BWW Interviews: Tony Sheldon Talks Career Post PRISCILLA, TUTS' CAMELOT, and Performing in Houston
Kicking off 2013 at The Hobby Center, Theatre Under the Stars is presenting two classic musicals back to back. First TUTS is offering a star-studded production of CAMELOT followed by MAN OF LA MANCHA. CAMELOT features Broadway heavyweights such as Robert Petkoff, Margaret Robinson, Sean MacLaughlin, and Tony Award nominee Tony Sheldon. While many were hitting the stores for after Christmas sales, Tony Sheldon and I talked about his career post PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT, how he was preparing for Pellinore in CAMELOT, and performing in Houston.
Me: For roughly six years, you played Bernadette in the stage musical PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT. The Broadway run of the show closed on June 24, 2012. What were your feelings on that important and lauded chapter of your life coming to a close?
Tony Sheldon: It had been a life changing experience, considering I went into the show thinking it was a 10-day workshop. [Laughs] That was all it was going to be for me, and it took me around the world, enabled me to work outside of Australia for the first time, and, of course, to be embraced by the Broadway community. It was bittersweet. I was sad it had come to an end, but it was the beginning of a new phase of my life-one which I was very excited about.
Me: Hopefully, you took a good, long holiday and break after PRICSILLA. Was it a relief to be able to kick back and relax for a while?
Tony Sheldon: Yes it was! Indeed, I have been on holidays ever since PRISCILLA. It was wonderful to just enjoy New York, to be able to see other shows, and to consolidate friendships that I made here in the States. At the same time, I was nervous about following up on PRICSILLA. I didn't want to go cold, as it were. And I wanted to remind people that I was still in New York. I didn't want everybody to think that I had left and gone back to Australia. So, it was the first time that I actually became proactive in my career. I was actually picking up the phone, ringing people, and asking them to put me into readings or to put me into benefits or cabarets just so the people would see my face and see that I was around. It's been an education for me, coming from a country where, you know, I'm pretty established and have been for many years to a place where I'm a virtual unknown. You have to start again.
Me: Originally, you're from Australia, having been born in Brisbane, raised in Melbourne, and having lived in Sydney. Have you noticed any major differences to performing and living in Australia versus performing and living in the United States?
Tony Sheldon: Living, of course, because it's a much bigger country here. There is no difference in the audiences any where in the world, I have noticed. Audience response is the same. If the show is good, they'll scream and cheer. And there are good nights and there are bad nights in every country. But the industry is much smaller out there [in Australia]. There is a smaller pool of actors to choose from, and we don't have the tourism out there that you have here that keeps shows running for years and years and years. So, there's more of a turn over of productions as well. Also, we have to wait longer for shows. You know, a few years can go by before we get a Broadway or West End hit because I think producers are more wary of what's going to work out there. It's just as expensive to put on a show in Australia as it is here. So, producers hedge their bets and watch their pennies.
Me: Is Theatre Under the Stars production of CAMELOT your first time to perform in Houston, Texas?
Tony Sheldon: Yes it is.
Me: Are you looking forward to performing in Houston?
Tony Sheldon: I am so excited. My mother lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. She's a performer. I don't know whether you know, but I come from a whole show business family. Going back, my mother worked in a lot of regional theaters around the country, and they were a lot of her happiest experiences. So, yes, this is pretty much the beginning of the American phase of my career coming to Theatre Under the Stars. I'm so looking forward to it. And CAMELOT is a show that I have always loved, so to be involved in that particular show is very exciting for me.
Me: How did you get involved in this production of CAMELOT?
Tony Sheldon: I auditioned, along with everybody else.
Me: What secrets can you reveal about this production of CAMELOT? For example, Is TUTS doing the original Broadway version with Morgan Le Fey or the altered Broadway version where that character was removed?
Tony Sheldon: I think it's the altered version, as far as I can tell. I've just received one script, but I know that it is still sort of a work in progress. But from what I've read, I don't think Morgan is there.
Me: How are you preparing to play the bumbling, affable Pellinore?
