Sally Bourne made her musical theatre debut as Australia’s very first Annie in 1978. Roles in NINE and Les Miserables followed before moving to London where she remained for the next thirteen years. Bourne has an extensive list of credits in theatre, television and cabaret. She has worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry – Julie Andrews, Judi Dench, Bernadette Peters, Ruthie Henshall, Michael Ball, Hugh Jackman … the list goes on. She’s even performed before HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Yet in this impressive career, Sally Bourne has never performed in a Sondheim musical – until now.

Bourne will play the role of Joanne in Watch This’ production of Company which opens this week at Melbourne’s 45 Downstairs. Despite being in her first Sondheim musical, she has met Stephen Sondheim when she was performing in Hey Mr Producer in London’s West End. Bourne remembers standing in the wings watching some of the cast rehearsing Sondheim numbers and trying to manoeuvre their way around the intricate lyrics, while Stephen Sondheim was watching on and thinking how ridiculous it all was! After the show, when the cast were having celebratory drinks, Bourne asked Sondheim for a photo. She says he didn’t seem too impressed, but she did get the photo.

Sally Bourne with Stephen Sondheim

Sally Bourne with Stephen Sondheim

In the midst of rehearsing for her debut Sondheim musical I asked Bourne how the rehearsals were going.

“It’s so much fun!” she replied.

Bourne then explained the challenge of learning Sondheim: the way that nothing makes sense, notes that change and transition in ways that you would never guess that make you ask yourself “why?” even though you know everything is there for a reason.

Bourne is playing the role of Joanne, whom she describes as a bitter old drunk. The only way to learn the lyrics is simply by rote learning, she has discovered. Choreography and blocking also assists in the learning, particularly in songs such as ‘Side By Side’ which runs for nearly eight and a half minutes and every single verse is different. Playing the drunk, Bourne laughs that if she was to get any of her lines wrong she can just turn the rest of the cast in character and stare at them as if it was their fault!

Despite the challenging lyrics to learn, Bourne admits Sondheim is really very clever – adding that writer George Furth is equally just as clever.

“It’s such a great book and such dry witty banter,” says Bourne.

Joining Bourne is an exceptionally talented cast. Company will feature an outstanding ensemble cast led by Nick Simpson-Deeks, Sally Bourne and Gillian Cosgriff, alongside Johanna Allen, Bianca Baykara, Nathan Carter, Mark Dickinson, Nelson Gardner, Madeleine Mackenzie, Nicole Melloy, John O’Hara, Tim Paige, Sonya Suares and Carina Waye.

She said watching John O’Hara and Nicole Melloy rehearse their scene recently was one of the funniest things she has ever seen.

After being a fan of his work for many years, Sally Bourne feels she is now the right age to finally making her Sondheim debut, in what she believes is possibly the most accessible of all Sondheim shows: Company.

“It’s very clever, very witty, very dry and very real. It’s a theatre goer’s dream.”

“To have a cast where everyone is brilliant and to have a piece where there’s nothing extraneous, where every song is purposeful, every scene is brilliant, every single part of it is valid, there’s no dip, it’s just perfect. It’s great. I can’t wait!” exclaims Bourne.

If you’re a fan of Sondheim this show is a must see. If you’re new to Sondheim, Sally Bourne thinks this would be the perfect starting point.

Company opens on Thursday 17th September for a limited season.

Dates: 17 September ‐ 4 October (Preview16 September), 7.30pm (Sundays 5pm)

Venue: at Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Tickets: $45 / $35 concession; $40 Early Bird or Groups 8+; $55 Opening Night Gala

Bookings: 03 9662 9966