who travel to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, NT.
As they head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla, the three friends come to the forefront of a comedy of errors, encountering a number of strange characters, as well as incidents of homophobia, while widening comfort zones and finding new horizons.
The original production of Priscilla debuted in Australia at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney, in October 2006 and at the forefront was Tony Sheldon, who played the character of the trans woman, Bernadette.
Sheldon then went on to reprise the role in Melbourne, Auckland, a two-year strong season in the West End and in a Bette Midler-produced Broadway debut in 2011. Finally, an Australian musical triumphed overseas.
Sheldon, 62, now based in New York, has a strong international career in musical theatre but has come back to Australia to play Bernadette once again in Brisbane from next week.
Mr Sheldon said the basic structure of the musical has remained the same over the years, but this production will include new songs.
"The main experience remains the same, but the songs changed as we did the show around the world; in this production we have three songs that were not in the show when we started 12 years ago: a new opening number, Cindy Lauper's True Colours and Kylie's Better The Devil You Know," he said.
The artist said the show includes more than 40 people between crew and artists, and in terms of costumes, Mr Sheldon alone has more than 20 costume changes.
Mr Sheldon is himself part of a family of Australian royalty: his mum Toni Lamond was Australia's first ever TV stars via Channel 9's In Melbourne Tonight, and his aunt is singer Helen Reddy of I Am Woman fame.
Sheldon began his performing career as a seven-year-old on Graham Kennedy's In Melbourne Tonight which was then produced by his father, the late Frank Sheldon.
The actor has been praised for giving Bernardette a different look and feel from the role that Terence Stamp offered in the 1994 film, and one that audiences loved.
"I'd been around a lot of drag queens and a couple of trans women when I was growing up, specially some of the Les Girls cast and up on the Gold Coast as well," he said.
"I worked with a woman called Rose Jackson who owned Rose's, a night club in Goulburn Street, and she was very elegant, slightly grand and very glamorous, so I chose to pattern my Bernardette very much on Rose: very lady like, a quality that masked a wicked sense of humour and a certain toughness."
Priscilla plays QPAC's Lyric Theatre from next Wednesday, September 26, through November 4.