It feels a little tense backstage, a little more so than normal. The cast, stacked up in the dressing rooms, are hastily getting their make-up and costumes on and the back stage crew are darting around doing whatever it is the backstage people do.
On the stage – a representation of a chimeric carnival – set constructors are busy painting on the final touches while behind the large black back curtain the band warms up. Enter Tyson Legg, with a slice of pizza and a large (almost signature now) beanie on his head. He seems calm, taking everything in his stride and after making a quick phone call and letting people know that he’s there we had a chat. About acting, Assassins and what’s coming up next.
“I’ve worked with UMMTA (the University of Melbourne Music Theatre Association) before” he tells me, “and I love uni productions. The people involved are so enthusiastic and have such dedication to the show”. His latest involvement is Assassins; Stephen Sondheim’s exploration of the dark side of the American Dream. It is populated with characters such as John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald and many more people who have attempted to assassinate the president of the United States of America. On Broadway these roles were realised by the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Michael Cerveris, the latter won the Tony for best featured actor. The show takes place in a purgatory-esque carnival and moves between there and various other locations across time, telling the tales of those that history doesn’t look back so fondly on.
“I’ve run with the carnival theme” Legg says. One of the most important aspects of the show is the ensemble, of which there are only six, who drive the production along controlled by the show-master, the Proprietor. They provide cohesiveness and a visual anchor for the audience. Because of the involvement of the cast across the whole show it moves from being a series of vignettes to a freer flowing story which builds a narrative arc. “When the full cast is on stage there is an amazing energy… their commitment to the theme [of a twisted carnival] and their ability to work with each other is incredible.”
Tyson, after a much talked about and critically praised performance as the titular character of Floyd Collins, is about to play another highly coveted role; Jamie in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years. Recently performed by the likes of Robert ‘Milsey’ Mills in Sydney and in a show very close to the heart of many musical theatre buffs Tyson said “he immediately said yes” when he was approached, “I’m extremely excited… It’s a role I’ve wanted to play for a long time” he added. The show opens November 4. In addition to this, Tyson has been asked to be Musical Director for Williamstown’s Next to Normal which will take place next year. Next to Normal is another musical theatre favourite, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama and was recently staged by MTC earlier this year.
“I love Melbourne’s amateur theatre scene,” says Tyson, “it has given me the chance to experiment in all aspects of theatre”. Assassins is Tyson’s first venture into directing but he is also an accomplished musical director and actor. While “the quality ranges [in amateur theatre] from almost professional” to clearly a community production “that’s part of its charm” While he recognises there are some differences between community and professional theatre a lot of those just come down to money rather than talent. “Amateur theatre is about taking risks, trying something different and getting people involved”.
Assassins opens tonight at the Guild Theatre, The University of Melbourne and runs until October 15; bookings – https://secure.ticketstar.com.au/ummta/
The Last 5 Years opens November 4; details – https://www.theatrepeople.com.au/whatson/last-5-years