Tony Sheldon: I've played this sort of character before, and what is interesting in reading him is...[Pauses]...I mean, there's a lot more depth to him than just the comic side. As much as he loves Arthur, because he has known Arthur since he was a little boy called "Wart," Pellinore is a very conservative voice in the piece. He's very resistant to the idea of The Round Table. In fact, he is very resistant to any sort of change. He doesn't like any upsetting of the status quo, [Laughs] which I think is very topical in terms of some of our politicians. He likes things the way they were. Where the knights were out of harm's way, it was only the peasants who got killed. Then suddenly this idea of knights fighting knights and that sort of thing is all a bit scary and upsetting to him. He doesn't like Lancelot. He's very resistant to anything new, so it's a fascinating side of Pellinore that I actually hadn't noticed before.
Me: Are Bernadette and Pellinore similar in any way?
Tony Sheldon: No. Not at all. Not remotely. Completely the opposite ends of the spectrum. For a start, Pellinore has got more facial hair. [Laughs] I might not have to wear any make-up at all, hopefully.
Me: You were nominated for and won several prestigious theatre awards for your portrayal of Bernadette, so obviously that role will always hold a special place for you, but after playing Bernadette what is your favorite aspect or aspects of the character Pellinore?
Tony Sheldon: What is my favorite aspect? [Pauses] One, that I don't have to sing or dance. It's a much less energetic role. And two, I think that he does supply some much-needed humor in the show. CAMELOT is very romantic. I think occasionally the audience does need a few laughs, and I think Pellinore, hopefully, will supply some of those.
Me: Are there any unique challenges you are facing preparing to play Pellinore?
Tony Sheldon: Every show is a challenge. It's a New Group of people. It's a new city, for me, so it's a new audience. I mean, I take every single show as a challenge show. Everything is the great unknown. You don't know what you're walking into. It's a big company, and some heavy hitters there in terms of the performers. They're all at the top of their game. So, I'm just going to have to keep up.
Me: In your opinion, what makes CAMELOT such an enduring classic piece of musical theatre?
Tony Sheldon: I think because it's a legend, and it's a bit of the King Arthur Story. We all know audiences still love that sort of thing-Game of Thrones and, you know, even a fairy tale like Harry Potter. We love to be taken into a land far, far away. Also, it's the positive message of a utopian society where everybody gets along and the snow never falls until after sundown. It's such a beautiful idea of a civilized country that I think that we all strive for and hope for in our hearts. It's very uplifting. And, of course, it is a great love story that has endured for all these years. There's all of that going for it.
Me: As an artist, what inspires you?
Tony Sheldon: Oh gosh. Everything. I mean, my entire life is art. I've grown up around it, so I love music, I love dancing, I love the spoken work, and the power of those things for an audience. Even with a show like PRISCILLA, which a lot of people dismissed as a jukebox musical, I saw the effect it had on people and how it moved them, changed them, inspired them, and took them out of their everyday problems and brought them together as a group. The power of theatre, live theatre, cannot be underestimated and that's what moves and inspires me as an artist and why it is still my favorite form of entertainment-live theatre. Long may it reign!
Me: You grew up in a family of performers, as you have mentioned, so you must have had a lot of support and advice handed to you as you journeyed into this career. What advice would you offer to those wanting to make a career for themselves in the arts?
Tony Sheldon: Never stop learning. Study, study, study. Not that I went to a drama school, but my education was seeing everything that I could, reading everything that I could, learning as much about who and what came before me. Research all the performers of the past, all the shows of the past, read every play, see every film. Don't think that you are the first to do what you are doing; you come from a very, very long tradition that you should know about as a performer. And, I think all that is so important to make you a rounded performer and a person. Go to art galleries. Go to museums. Lead a rich, full life. It all contributes to what you bring to your work.
Don't miss your opportunity to see celebrated actor Tony Sheldon in Theatre Under the Stars' production of Lerner and Loewe's renown classical musical CAMELOT. CAMELOT runs in Sarofim Hall of The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts from January 22 to February 3, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.tuts.com/ or call (713) 558 - 8887.
Headshot photo courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars.