For Tony Sheldon, it was a case of better the devil you know.
“It’s been five years in drag, five years out,” he says, donning Bernadette’s leopard-print costume for the first time since Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical finished up on Broadway in 2012.
“It’s like getting back on a bicycle, really. I haven’t danced in them yet,” he says, pointing to the heels on his feet. “That’s going to be the scary bit.”
Despite a worldwide tour of Priscilla kick-starting his Broadway career – he’s now based in New York – Sheldon couldn’t wait to take up the role again for its 10th anniversary reunion tour of Australia, which opens at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre in January.
“I’m very grateful that I’ve got this role,” he says. “In an Australian context it’s become a classic: who knew that you’d do the 10-year anniverary classic of an Australian musical? There’s not many of us that get that privilege, so I’m very, very thrilled.”
Returning director Simon Phillips, who is also in the middle of rehearsals for Dream Lover: The Bobby Darin Musical, opening on New Year’s Eve, says it was “moving” to see so many people from the original production back on board.
But there have been some changes over the years: the show has tightened; costumes have become “more involved”, according to their Tony Award-winning designer Tim Chappel; and some of the songs have changed.
This latest production includes a brand new number: Kylie Minogue’s Better the Devil You Know, with new costumes to match.
“I don’t get to perform it, sadly, but that’s something for the audience to look forward to,” says Sheldon.
Phillips says it’s perfect timing to bring back Priscilla after Australia’s achievement of marriage equality.
“I feel very strongly that it will ride in the wave of that particular celebration,” he says.
It’s also hot off the heels – pardon the pun – of the much-loved Kinky Boots, that other fabulously feelgood musical featuring drag queens.