The Fame Reporter featuring Ellen Goddard
The Fame Reporter interviewed well-established Australian musical theatre star Elisa Colla.
Elisa is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Music (AIM) and is known for her roles as Nessarose in the Gordan Frost Association’s Wicked the musical in Australia and touring Seoul and Singapore, in Les Miserables where she understudied the role of Cosette and played the lead role of Maria in West Side Story. Elisa was a finalist in the 2013 ANZ Rob Guest Endowment Awards.
Currently she is touring Australia in Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady directed by Dame Julie Andrews, understudying the impressive lead role of Eliza Doolittle, originally played by Dame Julie herself on Broadway and the West End 60 years ago.
We talked to Elisa about her career thus far in the musical theatre industry, the discipline that is understudying also how it was working with Dame Julie Andrews and more check out the interview here in the video above!
Get tickets to Elisa’s recent show My Fair Lady! The show is currently playing at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC until April 30 2017. Then see it in Melbourne at the Regent Theatre from May 12 2017 and Sydney for the second time at the Capitol Theatre from August 2017.
Book your seats here – http://myfairladymusical.com.au/
Interviewed by Founder of The Fame Reporter, Ellen Goddard.
Filmed and Edited by Film Director and Editor of The Fame Reporter, Bridget Goddard.
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Elisa, What was it that sparked your interest in acting initially?
My Grandmother actually the first time she took me to see a musical I think it was Annie and I was so excited every time it was Christmas or my birthday because I knew Grandma had bought tickets to the latest show in town. I just remember sitting in the audience thinking ‘wow I hope one day I can do that’.
So I think what makes it really special for me now is my Grandmother gets to sit in the audience and watch me. So definitely her, she was a beautiful actress and opera singer in her time. She loves it because she is like living through me now and loves that I have picked it up and did it as a career.
How was your experience attending the Australian Institute of Music (AIM)? How did that experience affect your current career progression?
I think university and college is a different experience for everyone. I strongly believe you get out what you put in and I was there to learn and work really hard, which has paid off. What was so great about AIM was that all our teachers were working professionally and their first-hand advice and experience was invaluable to me at AIM.
I have been really lucky to work with three of my teachers in three professional shows. Patrice Tipoki in Les Miserables – she was my singing teacher, Tony Cogin who was my acting teacher – I did West Side Story with him and David Whitney who was another acting teacher and did My Fair Lady Sydney season. I think it’s really rewarding for the teacher as well and for the student to work together. They nurture you at AIM and then eventually you get to work with them it’s really great.
What 5 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with and why?
Rowan Atkinson because I grew up watching Mr. Bean my whole life, I still do whenever I’m having a bad day I put Mr. Bean on I love him I think he is a genius. Dick Van Dyke because he is pure entertainment and joy he’s just amazing, he’s my childhood. Kelli O’Hara, music theatre idol. If there was anyone I could perform with on stage it would be her she’s just beautiful and incredible and I aspire to be just like her.
Sylvester Stallone, not because of just his muscles and his body no because of his philosophy on life, his famous quote ‘It’s not about how hard you get hit but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.’ I think that is relevant to everyone in life and I think he is just a fantastic, great man. Lastly Grace Kelly, she’s the epitome of class. I think it would make a very attractive and hilarious dinner party.
Who are your style icons?
My Grandmother once again she is one of the most beautiful women in the world and I’m not biased. She has maintained her beauty, style and grace to this day. She’s 81 now and she still dresses so elegantly, I would definitely say her style is effortless elegance which is definitely my style. I love looking back at photos of her when she was my age, the most amazing dresses she wore but just the way she carried herself as well.
Personally I think it’s amazing to have style icons but it’s also really important to have your own individual style that’s true to you and not just follow trends all the time that’s not you. You really need to be confident and embrace your own style.
How did you react when you were cast in the tony award winning musical, Wicked?
When I got cast, the phone call I received fell in the week of my 21st birthday and Christmas. I mean you couldn’t ask for better timing. I distinctly remember being at the shops Christmas shopping when I got the phone call, I think I was at Diva or something. I screamed, I sobbed, I just dropped everything and I was by myself and I drove home and Mum was the only one home, which was fine. I think she thought I’d had a car accident because I was just so emotional and crying.
