The Fame Reporter interviewed incredible Australian actor, David Harris, he is currently starring as Tick in the 10th-anniversary production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert earning his 4th Helpmann Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
In the USA, David received critical praise for his performance of Dan in TheaterWork’s Next To Normal (BroadwayWorld and Connecticut Critics Circle Award nominations for Best Actor), starred as Jean Valjean in Connecticut Repertory Theater’s production of Les Misérables –which co-starred and was directed by Tony Award winner Terrence Mann – starred as Billy Crocker in Goodspeed’s production of Anything Goes and as Father in Barrington Stage Company’s Ragtime. He recently originated the role of Max Bronfman in Stephen Schwartz’s new production of Rags at Goodspeed and performed at 92Y Lyrics and Lyricists celebrating the career of Lynn Ahrens in May 2018.
In Australia David was awarded a Green Room Award for Best Actor as well as Helpmann and Sydney Theatre Award nominations for his portrayal of Emmett Forrest in Legally Blonde and was awarded Theatre People’s Award for Best Actor for the role of The Baker in Victorian Opera’s production of Into The Woods. David gained critical acclaim as Chris in Miss Saigon which earned him Helpmann and Sydney Theatre Award nominations and received a further Helpmann Award nomination for his performance as Fiyero in the Australian, Singapore and Korean productions of Wicked. He starred alongside Sutton Foster, Aaron Tveit, Betty Buckley and Stephen Schwartz in Defying Gravity – the songs of Stephen Schwartz in 2016.
Film credits include The Eye of the Storm starring Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis and South Pacific starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jnr. David has performed with Stephen Schwartz in Stephen Schwartz and Friends and toured internationally with Lea Salonga and Michael Ball in ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’ celebrating the music of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil.
David has released two solo albums, ‘Til The Night Is Gone and At this Stage. David’s most recent solo show, Time Is A Traveller toured nationally to great acclaim, being awarded the Theatre People’s Award for Best Male Cabaret in 2014.
We talked to David about his career in the musical theatre world, the rewards and challenges about playing Tick, the comparisons between performing in America and Australia and more.
See our fun, in-depth look below!
Welcome to The Fame Reporter David, what was it that sparked your interest in acting/musical theatre initially?
Initially it was high school in year 8 and 9. I grew up in Hunter Valley in a very rural country town and the english/drama teacher wanted to put me in the school musical and no one else would do it, so I stuck my hand up. I had no idea what was involved but I gave it a go.
I realised I enjoyed it even though it wasn’t the cool thing to do and growing up in that environment there was a bit of flack thrown around the school yard because of it. But I loved it and didn’t think I’d do it as a career.
It wasn’t until the first year out of high school there was some singing opportunities that took me out of university. So I quit university and moved to Sydney and began auditioning. I have to thank my english/drama teacher for that.
What makes Tick, tick, tell us a little about the character?
Tick is a complex character. Setting the show in the 90’s it was a very different time and place culturally, to what we are in Australia now. Being a drag queen in the Sydney scene was not as glamorous and accepted as what it is today, especially with the influences of RuPaul, the Drag Races, singing shows and more. He grew up in a time where being ‘out’ as a gay man was not really the thing to do or not accepted at all.
Tick found shelter and refuge in being a Drag performer in the Sydney scene but in the show he is disillusioned by where his life is going and doesn’t know what his purpose is.
He receives a phone call out of the blue from his estranged wife from Alice Springs to come and meet his 6 year old son that he’s never met. Tick had been avoiding him because of fear and his own insecurities of not being accepted for who he is. Particularly the friends he has, the job he possesses and his lifestyle.
Tick ropes in two friends who are completely contrasting from each other and they embark on a journey to Alice Springs together. He is a Dad, husband, friend and a man who happens to dress and create a career out of drag.
How did you react when you found out you would be originating the role of Max Bronfman in Stephen Schwartz’s new production of Rags at Goodspeed and what was that experience like?
