Australia’s very own musical theatre legend, Caroline O’Connor, having performed on Broadway and London’s West End (and in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge), O’Connor will bring highlights from her musical career to life on stage, working her way through a songbook of her all time favourites, including Judy Garland and Edith Piaf.
The Helpmann Award winner and Olivier Award nominee will belt out songs from Chicago, West Side Story, Funny Girl, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Mack and Mabel, Anastasia, Anything Goes, Man of La Mancha, The Boy from Oz, Moulin Rouge and more.
We talked to Caroline about her solo concert, her favourite roles she has embodied, what she has experienced performing around the world and more.
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Caroline, what sparked your interest in performing initially?
It was my mother who instigated the whole thing by sending me to Irish dancing classes when I was 5 years old. From there I went to a school that taught all of the other styles of dance, tap, jazz, ballet, you name it. Then I became addicted to all styles of dancing. So my mother is the catalyst for that passion.
What audiences can expect from your new concert ‘From Broadway with Love’ at QPAC?
Hopefully a really good evening. I intend to have a good evening.
I suppose you could call them highlights of experiences I have had in the theatre, productions I have been in that I really enjoyed.
I tried to pick pieces that not only I enjoyed but I think the audiences will enjoy.
What is your favourite role you have ever played and why?
Too many. I loved Velma Kelly in Chicago because I related to her so quickly, she just came naturally. So many wonderful things have come from playing that role. Seriously wonderful jobs and opportunities like getting Moulin Rouge the movie. Going to Broadway with Chicago started my career in America. I owe a lot to that show and that character.
I loved playing Velma and being that fit, especially because I was no spring chicken. The first time I played Velma I was 36 years old and the second time I played her I was 46 years old. So I really had to work hard to make that happen but that is what it calls for to look, sing and act that way. That is what is wonderful about Broadway shows, the characters that you get to play.
Playing Nini in the Moulin Rouge film was one of those moments in your career that you could only dream of. You don’t expect something like that to happen.
I had never done a film like that [Moulin Rouge] before, I had always watched all of those movies and thought wouldn’t be great to be in the 1940s and be able to be in those auditions and that came along which had a big impact on my life.
I loved Fanny Brice because people just don’t get to do that role and I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity to play that part. The music in Funny Girl is to die for and that overture just makes your knees wobble.
Getting to play real people like Édith Piaf and Judy Garland was amazing because you feel like you are experiencing in some small way what it was like to be there.
It must have been hard work but also fantastic to be a singer of that calibre with an amazing following.
Do you have a role in theatre that you are dying to play?
I would like to play ‘Mame’, everyone says I should do ‘Mame’. I like creating work. I have done two shows in New York, ‘A Christmas Story the Musical’ and ‘Anastasia’ and they were both new musicals. So I got to create two characters that other people in the future will play and to me that’s really thrilling because I used to watch people like Chita Rivera inspire me and would say I want to do roles that they did.
It is a bit like paying it forward and I love the idea of going into a theatre and seeing someone play a part that I created. So maybe I would like to do another new work of some sort.
What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Bob Fosse for sure, Shirley McClain she has had such an incredible career as a dancer, on stage, in film, writing books she would be so fascinating and I love Steel Magnolias and Judy Garland would also have to be there.
We saw you as Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch in Anastasia on Broadway, what is one of your favourite memories from performing in that show?
Working with Terrence McNally who was one of the greatest playwrights, who has sadly passed now. So I feel very fortunate that I got to work with him. I also did a show years ago in England called ‘Rink’ which Terrence wrote and he came over for that show too. I was an understudy so I met him in 1986 and all of those years later when I did Anastasia we met up again. That was a highlight for me because if you look at his body of work he is like the king of Broadway.
Another beautiful memory was my partner in crime, John Bolton who was just a dream to work with. We worked together a lot and if you don’t have that relationship as a couple on stage I think it shows. We had a ball together from the get go, right from the day being around the piano with Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty we connected and we sang and we kissed and we laughed and we danced so that was another highlight.
You have performed on Broadway, the West End, in Australia and more, what have you learnt about theatregoers whilst performing around the world?
All theatregoers from different countries behave differently. Australians are probably the least responsive. In America they are incredibly responsive. England’s always been traditionally a place where they are lively and respond as an audience very well.
In Paris it was ridiculous when I did Sweeney Todd. The applause at the end was about 10 minutes non-stop because not only did they applaud the show they applauded Sondheim walking on stage, they were stomping their feet and clapping. In Europe it is a bit like that, they may not do much through the show but by the end they really show their appreciation. I think it is because it is part of their culture.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Favourite mantra when you are down
Onwards and upwards
Any secret talents
I can make a chicken out of a towel
Savoury or Sweet
Lily’s Joke of the day
Dressing Room necessity
Robert Downey Jr.
Can’t live without
Place you want to travel to
TV Show Binge
Finally, favourite thing about performing
All photos – Supplied