2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for the arts industry, with the coronavirus pandemic closing theatres around the world and leaving countless numbers of people out of work. It’s been a challenging and often soul-searching experience for performers.
“As artists, throughout 2020 we’ve been toying with the idea of how we’re going to make money – do I go and do this, do I go and do that? If I can’t perform what am I going to do? And trying to find that ‘thing’ that is completely fulfilling to us, outside of our world of performing,” explained Ainsley Melham.
It is from that soul-searching experience that Ainsley Melham draws an interesting parallel and connection to his latest role – as Pippin in the Broadway revival production of Stephen Schwartz’s musical Pippin.
“It doesn’t feel like I have to do a lot of searching to find those feelings that Pippin has, which I think is an amazing gift as an actor, to realise you and the character are much closer than you think.”
Since graduating from WAAPA in 2012, Ainsley Melham has carved out an enviable career. His first break came as a member of the popular children’s entertainment group Hi-5. In musical theatre he has performed at the Hayes Theatre as Sonny in Xanadu, and most recently as Molina in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Kiss of the Spider Woman.
However, it was landing the title role in Disney’s Aladdin that thrust Ainsley Melham onto the international stage. Melham played the role of Aladdin to great critical acclaim through seasons around Australia before taking on the role in the Broadway and then West End productions. Melham also performed the role in the Aladdin live capture at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End. Aladdin gave Melham extraordinary opportunities beyond anything he had imagined.
Ainsley Melham was due to return to Broadway to reprise his role of Aladdin when the coronavirus pandemic struck, closing theatres around the world, and suddenly this Disney Prince found himself living back at home with his family in Bathurst, New South Wales.
“Even though I would love to get back to Broadway, and I hope it opens up very soon, I’m quietly glad that we’re happy and healthy and safe here,” reflected Melham.
The closure of Broadway theatres and international travel restrictions has provided Ainsley Melham with the opportunity to take on the title role in Pippin, which will be the first large scale musical to open in Australia following the coronavirus shutdowns that have decimated the industry.
“It really puts Australia in this unique position,” said Melham, with Broadway theatres expected to be closed until at least June 2021.
This fresh Broadway revival production of Pippin opens at the Sydney Lyric Theatre on November 24th for an exclusive Sydney season. For many audiences Pippin will be a fresh, new musical, but it’s not the first time Pippin has played in this country.
Pippin first premiered in Australia in 1974, starring Johnny Farnham in the title role and including cast members Colleen Hewitt and Nancye Hayes. As part of his preparation for the role, Ainsley Melham has been listening to that original Australian cast recording.
“It was so fascinating, listening to how the show has evolved between the original production and the revival, both musically and stylistically, so I’m really excited to be part of this show. I think the music is really beautiful and I’m just sort of humbled to be able to stand up there and sing Stephen Schwartz’s music.”
“The” song Ainsley Melham gets to perform is ‘Corner of the Sky’ – a favourite of many musical theatre fans.
“Oh my gosh, yes absolutely!” laughed Melham. “I can feel the quiet pressure of everybody waiting to hear that song, but I’m just thrilled that I get to sing it.”
While Ainsley Melham has well and truly established himself as a true triple threat of the stage, this Broadway revival production of Pippin will push the performer to learn a new set of skills: circus. It’s something that Melham has never done before, but he feels the physicality of his role as Aladdin was good preparation.
“Every project that I’ve done up until now has had its own challenge, in its own way, and certainly Pippin will be getting my head and my body around these circus skills.”
“It’s not something I’ve ever trained in before, and I know I’ll be looking on in complete admiration of our circus performers and acrobats that are in the show. because they bring just such an amazing level of skill and class to the production,” said Melham.
Like all previous roles, Ainsley Melham is excited to take on this new challenge, although he acknowledges that the whole cast will be working hard to get back to being show-fit and ready for the rigorous demands of an eight-show week.
“As much as you can do outside, in the interim, nothing can really emulate the physical intensity of doing a show eight times a week, so I’m excited to step onto stage. I have no doubt we’ll be ready and raring to go on opening night!”
This recent revival of Pippin is a visually spectacular circus-themed show, which will appeal to a broad audience.
“I hope we get that wonderful audience in from all different walks of life, because I really do think the show will have something that will resonate with everyone, particularly after the course of this year,” said Melham
Apart from the spectacle of the circus elements, Ainsley Melham also believes the story of Pippin will hit people’s hearts.
“It will be a wonderful show that a family can come and see and everyone will walk away with something. The whole country needs a little bit of relief and a little bit of joy.”
With state borders opening up, Pippin is set to welcome Australian audiences back to the theatre, as Sydney becomes the envy of the theatre world.
Ainsley Melham still hopes to return to Broadway in the future, but for now it happy to be back home in Australia.
“We have a beautiful country and I think being in Sydney, during summer, doing this show, is just going to remind me of that – we have beautiful beaches here and a wonderful lifestyle, so you can’t beat it!”
It would seem Ainsley Melham has indeed found his corner of the sky.
Pippin opens at the Sydney Lyric Theatre on November 24th for a strictly limited season.
For more details: https://pippinthemusical.com.au/
Pippin Photo Credit: David Hooley