New Zealand’s Jennifer Ward-Lealand has been a star in her homeland for over 35 years. Her impressive career has encompassed work on film, television and stage as an actor, singer and director.
“I would say that 80% of it has been in the theatre, but in the last two years I’ve played great roles in two feature films, directed the opera Madame Butterfly, done a TV series, a web series, directed two one-man shows and taught a number of master classes,” Ward-Lealand tells Theatre People. “So, I’m not really sure what’s next anymore!”
This week, Ward-Lealand has arrived in Australia for Falling in Love Again, a concert series in which she takes the stage as the iconic Marlene Dietrich.
“The more you delve into her life and career, the more admiring you become of her,” she says.
So, why does Ward-Lealand believe Dietrich remains a performer so loved and adored around the world?
“The fact that she had three quite distinct periods of her life – the movies in the 30s, the wartime years and then the more than 20 years of touring the world as a singer – and she had a loyal audience throughout,” she says. “By the time she started performing at the Sahara Room in Las Vegas in 1953 – at age 52 – she was already an icon. She brought a confidence and knowingness to the stage and, in particular, when she sang the war songs you knew that she was someone who absolutely knew about the hell the soldiers went through.”
And is there a Dietrich number that stands out above the rest?
“I think it has to be Lilli Marlene – a song that she sang for three years during the war,” she says. “Marlene describes this part of her life when she entertained the troops in World War II as being one of the greatest parts of her career. She went to within a few kilometres of the front in Germany and when asked why she had done this despite the obvious danger, she replied, ‘out of decency’.”
Falling in Love Again was born after Ward-Lealand played the screen legend in another production.
“I was asked to play the title role in the play Marlene by Pam Gems. I spent about six months researching her and when the show was finished I really couldn’t bear to let her go. I asked my musical director, Grant Winterburn, what he thought about the idea of building a cabaret- starting with the five songs I’d sung in the play. He agreed that it would be a good idea and we spent the next 15 months working together to create Falling in Love Again.”
Falling in Love Again sees Ward-Lealand recreate some of the screen legend’s most iconic moments, including highlights from her films, concerts and recordings. She talks about the reception the performance has received in New Zealand.
“We’ve toured practically every arts festival in the country and I love hearing that a particular song has resonated with someone – whether it’s hearing that his or her grandparents courted to a particular number, or them remembering listening to a Dietrich song on the wireless as a child,” she says. “The response I have found most touching is that some people feel that I am singing just to them.”
She encourages anyone interested in seeing a tribute to a unique character to attend.
“Hopefully the show will invoke feelings for an era gone by, and interest in her music and the larger-than-life presence known as Marlene Dietrich,” she says.
The setlist for Falling in Love Again includes classic tracks by Cole Porter, Pete Seeger, Frederic Hollander and Edith Piaf.
“Twenty-three beautiful songs from 1928 to 1955, two superb musicians, one exquisite gown and fur coat, and a performer who has lived and breathed this star for many a year,” Ward-Lealand says. “It’s a captivating evening in the theatre.”
FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN – TOUR DETAILS
|Thursday 2nd August||Frankston Arts Centre||Book Tickets Here|
|Friday 3rd August||Bendigo Ulumbarra Theatre||Book Tickets Here|
|Sunday 5th August||Sydney – Riverside Theatres||Book Tickets Here|
|Tuesday 7th August||Orange Civic Theatre||Book Tickets Here|
Sunday 12th August
|Sydney – Glen Street Theatre||Book Tickets Here|