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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Musicals / What's On / Industry News

IN THE SPOTLIGHT... DAVID HARRIS

As one of the most recognisable names in Australian musical theatre, it is a bit of an understatement to say that David Harris is kept busy by projects that are as varied as they are plenty. He is an all-rounder in the truest sense of the word.

Having just been cast as The Baker in INTO THE WOODS, the most recent in a long list of Hal Leonard shows Harris has starred in, we were lucky enough to catch him in a rare moment between recording, performing and touring.

With acclaimed performances crowding his bio in shows that range from great classics such as FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE to the more contemporary hits LEGALLY BLONDE, WICKED, MAMMA MIA! and MISS SAIGON, Harris says stepping into such different roles is at the core of his love of acting.

“I like to sing obviously, but [stepping] into someone else’s persona, whether that’s a classic show or a modern show, whether the character is an American GI or a Jewish revolutionary, the fun thing as an actor is stepping into a different persona, a different costume with different accents, and a different hairdo,” Harris said.

“So doing lots of different styles of shows enables that to happen and it’s really, when you get down to the nitty gritty of why I wanted to do this, a form of escapism and taking on someone else’s persona.”

His versatility is evident throughout the many various roles he has played including those Harris cites as his favourite experiences. One role that he lists as both a career highlight and a physically, emotionally and vocally draining experience is as Chris in MISS SAIGON.

“It was the first time I’d had such a demanding role ... that demanded so much vocally and emotionally, eight shows a week, so it made me grow very quickly as a performer and tested me out a lot. Not always in a good way but I came out the other end ok, unscathed [laughs].”

On the other end of the spectrum, Harris also recalls WICKED as a less intensive, but just as memorable standout experience. On his first trip to New York, a friend suggested they see the show, which he knew nothing about. It was the very first show he saw on Broadway, and Fiyero immediately became a dream role for him – a dream that was realised in 2011 when he played this role in the Australian production of the show.

Photo Credit: Jeff Busby (Wicked)

“I sat there and was transformed and taken away to this fantasy land that WICKED is, and wished that one day I’d be in that show and play that role. It turned out my wish came true.”

David takes a similar approach to keeping active in a variety of formats of performance, having released two albums and recently performing in Do You Hear The People Sing, a fundraising concert featuring the music of LES MISERABLES, MISS SAIGON and other Boublil and Schonberg songs presented in Shanghai, Manila and Taiwan.


Do You Hear The People Sing?

“I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to cross a few mediums like that, whether it be recording, cabaret, doing concerts, or the version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST that we just did in Melbourne – lots of interesting things,” Harris said.

“It’s great being locked away in a big budget musical for a year or two for that kind of stability, but doing all these smaller, intermittent things are so good for the creative juices and the fact that I can cross over into all those different avenues inspires me and keeps me fresh.

“They are different skills that you need to exercise: being in a concert environment is very different to being in a musical, which is also very different to sitting in a hundred seat theatre in cabaret, breaking down the fourth wall, having a chat to the audience, telling your stories.”

Time Is A Traveller

Cabaret is also being explored by Harris in his current autobiographical show, Time Is A Traveller, which tells the story of his early and unlikely beginnings in musical theatre, leading up to his current standing as one of Australia’s best known leading men.

While today’s students have a range of Broadway Junior and School collections available to them, boasting school-friendly versions of the big titles Harris stars in today such as MISS SAIGON SCHOOL EDITION, LES MISERABLES SCHOOL EDITION and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST JR, his own career in musical theatre was not so clearly defined in his early days.

“I didn’t grow up with a musical family at all; my dad worked at the coal mines and my mum was a secretary to my uncle’s air conditioning business, so there was no influence in that sense,” Harris recalled.

“But in Year 8 at school, the English Drama teacher wanted to put on a musical and no other silly bugger would put their hand up... I didn’t know if I could sing or act or anything, but think I was literally the only person that was willing to do it.

“I did my first little musical which was a school production called MAN OF STEEL and I played Superman in a lycra outfit and was ridiculed from that moment onwards by everyone else in the school. But for whatever reason – obviously I had taken to the drug called limelight and I wanted another hit – I went back and did another three musicals while I was at school.”

Even after discovering his voice at school, Harris did not expect to make a career out of singing and acting. Following a short-lived stint at university studying architecture, he quickly realised it was not for him and moved to Sydney. He joined the workshop of BOY FROM OZ and a year later got into the production, launching a career that has gone from strength to strength ever since.


Boy From Oz - The Production Company

Harris looks back on BOY FROM OZ with fond memories: “I knew I was in something special then, but looking back on that now, to have that kind of experience of a brand new Australian work that went on to be so successful and about an Aussie who was so successful and so loved, and whose music has always meant so much to me... It will always remain a career highlight,” he recalled.

And with so many other local successes and Australian premiers under his belt including LEGALLY BLONDE, THE FULL MONTY and BREAST WISHES, Harris is now ready to move on to new challenges, including a move to New York shortly.

“I’m really looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead and just soaking up a whole new set of inspiration. I’ve loved and still continue to love the scene and my career here and I’ve been very fortunate and lucky to grab the roles and productions that have come.”

“So hopefully I want to keep fostering that and keep coming home [for] roles and shows, but to be opened up to a new market that pretty much is the Mecca of my industry, I’m really excited about that.”

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