After each evening performance during the Melbourne season of Rock of Ages, John O’Hara would get in his car, turn on the radio and drive home listening to Richard Mercer’s Love Songs and Dedications. He knew of the show and had listened to it occasionally, but had never been a regular listener … until now. Each night he would listen to people calling in, late at night, to speak to a complete stranger and share their stories of success in love or their experience of heartbreak.
One night O’Hara pulled up in his garage and as he was listening to a particular story, the idea of developing this into a cabaret show came to him. O’Hara had been interested in writing and performing his own show but didn’t simply want to present a collection of his favourite songs.
“I wanted to do something different and push the envelope,” explained O’Hara.
O’Hara shared his idea with fellow Rock Of Ages cast member Anthony Harkin. Harkin was very keen to write a show that would allow O’Hara to showcase his talents. Harkin wasn’t familiar with the radio show, so the pair listened to podcasts and recordings of the show. Harkin then helped to take O’Hara’s concept for a show and develop it further, setting him tasks to work on and help keep him focussed.
They decided to have about six to eight stories and for O’Hara to play all the characters. While they haven’t used the original names of the callers, every character in Dedications is based on an actual real caller to the original radio program. Some stories were just so beautiful they didn’t touch them, others have been changed slightly to better fit the show and, because love is common to everyone, O’Hara admits a little bit of the writer’s own stories have crept into the show. Luke Hunter joined the team as the musical director (O’Hara regards him as the best in the business) and Melanie Hawkins came on board as the choreographer.
O’Hara acknowledges they were spoilt for choice when selecting the songs to include in the show but they decided to only use a love song if it was narratively driven. He says it was a really interesting process to study the lyrics of all these love songs.
The end result is a seventy-minute one man show: Dedications. O’Hara wears no costume and all character adjustments are made vocally and physically. The team made the decision for the show to jump back and forth between characters, adding to the challenge for O’Hara. To assist in the character development they spent a lot of time on You Tube to find a character reference to build upon. Hawkins assisted O’Hara with the feminine characters.
Although it was initially challening for O’Hara to change from one character to the next, he says it’s much easier now. He makes one vocal and one physical adjustment and he is immediately into the next character.
It had taken nearly four years of intermittent work but finally they had a show. When Arkin asked O’Hara what he wanted to do with the show, O’Hara replied, “I want to go to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.”
Most performers start out with a couple of shows in a small club somewhere, building up reviews, and an audience, with the ultimate dream of finally ending up at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival one day. It’s an internationally renowned event that attracts the best cabaret shows. They also feature some world premieres – O’Hara wanted to be part of this. So the team set this as their goal, and with some incredible support and mentoring, they achieved it. O’Hara can still recall the moment he received the email confirming he had been accepted into the Adelaide Cabaret Festival this year.
It’s been a busy year so far for O’Hara – finishing the final months of Wicked as well as seasons of Dedications at both the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and The Hayes Cabaret Season. After receiving great reviews, he now brings his show to Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel, for two performances only, before taking it to Perth and then to Geelong later in August.
It’s very fitting that O’Hara should bring his first one-man show to Chapel Off Chapel. After graduating from WAAPA, O’Hara moved to Melbourne and lived just down the road from the venue. He spent a lot of time there – hanging out, singing in a few concert events and just soaking in the atmosphere. Now his name is up on display and his poster is on the wall. It’s O’Hara’s turn to be the star.
When he’s not busy on the stage O’Hara is a marriage celebrant. Who better to bring you a cabaret based on Love Songs and Dedications than a marriage celebrant.
“I believe in love!” exclaimed O’Hara.
Yes, John O’Hara is the Love God.
Dedications – starring John O’Hara.
Chapel Off Chapel August 14th and 15th
Perth [email protected] Maj August 20th to 22nd
WNTR Cabaret Festival GPAC August 28th and 29th