It was a great experience and a little surprising that I got the role to be honest. It was the same director I had worked with previously in Next to Normal. I knew I had a great relationship with him and we worked very well together.
I was approached by the director to see if I’d be interested in the role. It was a German Jew in the turn of the century in New York. I thought surely there is other people that are more apt to that. But I put all of the audition material down and the director, producers and Stephen Schwartz, who I also have a relationship with, all wanted me to play the role and originate it.
So it was surprising but something that I lapped up and gleefully accepted. It was a great experience it was nice to be on the ground-roots of a new character that hadn’t been seen before. Also to work closely with the creative team on a show that hopefully has a bit of life beyond the production that we did.
What’s the most exciting and challenging part about playing Tick and what does Priscilla teach you?
The exciting part of Tick is showing part of my personality that maybe hasn’t been shown onstage before, which is a bit more care-free.
I have pretty much always played the dramatic type of roles, which I really enjoy, what I get a kick out of and why I want to do this.
I love to tell stories that have social, cultural and emotional impact.
Tick covers all of those things, even though it’s glossed over in a lot of glitter lip, lycra and feather boas. Underneath and the core of his message and story is one of acceptance and turmoil within himself. That’s what I enjoy playing and it’s also probably the difficult part of Tick. As he’s the only one up until the end of the show, who is the true reason for the journey to Alice Springs, which is of course to meet his son.
Another challenge is holding on to this character arc, journey and turmoil without being able to offload it to another character during the show, a lot of the time you are covering your emotions up with glitter, fun and wise-cracking lines. But underneath are a stirring and bubbling drive of insecurity and anxiousness.
Keeping that on track while everything around you is lots of colour, costume, lighting and pop songs. That is probably the most challenging aspect, but also the most enjoyable part of the role, why I accepted it and why I wanted to come back to Australia to play it.
The show has taught me a number of things. One is that Australia, thankfully has come a long way, socially in our sensibilities since the original film in the 90s and the original musical 12 years ago.
There are also some instances we still have a lot more room to grow as a culture. Even with the recent Marriage Equality outcome and debate, we are behind culturally in equality on many fronts not just LGBTQ but also race and gender. It’s taught me that it is still something that needs to be worked on in Australia. Doing Priscilla and being visible is part of that process.
Also working with beautiful young talented actors as my kids in the show, each city we go to we pick up four new local actors and they are all so different. We have a close relationship as father and son onstage. They have each taught me to be in the moment more and the joy of unconditional love.
More so their parents too, who have fully accepted our showbiz community and to see that these kids have the most amazing start to life, due to their parents being so open and accepting of everybody.
That has taught me that there is such wonderful hope within a new generation.
Congratulations on all your success in the United States, what do you love about performing in America in comparison to Australia?
There are comparisons to be made. A lot of it comes down to the cultural aspects. Unfortunately one of the downsides of the Aussie culture is that we tend to downplay our successes or we don’t celebrate as much as what we should. That includes our productions, actors and our achievements. It is underplayed and I think that is to our detriment.
While, in the United States of America, the people there commemorate their success. In particular the musical theatre art form is celebrated and highly respected. It is a major industry. Coming back to Australia I see that there is still a certain attitude that musical theatre is quite frivolous and not a respected compared to other artistic endeavors. I wish Australians would celebrate their own people more, the talent of our creative teams and shows because it is to our detriment that we don’t, to the same extent as Americans.
I love the fact that there are new projects being created everyday in America, that opportunity isn’t granted here. In Australia we don’t give much weight or importance to our own products and people, especially in musical theatre. There are also things about the care-free nature of Australians that is amazing. We are happy-go-lucky and I do appreciate that and I did miss that when living and working in the States.
Is there any role in any musical theatre or straight theatre show you are dying to play?
There are many roles. I’ll be dividing my time between London and New York next year to create new roles and Max Bronfman was one of them.
I want to create new roles that no one has had a stamp on yet.
I also would love to be in Bridges of Madison County and play Robert, they haven’t brought that to Australia and I’ve got my eye on that. I would love to reprise Dan in Next to Normal, I would eagerly jump at the chance to play him again. Billy Flynn would be fun in Chicago. More so something that is fresh and original.
