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Furs, Feathers And Finding The Fabulous With 'Priscilla's' Bernadette

Furs, Feathers And Finding The Fabulous With 'Priscilla's' Bernadette

Yesterday, we brought you a few words from Priscilla Queen of the Desertco-star Will Swenson, a square-jawed, dark-haired actor whose Tick is kind of the Don Draper of drag queendom.

But with a show about three big personalities trekking across the Australian Outback in a pink bus called Priscilla, there's plenty of glitter still to go around. On Weekend Edition Sunday, just in time for the show's official opening, Jeff Lunden takes listeners on a tour of the fabulous; he talks to director Simon Phillips, co-star Tony Sheldon (who plays the trio's aging-star den mother, Bernadette) and co-costumer Lizzy Gardiner, whose designs for the 1994 film won her an Oscar. (You remember: She was the lady in the Amex dress.)

That WeSun audio will show up in the player above after it's broadcast. Meantime, here's a couple of Tony Sheldon quotes that didn't make Jeff's on-air cut — and above, a gallery of costumes and costume sketches from a show that might just go down in Broadway legend as a high-water mark in the history of glamtacular.

On the real-life inspiration for Bernadette:"Bernadette ... was a big star in the '60s at a club, a real club called Les Girls. She [had] the first public sex-change in Australia; she was front-page news. She was extremely beautiful, in a sort of Raquel Welch glamor-girl way. And the shows at Les Girls were where all the American tourists — and during the Vietnam War, all the American soldiers — used to come and hang out. And they would buy those girls champagne; they would fall in love with those girls. They were drop-dead gorgeous."

On finding the character: "A lot of drag queens in Australia work as costumiers — they sew clothes for theater productions during the day, so I knew them all through work, or socially. ... All I had to do was make a bit of a composite of some of the best parts — or the worst parts — of those ladies. The best part was opening night: About five of them all came to me, individually, and said, 'I know you're playing Bernadette, but I know you based it on me.' And I said, 'Of course I did.' To all of them, I said that."

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Trey Graham edits and produces arts and entertainment content for NPR's Digital Media division, where among other things he's helped launch the Monkey See pop-culture blog and NPR's expanded Web-only movies coverage. He also helps manage the Web presence for Fresh Air from WHYY.