If you’re a music theatre fan regularly attending shows in Australia, chances are you’ve seen Johanna Allen perform on stage. Her impressive CV experience on our stages that extends to music theatre, theatre, opera, film and concert performance. Among her credits, Allen has appeared in the original Australian season of Wicked (in which she understudied the role of Madame Morrible), Dr Zhivago, Into the woods and Macbeth and, last year, she gave a stunning performance as Carlotta in Packemin Production’s Phantom of the Opera. In recent times, Allen has been travelling Australia as Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music and is now taking over the role of Mother Abbess for the Perth season, tasked with singing the climactic Climb Every Mountain eight times a week!
But before she heads to Perth, Allen is stopping in at Sydney’s Glen Street Theatre to perform The Songs That Got Away, her own show, for a strictly limited season. Set in the Manhattan Cotton Club of the 1930s, The Songs That Got Away features the incredible songs of Harold Arlen including Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Paper Moon, Stormy Weather and Get Happy. The show is directed by the renowned Stuart Maunder.
Theatre People was fortunate to be able to take a few moments of Allen’s time to find out more about The Songs That Got Away!
Theatre People: How long would you say you’ve been a fan of Harold Arlen’s music?
Johanna Allen: I was a fan of Harold Arlen for longer than I knew. Like most people, I loved so many of his songs – I just didn’t realise he wrote them! I do remember hearing Blues in the Night for the first time and loving the sass of it – the crunch of the chords – it was bolder than any other music of the era. From then it was a discovery of not the songs, but the fact that he wrote them. That led me to make this show.
TP: He’s described as having been an enigma. Is there anything you’ve learned about Arlen in bringing this show together that particularly surprised or fascinated you?
JA: Arlen’s entire life was a surprise. He is immersed in a time in history where America was segregated. He was a Jewish white man who played music, like ‘the blackest white man we ever knew’. In his own way, he was an activist – but he could never quite gain the acknowledgment he deserved.
TP: How did you decide on the set list for this show?
JA: It literally dictated itself as I started to write the piece. This is far more of a play with a catalogue of music to move the dramatic action, than me singing a set list of Harold Arlen. It’s less ‘cabaret show’ and more ‘theatre’. The songs are a reflection of the story. Having said that I knew I had to get all the famous ones in there – and they are – One for my Baby, Stormy Weather, Paper Moon, Blues in the Night, Man that Got Away, and of course Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
TP: Can you talk about the experience of working with Stuart Maunder and what he’s been able to bring to your show?
JA: Stuart gave me my first principal role with Opera Australia after I came back from study overseas. I am deeply grateful to him for that and we’re both confessed Arlen fans. We bonded over our love of Arlen. I thought there was a show in his life and music, and Stuart had always wanted to do an Arlen show. We had a coffee in Surry Hills and away we went. He was, as he always is, the most generous of collaborators. Insightful, so intelligent, gently guiding you and letting you work things out all at the same time. He is so well read, across all genres, and I adore working with him.
TP: In recent times, you’ve been touring the country in The Sound of Music. Can you talk about this experience and what you’ve most enjoyed about being a part of one of music theatre’s most loved shows?
JA: The show has been joyous. I liked The Sound of Music, but of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows it’s not the one I grew up loving the most. But as we have continued to perform the show, my love of it has crept up on me. I think it is more relevant now than it has ever been. It is about love over hate and the transformative power of music – timeless, universal, and just as important now as then.
TP: Who do you think should come along and see The Songs that Got Away?
JA: Anyone who loves the standards of the jazz era; anyone who is interested in politics of America in the 30s and 40s; anyone who has ever felt like the underdog, anyone who loves the songs of Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and of course Judy Garland; anyone who loves the movie The Wizard of Oz; anyone who loves good music! Maybe just everyone.
THE SONGS THAT GOT AWAY SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Glen Street Theatre, corner Glen Street and Blackbutts Road, Belrose
Performance Dates: 8-11 September 2016
Performance Times: 11am & 8pm Thu, 8pm Fri, 2pm & 8pm Sat.
Running Time: 1hr 40 mins (including interval)
Ticket Prices: $47-$64. Student Rush just $16. Transaction charges may apply.
Bookings: http://www.glenstreet.com.au or 9975 1455