What do you believe has been one of your greatest moments in your career so far whilst performing in Australia?
It’s hard to single out one moment or role because they all have an impact on me. Every job and role that I’ve done has been meaningful. Chris in Miss Saigon was career-defining and personally defining for me. It was a role I had always wanted to play and the toughest role I’ve ever played, even more so than Valjean in Les Miserables, which I did in the United States.
Chris for me was a harder role emotionally, vocally and where I was in my personal life at the time. That was a pivotal moment for me. There’s also shows like Priscilla and coming back to do that. The very first show I did, Boy from Oz, which was a very different stage in my life, I was an ensemble member and gained some understudies in my first show. I got the privilege of learning the business by working for a couple of years in that show.
I didn’t study in a university for acting and had no formal training, so that was my training. Every job since has been training and I try and pick up skills along the way and even when I watch a show or performer I analyse to find out what I like and what I don’t like. Also what was good about that performance that made me feel a certain way and that’s how I learn.
What do you hope audiences take away from Priscilla?
It is clearly evident that everyone has a great time. You cannot help but smile or laugh. It’s very rare that people give standing ovations at a show in Australia. It’s basically 95% of the time if not 98% of the time that we are doing Priscilla that people stand up on their feet instantly.
It’s a joyous show and so I know audiences take away 2.5 hours of absolute joy. It is lovely to see that from the stage the impact that you can have on a group of people and create that experience for them.
Also to learn. There might be themes within the show that they may not have consciously had to think about. Maybe they will change their attitudes or cause some conversation between family members or friends, so I hope that happens as well.
Are you working on any future projects, if so can you reveal anything?
No set plans other than I’m heading to London for a little while and dividing my time between London and New York, depending on what work comes up. Anything can happen and that could change in an hour’s time, that’s the nature of our industry.
Who or what inspires you?
People that inspire me are those who don’t take no for an answer. There are always people saying no you can’t do that and so people who find a way to do that regardless of setbacks, that is who I get inspired by. That’s not just performers, everyone in life, any career or person. They are maybe an underdog who has the tenacity to go no I’m not going to settle for that, I’m going to go for what I want for myself. Those people are the people who inspire me.
Also people with positive attitudes, there is a lot of negativity and you see what you look for. People who look for negative stuff, they will see it and dwell on that. I try not to do that myself and I really appreciate being around people and inspired by people who don’t do that.
Lastly do you have any advice for performers who have a dream to be part of the arts world?
There is no right way to do anything, no formula, no road-map or rule book. If the door is open walk through it and see what’s there. If the door is not open, knock on it again. If it’s not go to another door. It’s just your own drive and resilience.
This industry will knock you around a lot but it’s getting back up again and going. Do what makes you happy. If you aren’t enjoying it then don’t do it and keep learning.
Fame Reporter speed round
Next to normal
Favourite Priscilla song?
‘Always on my mind’
Essential Dressing Room necessity?
Elphaba or Glinda?
Elphie, she’s the underdog
Favourite number to perform and favourite you don’t sing?
‘Always on my mind’, which I get to sing with my stage son and is a very special moment in the show.
‘It’s raining men’ at the top of the show, I lip sync to that and the divas smash it out.
Broadway talent crush?
Kelli O’Hara and Ramin Karimloo
Winter or Summer?
Place you most want to travel to?
Saigon or Harvard Law?
Finally, favourite thing about theatre?
The community and the people that I get to work with daily and surround myself with.
Thank-you David for being our guest at The Fame Reporter we wish you all the best and chookas for Priscilla.
Get your tickets to the fabulous Priscilla the musical on it’s last leg of the Australian tour at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 4 November 2018.
Book your seats here – https://bit.ly/2NBCPNe
Interviewed by Founder of The Fame Reporter, Ellen Goddard.
Headshot Image – David Harris Official Website
Production photos – Sam Tabone/WireImage and Ben Symons