Thursday, June 4, 2015

Musicals / What's On / Industry News / Tips & Tricks


Singing actress Patrice Tipoki is enjoying a well-deserved period of high profile attention in her career as the new production of LES MISÉRABLES makes its way around Australia. Tipoki has also just released her debut album, A Musical Heart, a collection of music theatre career highlights.

Tipoki took time out from her busy schedule at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, where she stars as Fantine in LES MISÉRABLES, to discuss her album and to share her thoughts on the run of iconic musical characters she has played.

Tipoki grew up as part of a highly musical family, and her current show was actually a long-term family favourite. LES MISÉRABLES was the first musical that I ever went to see. It’s played a big part in all our upbringing, as I know it has with so many other people. It was a show that we had on repeat in the car, and we knew all of the songs back to front, and we’d sing them to anyone who would come over.

“I would literally sing all of the songs, “Master of the House,” “Castle on a Cloud,” it didn’t matter. It really has been a big part of my life, and so when it came round this time I didn’t care what part I auditioned for, I just wanted to be considered. It’s beautiful being able to play Fantine.”

Patrice Tipoki as 'Fantine' in LES MISÉRABLES
Photo by Matt Murphy

Being a worldwide smash hit for thirty years, there is obviously something very special about LES MISERABLES. “I think there’s something that’s deep, and I don’t know if I can find the words to describe it. There’s something about the struggle that Valjean has, and the struggles that all the characters have, that people can relate to. Nothing is ever easy in this life. We see people going through that struggle and trying their best to overcome it. I feel that even though Fantine dies early on the in the piece, she does get some resolution at the end of the production when she comes back, and I feel like there is a lot of hope in that message. There is hope that if we keep striving toward whatever it is that we’re fighting for, there will be peace again.”



Playing a long-term role often involves special rituals and routines for preparation.
“I have all of my rituals that I do to get ready for the show. There’s one that I started doing early on, where I try to make contact with everyone before the show, you know, good old chookas!. You don’t always have time to have in-depth chats with everyone before a show, but it’s really nice to be able to touch base before you go on to telling such a deep story.

“We have a ritual, as well, as a cast, where we stand in a circle and hold hands and just have something that we focus on before we start the show. It’s a little bit hippy, but it’s where we are all safe and we’re all equal and I really appreciate that.”

Tipoki sings beloved power ballad “I Dreamed A Dream” on A Musical Heart, as well as fully displaying her incredible ability to belt in “Defying Gravity,” a song she performed as alternate Elphaba in the first Australian tour of WICKED.

Tipoki was also aware of this popular musical before auditioning. “After I graduated from WAAPA, someone played me WICKED and I went away and became more familiar with the show. Then I started getting goosebumps every time I’d hear “Defying Gravity,” and it started becoming imperative that I audition for WICKED. When I heard that it was coming, I did my best to get my foot in the door and I know it was hard for a lot of people to even be seen, as it was for me, but I’m glad I got in there.

Patrice Tipoki as 'Elphaba' in WICKED

There is now a solid contingent of actresses around the world who have played Elphaba. “I got to meet Carmen Cusack when she came over. She was one of the international Elphabas that came over and did a few weeks when we were running [in Melbourne]. It was really fascinating to see her just be plucked out of an overseas production and go into ours and just fit in. These big book shows have a plan and everyone knows where they need to stand and what they need to do. Even with that role, it’s amazing to see every single person make it their own, and I’ve enjoyed that over the years.”

Early last year, Tipoki, a keen Disney fan, had the chance to play the role of Belle in DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in concert at Melbourne Zoo. “Oh, I could have done that for longer. That’s a movie that I knew back to front growing up, and so when the call came through offering me that role I said “Yes, please!” I would definitely love to do it again. I love Disney and I love Belle’s strength.

“It was quite magical being in the zoo. I think it was at the end of act one there was one moment where the Beast did a huge roar then there was silence from the stage but we could hear a lion roaring in the background as if they’d been disturbed by the other Beast. It was amazing.”

