Veronica Wnuk, Mark Doggett and Mitchell Sanfilippo in rehearsals for 'Dani Girl'

Newcomers to the Australian theatre industry, Sweet Potato Productions,  proudly announce their Melbourne premiere season of celebrated New York musical: Dani Girl. This is the first time Dani Girl  has been performed in Melbourne and will run for 7 performances over two weeks at Revolt Melbourne Artspace, Kensington from March 14th.

This musical tackles the emotional rollercoaster of a child's experience with cancer – Dani Girl promises to provide an enchanting and touching insight in to a young girl’s quest to answer the question: “Why is cancer?”  

Fascinated to know more about this work I spoke with fresh faced Veronica Wnuk, who is simultaneously producing and performing in this Melbourne premiere. Herself and co-producer Tim Frazer have in my opinion selected a fascinating and gutsy musical to deliver as Sweet Potato Productions' first ever show.

Can you give our readers a sense of the storyline?
"Dani Girl was inspired by the writer Dimond’s cousin and other children living with cancer and how they attacked the disease, refusing to give up hope.  Kooman and Dimond tell Dani’s  story from a child’s perspective, taking the audience in to the realm of a nine-year-old’s imagination.  When Dani, a precocious nine-year-old, loses her hair to leukemia, she vows to get it back.  Together with her teddy bear, movie-obsessed hospital roommate, and shape-shifting guardian angel, Dani journeys through the realms of fantasy and reality, searching for a reason for Cancer’s existence."

Was the research and rehearsal process confronting given the topic?
"Dani Girl definitely presents some confronting topics, especially as it centres around the experiences of young children, but the show has been written with such skill and sensitivity that from the very beginning, the process has been nothing but rewarding.  I think the beauty of Dani Girl is that it is so real.  It’s a perfect example of how musical theatre can communicate with audiences, opening up a dialogue about topics that are too often sidelined in society."

How are you finding performing and producing a show simultaneously?
"Tim and I knew we were faced with quite a challenge when we decided that he would direct the piece and I would perform in it as well as producing.  From the beginning we saw in Dani Girl a chance to devise work for ourselves as creatives and both wanted to be more directly involved in bringing the piece to life.  There have definitely been stressful times along the way, but it has been, and continues to be, an amazing experience on the whole."

What can audience members expect to feel when they see Dani Girl?
I think Dani Girl will surprise audiences.  The musical is truly as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.  Working on Dani Girl has changed my perspective on lot of things in my day to day life and I hope this is something people will share and take away with them after seeing the show.  In the words of Kooman himself, “Dani Girl is a story that needs to be told, and it’s told in a way that you’d never expect.”

Tell us a bit about your co-stars?
"We’re incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful cast and creative team bringing Dani Girl to life.  My co-stars Pip Grummet (Phantom of the Opera, Vienna State Opera) and Mark Doggett (South Pacific, Annie Get Your Gun, Sweet Charity) are seasoned professionals with lots of experience to bring to the table, and Mitchell Sanfilippo (who I had the privilege of performing with in StageArt’s recent production of Hair) is definitely one to watch.  Not to mention our delightful Musical Director Daniel Puckey (Michael Buble’s AUS Tour, Dreamsong, VIC State School Spectacular) working alongside Tim."

What are you and Tim’s goals for Sweet Potato Productions?
"Sweet Potato Productions was founded with the vision of delivering thought provoking theatre, like Dani Girl, to Melbourne audiences.  We hope to bring something new to the Australian performing arts industry by filling the gap between amateur and big budget commercial theatre and musical theatre by creating challenging, exciting work that established and upcoming artists can bring to life in collaboration.

Where do you see yourself heading next with the Company?
"We have some exciting things in the works for the future of Sweet Potato Productions, but you’ll have to wait to see exactly what our next harvest has in store!"

Wnuk's effervescent personality and clear drive is brilliant, and as a Producer myself I am clearly biased about my desire to not only see Dani Girl take flight but also Sweet Potato Productions as a whole. The opportunities Independent theatre companies bring with giving less known, new or developing work life, along with often established or emerging talent performing in intimate settings is absolutely priceless to both audience and talent alike. I will be sitting centre front on this one.