The show must go on, and last week an Australian favourite joined the cast of UK touring show Beyond the Barricade with only a few days’ notice. Between her busy schedule of finishing an energetic and delightful run as Ado Annie Oakley in The Production Company’s Oklahoma, to learning a host of brand new songs for this highly acclaimed concert series, we spoke to Elise McCann about the whirlwind of the last few weeks and standing in for Katie Leeming (Les Misérables on West End, and the movie, and all of the Les Mis concerts), who has fallen ill on tour.
“Busy is my middle name at the moment, everything is busy! It’s amazing, I was really nervous last week when we were finishing Oklahoma, and I hadn’t met any of the team of Beyond the Barricade yet, and there’s so much music and they are so good. They had been working this show for years; Andy and David have created it 19 years ago. This is second nature to them, but when I flew in on Monday we all met and had dinner and it was lovely, and then we all got down to work on Tuesday”.
She’s had to learn a lot of new songs in a short period of time.
“There’s lot of medleys! I think I’d sung a few of the solos before… so I sing ‘The Winner Takes It All’, I sing ‘On My Own’, I sing ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, I sing ‘I Still Believe’ with Poppy Tierney, from Miss Saigon, and there’s so many others as well. But those four I knew because I’d sung them at some stage or I just knew them really well. But then pretty much everything else I have had to learn – there’s another 20 songs swimming around my head!” she said.
“It’s great music! The way they do the arrangements, they really try and do the arrangements the way that you would be hearing it as if you were watching the show, so there’s something familiar about it. They make it feel like you are watching the characters from the show, you’re watching Chris sing something from Miss Saigon, or you’re watching the Phantom sing something from Phantom, it just doesn’t happen to be in costume or have the set beyond you, but it still sounds the same. So that’s really awesome, it helps me, and it makes it a bit more familiar, but it’s really great for audiences, it feels familiar to them as well and it’s exciting to see it that way”.
McCann joined the cast in Ballarat last week, before continuing through regional Victoria and then to South Australia, before the tour heads to her hometown of Sydney.
“It’s going to 25 cities in Australia I think, and we don’t get to that very often! I’m from Sydney originally, my sister lives out near Parramatta, so she’s going to come to the Parramatta concert, and my mum lives on a winery, so she’s going to come to the Newcastle concert, and my dad lives in the city, so he’ll come to the concert at the State Theatre. I’ve never performed at the State Theatre, so I’m so excited to be performing on this stage in Sydney, it’s so beautiful. So it’s a really comprehensive tour, with four singers and super tight harmonies, lots of material, it’s really big and wonderful”.
Beyond the Barricade has been delighting audiences across Europe and the UK for 19 years now, and now has come to entertain Australian audiences for the first time ever. Starring principle performers and former Les Misérables performers from London’s West End, including Andy Reiss, who has played numerous male roles including Jean Valjean; David Fawcett, who also starred as Valjean, and Poppy Tierney, known for playing Cosette. The four performers are joined by an ensemble of talented musicians, to recreate the passion and orchestrations of some of the world’s most famous musicals.
McCann’s involvement in the show came about quickly when Leeming became ill while touring.
“It happened very quickly, Katie one of the other singers from the UK, she came down quite ill when they were in New Zealand, and she just wasn’t able to get better. The show is so tight, with such tight harmonies, and it’s only four singers so it’s a huge vocal load for each person. They had to do a few shows with just the three of them, which they are completely capable of doing, because they are hugely professional, and they are all incredible singers, but it makes it really challenging and they were chopping and changing things. It was going to be too much pressure for Katie to try and get 100% straight away, they went let’s bring someone else in. It made sense to bring someone else in that was around in Australia and had a bit of an Australian base, so I was just the lucky person who got asked to do it, I don’t know how! I just know someone asked, and I said yes!”
