Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Musicals / What's On / Industry News


By Simon Parris

One of Australia’s most popular and hardworking leading ladies, Lucy Durack is currently starring as golden-haired good witch Glinda in the return Australian season of iconic musical WICKED.

Fortunately, Durack had a spare moment to catch up backstage at her current home away from home, Sydney’s Capitol Theatre. Read on to learn about her high school stage roles, her first experience with WICKED and her exhaustive auditions for LEGALLY BLONDE.

Having worked at her craft for years in musicals such as MAMMA MIA!, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE and 42nd STREET, Durack was finally catapulted into the public eye in 2008 with the eagerly awaited Australian premiere of WICKED, a musical she became well acquainted with as the Australian season approached. “My friend Matthew Heyward played me the WICKED soundtrack in his car in late 2003. He played me “Defying Gravity” first and of course I was blown away, then he followed it up with “Popular” and I was hooked. When I heard “Popular” I remember thinking; "I think I could give that a go!"

Lucy Durack as 'Glinda' in WICKED
Photo by Jeff Busby

Durack’s first chance to see WICKED on stage was the West End production. “I was in Wales for the BBC Voice of Music Theatre competition and ended up having one night in London on my way home to Australia and my friend Patrick Gracey was working on WICKED and organised me a ticket. I saw Helen Dallimore as Glinda, Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Adam Garcia as Fiyero, and it was completely thrilling and magnificent and the most exciting night at the theatre I have had to this day.”

Having won the role of Glinda, Durack had the chance to see the Broadway staging. “Shortly after Amanda Harrison and I were cast in the original Australian cast of WICKED as Elphaba and Glinda, they sent us to New York to see the show, have some costume and wig fittings, have a little bit of rehearsal and be announced as Australia's Elphaba and Glinda via satellite on Channel 7's Sunrise. It was all very exciting. We went to see WICKED with the late great publicist Suzie Howie, a few Aussie journalists and John Frost, all of whom were over there with us for the purpose of publicising the show. It was such great fun.”

Lucy Durack as 'Glinda' in WICKED
Photo by Jeff Busby

Many fans may not recall, but Durack had already co-starred with Harrison. The pair had appeared together when Durack played Laurey and Harrison played Ado Annie in The Production Company’s OKLAHOMA!.

As with so many successful actors, Durack’s love of performing started at school. “The first show I did at school (John XXIII College in Perth) was SWEET CHARITY, and I played “First Young Woman,” which is possibly a character made up by my high school drama teacher to give everyone a few lines. I had 11 lines and I was in heaven. The following year I was lucky enough to score the role of Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL and in my final year I played KC Downing in MY FAVOURITE YEAR. All three are shows I will always hold dear to my heart.

“Whilst at WAAPA, I was lucky enough to be in many lovely shows. Two highlights for me were playing Babe in THE PAJAMA GAME and creating the role of Lisette in the Australian musical THE GOOD FIGHT, written by Nick Enright and David King.”

Students today have the choice of a wide range of Junior and School editions in which to perform. Productions related to Durack’s stage highlights include: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE JR, G2K OKLAHOMA!, and INTO THE WOODS JR.

As a graduate of WAAPA, Durack went straight into her first professional stage appearance, understudying and performing the role of blushing bride-to-be Sophie in megahit ABBA musical MAMMA MIA!. She shared her thoughts on the show’s worldwide appeal. “Well, ABBA music is a good place to start! I have quite sentimental view of this show; I still remember seeing Natalie O’Donnell, Anne Wood, Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy and all the other lovely people in the original Australian production in Melbourne (I joined for the Brisbane and Sydney seasons). They were so beautifully cast and told the story so well, it was really quite magical. I think audiences like seeing people like themselves on stage, singing ABBA music telling a nice story and I think that is what the creators have done really well. There is a representation of so many people up there, you’d be hard pressed not to relate to one of the characters or at least feel like you know these people from your own life in some way.”

Durack went on to share special memories from MAMMA MIA!: “I made some wonderful lifelong friends on that show and have enjoyed working with many of them again over the years. It was the first show for so many of us, it was so great for people starting out, all you needed was to be young and enthusiastic, you didn’t have to be particularly experienced, so it gave a lot of us our first break. I always feel particularly proud of our MAMMA MIA! alumni when I see them doing great things out in the world, now that we are all grown up. Some alumni from that time include Simon Gleeson (LES MISÉRABLES), Esther Hannaford (KING KONG), Alinta Chidzey (WEST SIDE STORY), Sun Park (Hi-5) and many others.”

Melbourne’s long-running music theatre company The Production Company showcased Durack’s talents in several of their prolific output of musicals. The 2006 season of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE is one of the only times The Production Company has presented an Australian premiere. Durack starred as ditzy Miss Dorothy, an heiress who was living undercover to look for love while avoiding fortune hunters.

Durack shared her happy memories of this production. “Playing Miss Dorothy in that gorgeous show with Chloe Dallimore as Millie and other wonderful people like David Harris, Adam Murphy and Nicki Wendt was one of the most delightful performing experiences of my life. My experience was that THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE has an innate buoyancy in a similar but different way to LEGALLY BLONDE, and it is similarly deceptively smart show.

