Amelia Cormack is a singer, actor, songwriter, musician and voice-over artist and, in recent years, has chalked up an impressive range of performing credits overseas.
In 2011, Cormack moved to London, appearing on the West End as Diva 1 in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical. Subsequently, she toured the UK in Murder Mistaken and then Radio Times, before heading to New York in 2013. Since moving to the US, Cormack has performed in two national tours – with Kinky Boots in 2014 and Les Miserables in 2017 – and has worked with regional companies and been featured in a number of concerts in New York at Lincoln Center and Le Poisson Rouge.
So, having had so many experiences performing internationally, are there moments that stand out for Cormack as particular highlights?
She singles out two.
“Firstly, my debut in Priscilla on the West End,” Cormack tells Theatre People. “To descend from the ceiling singing the opening notes of the show, [reprising] a role that I was the first in the world to play … was pretty extraordinary. Being a part of that original company is something I will treasure forever, and to see its international success and share in that was truly a dream come true.”
The second, she says, was performing in Kinky Boots on the same day the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a legal right to marry in all 50 states.
“The entire cast did the finale with tears in our eyes, and the speech that Joe Coots, our ‘Don’, made, was exquisite – there was not a dry eye in the house. It made me so proud to be a part of it, and yet so sad that it wasn’t yet a reality in my home country.”
While she has grown as an artist during her time overseas, Cormack says she’s grateful for her education and training in Australia.
“I have been so fortunate to work with some of the luminaries of Australian entertainment, and to call them friends and mentors,” she says. “Genevieve Lemon, Tony Sheldon and Jackie Weaver were all cast mates on Priscilla. They have provided a template for me of what it means to be a professional in this industry, to be grateful for every opportunity, and to work your hardest every minute you’re on stage.”
She says it has stood her in good stead for going into highly competitive overseas markets.
“Australians are held in high regard overseas for their work ethic, and I think it’s one of the big reasons we do so well wherever we go,” says Cormack.
Her advice to anyone wanting to pursue the dream of working overseas is to give themselves time.
“It’s going to take some time to establish yourself wherever you go, be it a new city or a new country,” Cormack explains. “I didn’t move to London until I was 31, then New York at 33. I had a lot of training and a body of work behind me and that really helped to establish me in the scene in both cities. It also helped having the Priscilla connection, as the team knew I was there and able to replace an injured Diva at relatively late notice.
“I would also say that it’s really important to know who you are as a performer – what your type is – because if you don’t, the industry will tell you pretty quickly. I realised at a very young age, that, as much as I wanted to play Maria in West Side Story, I was never going to be an ingenue, and that that’s okay. There’s actually a lot more roles, and longevity, in being a ‘character’ actor, and it’s a pretty fun place to play.”
Cormack has returned home to star alongside Debora Krizak in Razorhurst, a new musical making its Australian debut at Hayes Theatre Co. Cormack plays the role of Tilly Devine, the infamous crime figure who, along with Kate Leigh (played by Krizak), ran one of the most formidable ‘Razor’ gangs in Sydney in the 1920s.
Cormack says she has watched the rise of the Hayes from afar.
“I left just before it was founded, so I missed out on being able to do shows here,” she says. “So, when I became aware of Razorhurst and the fact it was happening here, right in the heart of where a lot of the action of our story takes place, I knew I had to be involved.”
Like Cormack, Razorhurst Director Benita De Wit, composer Andy Peterson and book writer Kate Mulley are all based in New York.
“I had actually contacted Andy about the initial production in New Jersey, but then was unable to be involved due to timing and touring,” says Cormack. “So, when they asked me to read through the script around six months ago, I jumped at the chance. I also stated my interest in coming home to do it, as I haven’t done a show in Australia since I left eight years ago, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a homecoming.”
Cormack discusses learning about Tilly Devine in preparing to play her in Razorhurst.
“I have learned so many things about Tilly, and I absolutely adore her,” she says. “I’m a bit of a research fiend, and have loved discovering who this woman was, through the wealth of information about her there is in this city. She was a woman who knew who she was and didn’t shy away from that. In fact, she was proud of it. She came from the slums of Camberwell, southeast London, and became a prostitute so she wouldn’t have to work in the factories. It was her ticket out, and she met her husband, Jim Devine, that way – an Aussie soldier who brought her back to Sydney. She ended up running 30 brothels at her height, and she and Kate were the most feared gangsters of their time.
“The sad thing is that Tilly was actually an incredibly generous person. She just didn’t publicise it the way Kate Leigh did, so no one knew. She was hated during her life, and when she died, no one came to her funeral. However, I feel that she would be pretty proud of how present she now is in Sydney – so many people I know have come out of the woodwork with wonderful stories about her or a connection to her, and that has been amazing. I just wish she could have felt some of this love during her life.”
Cormack describes Razorhurst as one of the most challenging things she has ever done.
“You don’t realise how much downtime you get in a show with multiple people. You’ve got time to look at your script and think about what you’re doing next,” she says. “Conversely, on a one-woman show, like the cabaret shows I’ve done in the past, you can take things at your own pace. When there’s two of you, there’s very little work you can do without the other.
“Rehearsals are also exhausting because you’re on all the time. Having said that, we were so lucky to have an all-female rehearsal room. I’ve never had that before, and it was a wonderful experience. We all created an open, honest place where we could speak about how we were doing, and whether we needed to take a moment. It was a truly nurturing place.”
Cormack also talks about the relevance of Devine’s and Leigh’s story in this day and age.
“These were two women who did and said whatever they wanted, regardless of the consequences, at a time when women did not have much say over their lives. In this way, they are role models for those of us sometimes afraid to speak up. They were the most powerful and feared gangsters of their time.
“When you look at the US, for example, it’s men you see in those positions – men like Al Capone. Kate and Tilly, as female crime bosses, are truly unique. Who knows what they could have been if born in another time?”
RAZORHURST – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point
Season: Playing now until 13 July 2019
Times: Mon 6.30pm| Tues- Sat 7.30pm | Wed 1.00pm | Sat 2pm
Price: From $45
Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au | (02) 8065 7337