McCann is most well known for originating the role of Miss Honey in the Australian premiere of the Royal Shakespeare Production of Matilda for which she won the 2016 Helpmann Award, the 2015 Sydney Theatre Award, and was nominated for the 2016 Green Room Award. She’s a NIDA Graduate, just finished two shows with the Production Company, and played a huge variety of roles across Australia. Her debut album Dahlesque was released nationally with ABC Music in June 2017, following which she premiered the concert version at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. She most recently performed Dahlesque live with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Now she joins a cast of seasoned West End professionals who have toured this show all around the world.
“It’s quite phenomenal, to create a show and for it to have toured all around London, all around the UK, all around the world, and they do shows every single year, every week of every year, and they have fans all across the world who keep coming back to see the show. It’s amazing, we don’t really get that here, so it’s a really cool concert to be part of” she said.
Her background as a swing has helped just straight into the show.
“Not quite this pace no, this was literally two or three ago (before her first show). When I first started out I was doing a bunch of swinging, learning a lot of different parts. When I did Little Women for Kookaburra I was the only female swing, so I covered six female roles, which was a lot to learn, and I went on quite suddenly for a few of them. I’ve done the thing where you go on quite suddenly, you often find out that morning, but I’ve never had to learn the whole thing at the same time. But because I knew of the songs, and I’d been working so hard with Oklahoma, I have just been really busy so my brain has had to be really active, it’s helped me pick things up quickly”.
“It’s amazing how I hadn’t necessarily sung a lot of the material, you kind of know it by osmosis. The music that they sing in this show are the classics, from Miss Saigon, Phantom, West Side Story, Les Misérables of course, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King, a bit of Mamma Mia! stuff in there, they’ve throw in a bit of Hamilton, they’ve got such a great repertoire list, I don’t know how but it’s gotten in my head and it’s staying… for the moment! I’m going to cross my fingers and hope it keeps going that way” she laughed.
McCann most recently played Ado Annie Oakley in Oklahoma and had so much fun doing it.
“Basically, Bobby Fox never does the same thing twice” she laughed, talking about her most recent experience with The Production Company, and as a bubbly, brilliant brunette opposite Fox as her love interest Will Parker. “He’ll mix things up, there were many times where things would just be different – all of a sudden I’d be on top of his shoulder or a line he’d take way longer, or do a dance, he’s very funny”.
She loved bringing light Oakley as the almost feminist hero of the show.
“She’s such a joyous person, she’s got such a lust for life, it keeps you really energised and happy. She’s not ashamed of the fact that she wants to try out different men or that she has these emotional feelings, she’s not ashamed of any of it she says ‘This is who I am, this is how I roll’, and she celebrates it. She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she’s totally endearing,” she said on her role.
Beyond the Barricade is very different to her previous roles, like Miss Honey in Matilda. Before this, her most recent show Dahlesque, which is like a concert theatre piece – its just her singing songs, telling stories and talking to the audience, which helped prepare her for the concert style of the show.
“This is super different, but I’ve been doing Dahlesque before Oklahoma, so I’ve gotten into the swing about a concert style show. There’s something really nice about chopping and changing and doing a bit of both, because when you’re doing a concert you really get to sit in every song, in every moment, and then you let that one go and you do something completely different. You’re not having to go through the entire journey of a whole show, it’s moment by moment and that’s really fun”.
She’s got lots more concerts coming up next year for her album released this year, also called Dahlesque, and plenty more on for the rest of the year – we cannot wait to see what she will do next.
“I’ve got some other pieces of concert work, I’m waiting to hear on a project that I worked on at the beginning of the year that we’re hoping will get the green light. There are always dream roles! Every time I see a show – dream role. Every time I see a play- dream role. I have a never ending list!”
Beyond the Barricade has just wrapped up its Victorian leg, and continues touring Australia until 10th July. For show dates and locations, and to purchase tickets, visit https://beyondthebarricade.com.au/
Keep up to date with what Elise McCann is doing next: http://elisemccann.com/