CLOC Musical Theatre returns to the stage with its first production for the year. With cast & crew hard at work in anticipation for opening night, Theatre People caught up with performers Melanie Ott and Tim Cant to discuss their time treading the boards on 42nd Street.
In the early 1930s, at the height of the economic recession known as The Great Depression, it's rumored that Warner Brothers was heading for bankruptcy. However much like an uplifting premise from a musical of the era, their luck suddenly changed when in 1933 they produced a musical film called 42nd Street that focused on an aspiring actress in an ailing Broadway Production.
The movie reflected the grim mood and hardships of the period with the contrast of a lively score, energetic choreography, colorful story and memorable characters whose optimism and desire to reach their dreams, even in the bleakest settings, made the picture's themes instantly relatable, inspiring and even timeless to viewers for over 80 years.
Widely regarded as the archetypal backstage musical, the film's box office success was accompanied with Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture and Sound. Even today the American Film Institute recognizes 42nd Street as one of the greatest musicals ever made, with some of the most memorable songs and greatest dialogue of all time. Its stage adaptation in the 1980s was similarly succesful, becoming one of the longest running shows on Broadway and receiving numerous awards and nominations, including a Tony Award for Best Musical.
Now this larger-than-life musical hit, with its classic nostalgic 1930s vibe and diverse range of colourful characters, has come to Melbourne, marking the 100th production staged by CLOC Musical Theatre who are also celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.
After appearing as 'Natalie' in their 2012 production of All Shook Up, performing arts veteran Melanie Ott has returned to CLOC to help bring this timeless musical classic to life with her portrayal of 42nd Street's good-natured but somewhat naive protagonist, Peggy Sawyer, whose aspiration to become a Broadway performer is a central theme in the story. Melanie says that her strong attachment to CLOC and love for 42nd Street (having played 'Anything Annie' in 2007 as well as watching the 1933 film “around 100 times”) meant that there was “no way” she could turn down an opportunity to audition for what she has always considered “a dream role”.
“It's a thrill to play a character where you are doing all the things you love,” explains Melanie. “Now CLOC and our amazing production team have given me this wonderful opportunity”.
Having been dancing since she was three years old and singing from the age of 9, Melanie was introduced to musical theatre 11 years ago when several of her dance colleagues convinced her to audition for Panorama Theatre Company's FAME.
“From that day on I became infatuated with the stage more than ever”, says Melanie. “I never looked back and I've ended up growing up in the world of musical theatre”. Subsequent performances saw her portray other dream roles including 'Mimi' in Rent, 'Cassie' in A Chorus Line and 'Stephanie' in the World Premiere of Grease 2: Live in Concert.
42nd Street's story follows Peggy Sawyer's journey along the rough and rocky road to Broadway stardom in 1930s New York, while meeting various colorful characters, including Dorothy Brock (played by Pam Christie Birkett), a past-her-prime stage diva; Julian Marsh (played by Ric Birkett), a legendary but broke director whose stern demeanor falters as he develops feelings for Peggy; and a duo of optimistic writers/producers (played by Stephanie Powell and Scott Hili) who provide much of the comic relief.
Aiming to apply her own unique twist to the character, Melanie says that she has embraced the physical and vocal challenges involved in playing Peggy and welcomed the opportunity to throw on her tap shoes (“It is where it all started for me and my love affair with tap will never end”, she states). Another highlight for Melanie is being able to act alongside friends and former co-stars, namely Tim Cant, a guild-nominated performer, who in 2012 appeared as a semi-finalist on Australia's Got Talent with his acapella quartet 'Mint26' (which consists of CLOC alumni).
42nd Street is Tim's seventh production with CLOC, previously appearing as “Spring” alongside Melanie's portrayal of 'April' in their 2008 production of Hot Shoe Shuffle.
“Working with Tim again, is a dream,” says Melanie. “His professionalism and talent is inspiring and the audience will just fall in love with him”.
Since his first show with CLOC in 1996, which coincidentally also happened to be 42nd Street, Tim has returned regularly to become somewhat of a leading man in many of CLOC's musicals.
“Performing in the original production was a lot of fun and I couldn’t resist being part of CLOC's 50th anniversary”, says Tim. “The premise of the show is very light and upbeat. The music is fantastic and Sue’s choreography makes for some great numbers in the show”.
This year he's taken on the role of Billy Lawlor, 42nd Street's juvenile actor and overly confident ladies man who first welcomes Peggy to Broadway before constantly attempting to woo her and the other chorus girls. For Tim, the role combines three of his passions: singing, acting and dancing, with Dames being one of his favorite musical numbers from the show.
“It's a great song and such a suave number” he says. “The girls look glamorous and the orchestration sounds fantastic”.
According to Tim, the show's “light and happy mood” is certainly contagious, leaving viewers with a good feeling; while the premise of a likeable and determined protagonist starting from the bottom and ending up on top, is one that “anyone can relate to, giving people hope that they too could achieve whatever they're passionate about”.
With only a few weeks to opening night, Melanie describes the ensemble as “one of the most hardworking” she's ever experienced; and the rehearsals as “endless”, with all involved working tirelessly to ensure that CLOC's 50th anniversary show reaches its full potential.
“Nobody stops, there's always cleaning a step or going over a routine”, she says. “We still know how to have a laugh though, but there is play along with work”.
Leading this diverse and talented team of over 30 performers is the single vision of a skilled and experienced production team. This includes renown director and Lyrebird Hall of Famer, Alan Burrows, who has committed over 40 years to nearly 200 theatrical productions; award-winning choreographer Susan Lewis; musical director Bev Woodford, who in 2009 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Music Theatre Guild; and assistant choreographer/director James Rooney, whose versatility also sees him on-stage as character 'Andy Lee'.
With these incredible credentials and talented cast, audiences can only expect greatness from CLOC this year. For Melanie all the elements come together to present “an exciting and entertaining, sequinned filled extravaganza that will transport you back to the era of wide eyed young performers just wanting to make it in the big time!”
CLOC presents 42nd Street at the National Theatre, St Kilda from May 16-31.
To arrange your tickets and join CLOC for its 50th Anniversary and 100th production, please phone 1300 362 547 or book online at www.cloc.org.au