Lucy Durack and Chloe Dallimore in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE
The Production Company
Photo by Simon Parris

“Possibly my favourite part of that lovely time is that it was the first time I got to work with my now good friend Kellie Dickerson, who was our music director and who I have gone on to work with on loads of other shows and concerts including WICKED and LEGALLY BLONDE.”

In 2010, the cast of WICKED banded together to present a concert version of INTO THE WOODS, the revered musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The concert was held to raise funds for the ANZ Trustees Foundation: Rob Guest Endowment, an annual scholarship program that supports the next generation of musical theatre stars, creators and musicians. Asked whether she would like to play the role of plucky, optimistic Cinderella again, Durack replied “Absolutely! I adore that show.

Riding the crest of success with WICKED, Durack seemed an obvious choice to star as Elle Woods in the Australian premiere of LEGALLY BLONDE. In actual fact, the auditions were quite arduous. “It was LONG! I did an audition or two every month or so for about 10 months! When I began auditioning, I was playing Glinda in the Adelaide season of WICKED and was flying back to Sydney to film the part I played in the film Goddess on my days off so was able to nip in for LEGALLY BLONDE auditions in Sydney between filming. It was a crazy time! Probably the most rigorous and challenging audition process of my life!

“I was initially told I sounded too much like Glinda playing Elle Woods so I worked really hard with a few excellent people (particularly singing teachers Tim Smith on Melbourne and Jeremy Powell in London via Skype) to change that as much as I could. My final audition came after a week of workshopping with the UK associate director and music director and was in London! It was an amazing, overwhelming and exciting time!”

Fortunately, Durack was already familiar with Elle Woods, sorority girl with a heart of gold: “Yes, I have always loved the film and had seen the Broadway production of the musical when Amanda Harrison and I were in New York. We had the best time and loved it!”

Durack commented on the pressures and rewards of playing a leading role: “It was challenging in a lot of ways, not the least of which, being that it is a rollercoaster - once you’re on, you can’t get off. I honestly didn’t stop moving the whole show, which was quite exhausting. However, it was such a positive show that there was also a sort of buoyancy that stuck with you the whole time, not to mention the amazing people I was working with. On top of that, those gorgeous dogs were hands down the best thing about working on LEGALLY BLONDE. I wish they could be in every show with me.”

David Harris as ‘Emmett Forrest’ and Lucy Durack as ‘Elle Woods’
Photo by Jeff Busby

Ultimately, the message of LEGALLY BLONDE made the experience very special: “The character of Elle Woods is very unprejudiced, open, kind, compassionate, smart and hardworking and her mantra (and that of the show) - “Being true to yourself never goes out of style” - is a real winner. Even though at first glimpse she might not look it, Elle is an underdog and she stands up for others whenever she can. It was a real treat to play such a lovely character. I think the show is positive and empowering to watch and it certainly was to perform in.”

Lucy Durack as ‘Elle Woods’ in LEGALLY BLONDE
Photo by Jeff Busby

Setting aside Elle Woods’ pretty in pink wardrobe, Durack has returned to the well-loved role of Glinda, and has an established pre-show routine: “Apart from a good warm up, the only thing I do fairly religiously is go in and chat to Jemma as she is getting greened up, and I do my pin curls in her dressing room. We mostly just chat about the day, general chit chat and whatever is happening on our favourite TV shows, we both love a bit of reality TV every now and again and really got into The Bachelor. Even though this is really just because we love to have a chat, perhaps it also keeps the show fresh as we are usually fairly up to date with each other’s lives and are real life friends, which makes it easy to play friends on stage.”

Between WICKED gigs, Durack had the chance to meet several other international Glindas, most notably the originator of the role: “I was doing LEGALLY BLONDE in Melbourne when Kristin Chenoweth was touring Australia and the only night I could see her was a Monday, which was her Sydney concert so a few weeks before, my (now husband) Chris Horsey had presented me with an envelope with both plane and Kristin Chenoweth tickets! SO I got to see her perform at the Sydney Opera House AND thanks to Kristin's generosity (apparently it was even her idea!) and the lovely scheming of my husband Chris (who had proposed to me earlier in the day!!!) and a few other magical beings who were working with her, I was asked on stage to sing “For Good” with her - she had even learnt the Elphaba part as she knew I wouldn't know it! Chris and I got to have a drink with her after the show and it was completely wonderful!

“I have also been lucky enough to meet Annaleigh Ashford (US Glinda), Diane Pilkington (UK Glinda) and Helen Dallimore who was the original UK Glinda and played Paulette in our original Australian season of LEGALLY BLONDE - I am lucky enough to count her as a really dear friend.”

Junior actors will now have one more Lucy Durack musical to perform, as Hal Leonard is proud to announce the new release of LEGALLY BLONDE JR.

Lucy Durack performs ‘Popular’ from WICKED on The Morning Show.

Legally Blonde Australia: 'Serious' (Full Performance)
with Lucy Durack and Rob Mills

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