The Production Company is renowned for its short and intense rehearsal periods. Performers usually prepare ahead, commencing rehearsals with a good understanding of the show and their character, ready to contribute their own ideas. Most performers do, but not Christie Whelan-Browne.
When rehearsals commenced for The Production Company’s latest show, the Australian premiere of Nice Work If You Can Get It, Whelan-Browne admits she had done no preparation at all. She explains she works better when she goes in to rehearsals with no prior knowledge and just takes it as it comes.
She admits this approach does have its challenges when everyone else in the cast arrives well prepared – and since it’s her first time working with Helpmann Award winning director Roger Hodgman, she suggests,“He must have been wondering, ‘What the hell is she doing?’”
Whelan-Browne describes her lack of preparation as the complete opposite to her husband Rohan Browne, who plays leading man Jimmy Winter. He’d seen the show on Broadway and had prepared so well before rehearsals commenced she says he “knew the role inside-out”.
Rehearsals are now well underway with the show opening on Saturday. Whelan-Browne describes the rehearsals as being “beautiful”.
“I’m just loving watching, more than anything. I’m loving watching Rohan and Esther together – even though it’s my husband and one of my best friends … that’s a bit awkward. But they’re so romantic together and it’s really moving,” says Whelan-Browne, genuinely impressed with their onstage chemistry.
Whelan-Browne plays Eileen Evergreen, the self-proclaimed best interpretive modern dancer in the world. Eileen is engaged to Jimmy Winter (Rohan Browne) who wants to marry a respectable girl – one that has not been arrested before. Eileen, however, stands in the way of the real romance between Jimmy and Billie Bendix (Esther Hannaford). I asked Whelan-Browne about the experience of watching her husband and best friend playing the romantic leads.
“I’m very proud of Rohan. He’s doing a beautiful job. They have to do a kiss, but I got so mesmorised and perturbed that I forgot to come in with my line!” Christie comments.
She explains the pair stopped and told her she was supposed to cut them off!
Her reply: “Sorry I was having a stroke watching you!”
“We all laugh about it at the end,” Whelan-Browne adds.
She says watching her husband and friend playing the romantic leads opposite each other and having to kiss is not as weird as it should be.
“I guess that is just an indication of this business.”
While Whelan-Browne knew nothing about the show before she started, she has now discovered the show is incredibly hilarious and says the show will appeal to everyone.
“It has amazing songs, singing, dancing and is really funny.”
She says it’s rare these days to have all those elements in a new script – and being new means it doesn’t have any of the issues that most older musicals face such as racism or under-developed female characters. This ‘new’ Gershwin musical first opened on Broadway in 2012. The musical is set in a ritzy, Long Island mansion during the prohibition era of the roaring ‘20s and features extravagant dance numbers, glittering costumes and a delicious love story between an endearing millionaire playboy and an enchanting tom-boy bootlegger. The score includes ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, ‘S’Wonderful’, ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, ‘Lady Be Good’, ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off’ and the title number.
Other cast members include Gina Riley, Nicki Wendt, George Kapiniaris, John Wood, Jensen Overend, Monica Swayne and Tony Farrell.
“I’ve never worked with Gina Riley before but I’ve always just adored her work and I think that she’s just so funny … she’s really paved the way for funny women in the country and she’s just as funny in this show. She’s also a gorgeous woman. So I couldn’t be having a better time really.”
Despite the incredibly tight rehearsal period and immense pressure to deliver a high quality musical, Whelan-Browne says there is a surprising sense of ease. With the incredible support from the production team, they know it’s all going to work out and as a result she says she really gets to enjoy the whole process.
Nice Work If You Can Get It opens this Saturday at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, for a very limited season.
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Australian Premiere of the new Gershwin Musical
State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne
15th to 23rd August
For more information and tickets: www.theproductioncompany.com.au/nice-work/