Earlier this year, CLOC Musical Theatre amazed audiences with its breathtaking world amateur premiere production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.  The season was one of the company’s biggest successes with sold-out performances and glowing reviews.

For its next production, CLOC is switching gears and preparing to “kick up its heels”, taking audiences back to 1940s New York where it will present the classic American musical fable Guys and Dolls

Theatre People caught up with CLOC’s  two leading men, Jon Sebastian and Scott Hili for an insight into their stage collaborations.

Theatre People: How long have you known each other and what is it like working so closely together in another production?

Jon Sebstian: My first encounter with Scott was back in 1998 for CLOC’s production of A Chorus Line (Choreographed by Guys & Dolls Choreographer / Co-Director Lynette White).  We have been in contact on and off over the years and it’s always a pleasure to be on-stage with him.  It’s not a secret however that we have a healthy rivalry on-stage (always in context of the show and always fun) and we are known to cause the other to “lose it” (just a bit) in rehearsals and on-stage.

Scott Hili: Jon is completely right, A Chorus Line was where it all started.  A friendship spanning 15 years and what a delight to be playing opposite each other in lead roles in what is no secret one of my favourite shows.  I adore Jon's voice and he's giving the role of Sky his own personal Brando-esq stamp!

TP: How have you got to where you are in the Arts world?

JS: I wouldn’t say anything special. At the end of the day I just love theatre.  I started on stage with some backstage lighting work. Most of all, I love the social aspect,  whether I am on stage, lead, ensemble or backstage, I just love the people and love having fun.

SH: Phantom of the Opera with CLOC marked 30 years since I first “tread the boards” at age 7.  Musicals were always my thing ever since my dad introduced me to my long time idol Gene Kelly.  I have been performing in both amateur and professional musicals as well as set and costume designing, directing, choreographing, crewing and most recently writing and producing my own works.

TP: What process do you go through to prepare for a role?

JS: I must say I’m a little lazy in this regard. (Sorry Lynette).  I try to understand the show but then it’s a case of it developing over time during rehearsals. I generally don’t want to be ready too early. I like the nerves and rush towards moving to the theatre.

SH: I still do a character profile – name age likes dislike family etc.  This gives me depth to play another person.  It enables me when reacting to feelings and emotions through delivery of dialogue from the other actor, a knowledge base to draw upon to create living drama that is interesting to watch.

TP: Do you have a dream role?

JS: I am lucky enough to have already ticked my original dream role as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz with CLOC in 2008. There are a couple more roles I’d love to have a go at with Dan in Next to Normal being one of them.

SH: My bucket list: Jean Val Jean (Les Miserablés), Don Quixote (Man of La Mancha), Ali Hakim (Oklahoma!) which I will be playing for PLOS later this year.

TP: What advice do you have for aspiring performers?

JS: Just love what you do. Whether it be with professional aspirations or just the local companies. Also, I am a strong believer in doing ensemble – go back have some fun, take the pressure off. You never stop learning in an ensemble as each ensemble has its own diverse mix of people.

SH: Don't do it! Lol I agree with Jon – always learn, know your current skill set and be realistic about it.  Build up your tool-base and you will have the “know how” to tackle any challenge!  Don't be scared of feedback…  It lets you know what to learn next.

TP: What makes the difference between this production of Guys and Dolls and previous stagings?

JS: The Cast, The Team, CLOC.  Melbourne and wider Victoria as we know have an amazing breadth of talent that “tread the boards” for the love.  You cannot buy that love in performing.  It projects from the stage like no professional show you will see.  The smiles on the faces of the cast are genuine.

SH: I believe that a good production team is the key to a good show.  We have a rare opportunity in music theatre in the non-professional circuit to create original works.  Chris and Lynette have done their homework and have not only assembled a diverse cast of character actors, but have designed the look and feel of the show to give it a unique caricature feel.

TP: Have there been any challenges in preparing and staging this production?

JS: Lines, lines, lines… There is a particular rhythm to the dialogue, a challenge at the start, but everyone is really getting into now and a lot of fun is being had.

SH: Lines, lines, lines – there are sooooo many I want to shoot myself in the foot!  Being written in the Damon Runyon style, the dialogue calls for a unique style of phrasing and repetitive consolidation – not as easy as you may think peeps!!

TP: What is your favourite moment/song of the show?

JS: For me personally, I am loving the opportunity to sing “Luck be a Lady” – such an iconic song.

SH: Ummmm squishing an éclair into Michael Butlers face!  Watch out for it!  As for other moments, just wait until you hear “Sit Down Your Rockin’ the Boat”… HUGE!

TP: What do you hope the audience will take away from this production?

JS: A BIG, BIG SMILE.  You can’t but smile in so many moments during the show.  The show itself is one of the classics, so many of the songs are known by so many.  And, well, the entire cast is so very talented.

SH: I hope they take away a sense of the 1940's – when the men were dapper and ladies’ dress elegantly!  In today's modern iPhone toting area, I think Guys and Dolls encapsulated exactly what the name incurs – when men were men handsome and women beautiful.  The 40s were a wonderful time and I hope that the audiences will be whisked back in time and enjoy the humour and satirical reflection.

Guys and Dolls runs from October 4-19 at the National Theatre in St Kilda for twelve performances, including three matinees on October 6, 12 and 13.  For more information or to purchase tickets, go to the CLOC website: www.cloc.org.au or call the CLOC Ticket Line on 1300 362 547.  You can also find CLOC on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CLOCMusical