Tipoki actually sings Mrs Potts’ number “Beauty and the Beast” on her album. Another title song covered is from Sondheim’s ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, another show Tipoki performed in concert.

While the musical has gone on to be affectionately enjoyed for its challenging but melodious score and quirky story, the original Broadway production of ANYONE CAN WHISTLE was a short-lived flop. “I don’t claim to have all the answers for why some shows do and don’t work. I think that there’s some wonderful elements to that show that I would love to explore for a longer run, but being in Australia I don’t know how that could happen. Most Australians aren’t familiar with a lot of Sondheim’s work.”

Sondheim’s canon of work must surely contain a couple of other gems that would attract Tipoki. “Having just had INTO THE WOODS come out on film, I would love to be a part of that. I remember seeing productions of it growing up and over the years, and as much as I appreciate the people that I’ve seen do all those roles, I would love to be able to put my hand up as being considered for some of those roles.

“I sang one of the Cinderella songs at WAAPA, “On The Steps of the Palace,” which was fun and light and really fitting with where I was and where I was being typecast at that stage of my life. But I’m guessing I’d be pitched more towards The Witch [now] considering where my belt has got me.

Many of the shows mentioned here are available in modified versions for younger performers. There is the LES MISÉRABLES SCHOOL EDITION as well as DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST JR and INTO THE WOODS JR. Exciting new additions to this line up are THE LION KING EXPERIENCE JR and THE LION KING EXPERIENCE KIDS.

Tipoki played Nala in the original Australian season of THE LION KING. “I think it’s the perfect show for schools and younger groups to be able to do. Obviously it has the appeal because of the animated movie and the fact that there are children’s roles in it. I think the story behind it, about the power that we can draw from our heritage and from remembering who we are, is a really important message.”

Tipoki’s talent and passion for performing were developed from a very young age. “I grew up with a performing family. My grandparents all performed. I was performing since I was in nappies! My first professional production was when I was seven in THE KING AND I so I’ve had the [performing] bug for a while now.

The main musical I did at high school was SWEET CHARITY and I played Charity. That was a lot of fun. It’s interesting that they’ve just had the production that toured - my brother [Kuki Tipoki] was in that playing Big Daddy, which was really cool because he did that role in our production in high school. Little bit different then!

“I played Hodel in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at WAAPA, which I enjoyed, and I also had a lead in Nick Enright’s SPURBOARD, a play that we did in second year, which I loved. We also got to work with Nancye Hayes on a revue of Frank Loesser material. I did a lot of soprano singing, which was my thing back in the day. THE MOST HAPPY FELLA was one of [Loesser’s] shows I did a song from.”

Younger performers can appear in G2K THE KING AND I and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF JR.


Tipoki’s debut album A Musical Heart features fresh arrangements of well-known music theatre songs. “Part of the joy in putting it together was trying to make the songs our own as much as we still wanted to pay homage to the shows that they come from and the composers who’ve written them, quite a few of whom are still alive. I didn’t want to disrespect them in any way, I just wanted to simply tell my own story though their songs, and I hope that I’ve fulfilled that without stepping on any toes.”

Photo by Kurt Sneddon

Musical Director for the album, and co-arranger of the songs, was Patrice’s sister Laura Tipoki. “It’s fun because we’re family and often you don’t even need to speak to know what each other is thinking. There are times, as well, being sisters that we didn’t always agree on things, but it’s interesting that what did end up staying and what did end up working was what we felt in all of our instincts on songs to begin with.”

As well as showcasing Tipoki’s strong belt, A Musical Heart includes her lovely soprano voice in “Tonight” from WEST SIDE STORY and her expressive lyrical style in “I’m Not Afraid Of Anything” from SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD.

The album was released 1 May 2015 and has already experienced impressive success. “We had some great results on iTunes on the weekend after we released. We are at number one on the iTunes classical charts, and quite a few songs are in the top ten and top five as well. We’ve been really blown away by the response!

Patrice Tipoki, Capitol Theatre
Photo by Kurt Sneddon

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