The Australian Musical Theatre industry is booming. More and more shows are headed down under every year, and our array of talent is only becoming more and more evident with each new show. Every so often, we are blessed with a magical and amazing thing in the theatre industry – an original musical. And in such original musicals we are getting the chance to see skilled performers doing what they do best.
One such new musical is Flowerchildren, written by Peter Fitzpatrick, which tells the story of the American vocal group, The Mamas and Papas. Their turbulent lives are told in full dramatic and fascinating detail from their rise to fame in 1966 to their early and tragic end in 1970.
The showcase of talent is incredible in this small cast with Casey Donovan, Dan Humphris, Laura Fitzpatrick and Matt Hetherington donning the bell-bottoms and fringe vests. All of these performers have had their fair share of experience, whether in music alone or in theatre. But with such backgrounds, how did they each find their passion for performing in the first place?
“I remember seeing West Side Story on TV when I was in Grade 6 and it had a huge impact on me. I felt like I'd struck oil!!!” says Matt Hetherington. “My Mum tells me that when I was a baby she would take me to the clubs my Dad was performing in with his show band and while she was dancing I'd be looked after by the exotic dancers at Whiskey A Go Go. Well that laid it in stone for me. I think I decided back then that the life of a performer was for me!!! I studied musical theatre at WAAPA and it was there that I developed by skills from something I loved doing to something I could do for the rest of my life.”
LAURA FITZPATRICK, CASEY DONOVAN as Mama Cass, DAN HUMPHRIS, and MATT HETHERINGTON
Laura Fitzpatrick also got her passion for performing early. “I started doing amateur theatre in my teens, then when I turned 18 people seemed not to mind giving me money to do musicals.”
The community of musical theatre performers in Australia tends to overlap frequently, with many performers treading the boards with each other again and again in many different shows. Fitzpatrick and Hetherington are no different, having performed together several times.
“I've done a few things with Matt before, mostly playing an unhappily married couple,” says Fitzpatrick. “I don't think it's a big secret that he's one of the most talented dudes in the country, which, I guess, makes me a very lucky person. And there's pretty much no one else around that I prefer working with.”
Hetherington is equally complimentary of his cast members. “[Laura] is an extremely talented actor / singer who has a great gift of emoting a sincerity and truth that most actors would kill to have. The cast has been amazing; very friendly and easy to work with. We have had a lot of fun – maybe a little too much – in the rehearsal room.
There's a huge vocal sound we make together and I think we bring a real authenticity to the sound of the Mamas Papas. Casey has to take some great credit for that. She's dynamite!!! Being surrounded by people that love the theatre is a blessed existence. Theatre people tend to be a bit quirky and eccentric but it's usually mixed with a great level of creativity and sensitivity.”
An original musical brings a very unique challenge, and gift in the sense that you really are on your own. “In terms of being part of an original musical, I haven't really done anything like this before,” says Fitzpatrick. “It's a fantastic challenge – on one hand, no one is coming in with any expectations around how the role should be played, which is very freeing. On the other, there's no easy reference point for the character, no one else's voice in your head to copy if you're not sure how to play a line. But I find that very exciting, especially 'cos we're working with one of the best scripts I've come across.”
“I was involved with the original workshop of Flowerchildren a couple of years back,” says Hetherington. “It's a great experience being involved in a piece that is evolving and when the subject matter is as fascinating as the Mamas and Papas it makes it so much better.”
For Hetherington and Fitzpatrick as well as Humphris and Donovan, the joy of entertaining an audience is what lays ahead now. After all the hard work of work shopping, creating, rehearsing and refining an original show, the cast now get to play on stage, something that every performer adores more then anything.
“I love the immediacy of the response you get from an audience,” says Hetherington. “I love the fact that you have to build the blocks to tell the story every time and all the external influences that exist in our lives colour the performance so no two are every identical.”
It promises to be a beautiful piece of theatre, thoughtfully written and thoughtfully performed by professionals who have a passion and a drive to bring these characters to life. So make sure you put this one in your calender! Performing from the 26th of August at Theatre Works in St Kilda, Flowerchildren is running for fourteen performances only.
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