Fresh from his role as one of the star vocalists in the Australian premiere of Saturday Night Fever, music theatre star Bobby Fox will take the stage next week at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House to present his brand-new cabaret, The Irish Boy. Promising a combination of traditional and modern Irish music, dancing, storytelling and song, it’s an opportunity for audiences to witness Fox’s multitude of talents as a performer.
Fox tells Theatre People how the idea for his new show came about.
“As a performer, you’re always looking towards the future and trying to see what the next gig is and what shows are coming up and where the work is. I’d been touring for years, doing my show Four Seasons in one night, and I knew it was time for a new show. And then, I got the idea that I wanted to do an Irish show,” he says.
“I was toying around with the idea and had put some dates in the calendar – potential gigs here and there – but nothing specifically in mind, thematically or content-wise. I just knew it would be Irish and certainly drawing from my heritage as an Irish performer.”
But then, Fox broke his foot during the opening night performance of Assassins last year at the Sydney Opera House – an event that forced him into a state of stillness.
“I was left with my own thoughts and eventually went into a very dark space,” Fox says. “Because of my mental state at that time, I was very much finding myself to be super nostalgic. When I listened to this old music, old albums, trad music … there was such a sense of joy and nostalgia to it, and that’s pretty much then what became the genesis of the impetus for the show and what I wanted to say with the show.”
Originally from Longford in Ireland, Fox is a four-time World Champion Irish dancer and traditional musician, who toured globally with Riverdance. It was in 2003 when Fox made the move to Australia.
“I came to Australia effectively to find myself,” he says. “I was an Irish musician, but predominantly an Irish dancer … And I thought if I’m going to make something of myself, I need to step away from the Irish dancing world and I need to put myself into something fresh, I need to challenge myself.
“So, I auditioned for a dance course over here – a private one-year full-time thing – and I got in and … did it for a year. I was learning ballet and contemporary and jazz and funk and hip-hop, and I’d never done a wink of it in my life. I was just throwing myself in the deep end, trying to figure out how to do it.”
The course also required Fox to do singing and acting, and it quickly became clear that he had a natural singing voice. It was then he decided that he wanted to pursue a career as a music theatre performer.
“I did a lot of shows with a lot of amazing performers,” Fox says. “Within the ensemble, you have this wealth of talent that’s just screaming around you. I was so inspired by that and I just kept aspiring to more and bigger things.”
Fox recalls auditioning for the role of Frankie Valli, which he went on to play in the Australian premiere of Jersey Boys in 2009 and for which he received a Helpmann nomination for Best Male Actor in a Musical.
“The vocal aspect of it was something that I could do naturally, but what I couldn’t do was sustain it naturally,” he says. “So, what I needed to learn was the right technique, in order to be able to do it six days a week. When I went into the show to do Frankie, I could sing but I left knowing how to.”
Asked to provide a sense of what audiences can expect, Fox says the central theme of The Irish Boy is joy.
“It’s really about joy and, certainly for me, the joy that Irish music can bring to someone that it has brought to me,” he says.
“Effectively, if we look at it on a very basic level, it’s traditional Irish music. I’m playing the accordion, I’m playing the bodhran – the Irish drum – I’m playing the guitar, I’m singing, I’m dancing, and I’m telling some stories from home, growing up in the South, and then … with the band I’ve got a team of the most incredible musicians basically approaching Irish music with a 2019 ear, very much paying respect to the heritage of Irish music and how incredible these songs are, and then presenting them live on stage.”
Fox continues: “It’s difficult to really describe it because, to me, it’s everything that I grew up with … When I came to Australia, I wasn’t a singer. I never sang before. So, all of these songs in the show are all new to me. The songs that I’m singing are very traditional Irish songs. My dream and my goal with the show and my vision for it was combining the traditional with the contemporary, and that in itself is effectively what the show is.”
Fox draws a comparison to Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
“[Marie Kondo] is a Japanese lady teaching people how to clean up their living space, and she does a thing where people can find it very hard to get rid of things, and she says that the things that you keep are the things that spark joy,” Fox explains.
“Through the process of building this show, things that have actually ended up in it are joyous things, things that create pure joy for me. Now, working with the band, because they’re just starting to learn everything, it imbues them with the exact same feeling … Even practising this music is such a joyous experience.”
Fox is excited to introduce the songs in his setlist to a new Australian audience. Some of the tracks those attending can expect to hear include ‘Star of the County Down’, ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’, ‘The Galway Girl’, ‘The Parting Glass’, ‘The Auld Triangle’ and ‘Ride On’.
“Those song [titles] … may not resonate with you, but to me, you don’t need to know the songs to be affected by them,” Fox says. “This is very much going to be two hours of sitting and experiencing something fresh, something I really feel hasn’t been done in a very long time.”
And who is The Irish Boy for?
“To me, it would probably be an incredible introduction for people who might not have experienced Irish music before or who think that Irish music is just what they saw on Lord of The Dance,” Fox says.
But he also describes it as being for “anyone who needs a reminder of what life is really about”.
“We’re so caught up in ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘you’, ‘me’, there’s just this disparaging distance between everyone that’s isolating everyone and making us all stay away from each other,” Fox says. “I think this music brings us together.
“My aim with the show is that people walk out just smiling.”
THE IRISH BOY
Starring Bobby Fox
Musical Director: Glenn Moorhouse
Director: Chris Parker
Produced by Enda Markey
Venue: The Studio, Sydney Opera House
Date: Wednesday 5 June 2019, 8:00pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: $59-69 plus booking fees
Bookings: sydneyoperahouse.com or 9250 1777
ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June 2019
Duration: 2 hours
Price: $64.90 – 79.90 plus booking fees
Bookings: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or 131 246
Venue:The Art House Theatre
Date: Saturday 22 June 2019, 8:00pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: $42-49 plus booking fees
Bookings: thearthousewyong.com.au or 4335 1485