Leigh Barker chats with some very excited girls who are taking on their first lead roles.

‘Sweet Charity’, based on Federico Fellini’s screenplay for Nights of Cabiria, is a musical choreographed and conceived by Bob Fosse, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and book by Neil Simon. The original production directed by Fosse opened on January 29, 1966 on Broadway at the Palace Theatre, and ran for 608 performances. It starred Gwen Verdon, John McMartin, Helen Gallagher, Thelma Oliver, James Luisi, Arnold Soboloff, and Sharon Ritchie. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning only one, for Fosse’s choreography.

With Babirra’s ‘Sweet Charity’ about to hit the Whitehorse Centre I managed to steal a few moments with a couple of the lead cast, Lauren Edwards, Neil Vinson, Nadia Gianinotti and Tess Smith whom are about to undertake one of the most terrifying yet thrilling performances of their lives . . . Their first lead roles.

As Charity Hope Valentine if a friend asked what ‘SWEET CHARITY’ was about what would you say.

LAUREN: I guess its show about optimism in life and always seeing the brighter side and from charity point of view it is about the fact that love will conquer all.

Why did you decide to do Babirra’s ‘Sweet Charity’ and what have you learnt from your experiences with Babirra?

NADIA: I wanted the challenge of having a feature role as I am typically cast in an ensemble. Having a featured role has taught me the importance of continuity in a character and has hopefully helped me to improve as an all round performer.

This is one of your first lead roles? How has Babirra prepared you for your upcoming role?

NADIA: They have been great to work with. The one thing I’ve really enjoyed is the fact that they have given me direction but have also had the faith to allow me to workshop and to make my own decisions for my character development.

TESS: This is only my 2nd show out of high school so i was a little nervous going into it but Penny has taken Nadia and I through great character development workshops.

NEIL: This is the first time I have played a character written in depth by the nature of script. I have had to learn what makes him tick and the intricate nuances he possesses. Di has guided me but also allowed me to create Oscar’s walk, talk and movement.

LAUREN: They have worked closely with me which has been really comforting. A lot of 1 on 1 work has been fabulous and supportive in my transition to a feature role. Babirra have also shown me that even though it nerve racking it is not as daunting as I first thought.

With such people as Gwen Verdon, Shirley McLaine & Christina Applegate having played the role in the past, are these people you look up to and have you stolen any pointers from them along the ‘Sweet Charity’ Journey?

LAUREN: 100%. I look up to them all. I have always idolised Gwen Verdon as a dancer. Shirley and Christina are amazing comedians with great comic timing but having said that I have made a conscious decision not watch footage during the rehearsal and development period. I have listened to the soundtrack for inspiration but I wanted to create my own Charity not a mimic or clone of someone else’s.

Describe your character in 3 words

NEIL: neurotic, claustrophobic and lovely

TESS: sarcastic, social butterfly and softy

NADIA: cynical, sarcastic, and just a little bit sassy

LAUREN: naive, courageous, sweet and optimistic ( Sorry I couldn’t think of just 3)

Will you be nervous on opening night?

NADIA: YES . . . ha, ha

LAUREN: I definitely will, I will be struggling to keep my insides from coming out.

NEIL: (deep breath) definitely

TESS: oohhhhhhh yes


The team down at Babirra are known for their seamless set construction. How are you finding Jeremy Bailey-Smith’s set and costume design? What can we expect?

LAUREN: Loads of colour, kind of like a box of kids crayons have exploded on the set. The costumes are 60’s MOD so think a little bit Austin Powers with the Jeremy’s Flair. BIG HAIR BOLD COLOURS.

The choreography was originally created by the master Bob Fosse, with iconic and stylised dances such as the FRUG and BIG SPENDER. Andrew Plant has undertaken the gigantic job of Choreography for Sweet Charity at Babirra. Tell us the differences for you as a lead role rather than ensemble when it comes to choreography.

NADIA: The biggest difference for me is that as Nikki i’m not in the bigger ensemble numbers such as FRUG & I’M A BRASS BAND.

TESS: It’s pretty full on as a featured performer in a number. In ‘Something better than this’ I’m maintaining a character, dancing and singing my heart out. By the end i’m buggered. I really feel for Lauren who jumps from song to song.

Di Shepherd is the director of Babirra’s ’Sweet Charity’ and has been in the business for a few years. What have you learnt from her that you will take on to all future shows?

NEIL: I suppose Di has taught me the importance of having a physical presence on stage that reflects the character. So I could be standing still on stage but people can still tell who I am and what the character is thinking.

LAUREN: Di is great! She has instilled a sense of confidence in me, dedicating time to work with me 1 on 1. Di has taught me that i need to have confidence within myself and that each person is selected for their role for the talents they showcase during the audition period.


You play the neurotic, claustrophobic, shy Oscar Lindquist. Has it been difficult to create such strong character traits?

NEIL: In one sense yes and then no. Within me, Neil I can be a little bit neurotic and a little bit loveable (can’t we all) but it’s about channelling it at the right moments. Everyday Neil gets to choose when he’s neurotic or shy or loveable but the script dictates that for me so I need to be able to harness those traits at specific times.

Why should people come and see Babirra’s ‘Sweet Charity’?

TESS: because it’s an amazing show. A fun, happy show with an unexpected ending.

LAUREN: A) it’s a fun, lively, colourful exploration of life and love and B) there’s a lot of boobs out on the fandango girls. . . hehehehe

NADIA: It is a fantastic show to begin with but the main reason that people should see Sweet Charity is because Babirra have given some of the regular faces that you would see in an ensemble throughout Melbourne the opportunity to shine in the spotlight.

NEIL: There has been a trend recently even in Pro theatre to do classical shows and give them a facelift and a young fresh cast like they have done with West Side Story and I think that’s what we have achieved here with ‘Sweet Charity.’

Babirra Music Theatre presents:
‘Sweet Charity ‘

Whitehorse Centre, Nunawading
8th-16th October
BOOK NOW! 9262 6555

For more details check our our ‘Whats On’ section