Gordon Frost Association’s Wicked the Musical (Elisa Colla)
I felt so unbelievable lucky because I only graduated from AIM three weeks prior. It just was all happening and I auditioned in the last few months of my final year at AIM and I thought you know what this isn’t going to happen. I thought it was an amazing experience auditioning for it in itself I thought this is great. If this is as far as I get, getting an audition. I never thought they would see me because I was like ‘I’m no one, I’m young’ but I think it’s one of those things of the perfect role at the perfect time.
What about the role of Nessarose did you love and how was it touring Asia with the show?
I loved Nessarose’s strength and determination. I really loved her relationship with Elphaba her sister. Although at times difficult, I understand I have two sisters myself. So I understand that sister relationship but I think for me although she abused her power she never wavered in her love for Boq, ultimately she wanted so much to be loved in return.
Gordon Frost Association’s Wicked the Musical (Elisa Colla and James D. Smith)
I loved being able to do touristy things on our day off and then come to work and perform in these huge theatres and they were pretty new as well. I really loved how each city Singapore and Seoul responded to the show differently and they were so welcoming and kind to us. It’s an amazing opportunity to go travel while you work.
Do you have a role in any musical theatre or straight theatre piece that you are dying to embody and play?
Well Eliza Doolittle was one so I feel really lucky to understudy the role. I would love love love to play Maria in West Side Story again. I think when you find that role that fits like a glove you just want to do it and it was such a short season. It was an incredible season though and working opposite Luigi Lucente as Tony it was amazing, I’d love to do it again. Other roles I would like to play would be Christine Daae from Phantom of the Opera and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Also any Rodgers and Hammerstein, so we’ll see.
PerfectImages Photography Packemin Productions West Side Story
(Luigi Lucente and Elisa Colla)
Les Mis is such a powerful and legendary piece of art how was your time on that production and can you speak any French?
Les Mis was such a challenging and rewarding experience I really had to learn to trust myself vocally and really rely on and finesse my technique because each show would require us to yell, scream out, belt with a really gritty sound and then sing in pure soprano tone in ‘One Day More’ and ‘Turning’ and things like that. Your voice had to become so flexible, for me that was really challenging but I really felt like I matured as a vocalist throughout that show which was really great. It’s a show I’ve always wanted to do so it was really nice to just go tick.
Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserables (Elisa Colla)
It’s hard you know, you couldn’t be lazy in Les Mis, vocally, mentally and emotionally you couldn’t be lazy. You just couldn’t sit on the barricade and be slouchy. You had to be in it the whole time. I actually learnt French in Year 12 VHC in New South Wales but I unfortunately do not remember much at all. I’m Italian and we speak it at home so I’m going to use that as an excuse for why I neglected my French, but I’d love to pick it up one day.
My Fair Lady is your latest show opening in August at the Opera House, in August it will be at the Capitol theatre in Sydney. What is the show about for people who don’t know?
My Fair Lady is a musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ with music by Frederick Loewe. It is set in Edwardian London and it tells the story of Eliza Doolittle a Cockney flower girl who needs speech lessons from Professor Higgins who’s teaching phonetics, to be able to pass as a lady.
Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady (Elisa Colla)
It’s a beautiful musical about transformation, gender politics and class. Anna O’Byrne is so solid as Eliza which is a fantastic thing for the company. I learn so much from her, which is so great for an understudy to be able to learn from the person you’re understudying, she is great.
Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady (Full company with director, Dame Julie Andrews)
How is the show different to others you have performed and what is Julie Andrews like in person especially during rehearsal of this show?
I think Julie Andrews is the reason why it is different to any other show I have performed in. There’s something so incredibly special about being a part of something she created and breathed life into 60 years ago. Her memory is astounding; she remembers the smallest details from the show 60 years ago. So for us to be able to recreate those memories for this production is an incredible experience and an opportunity so rare.
Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady (Elisa Colla)
Also the costumes are the best costumes I’ve ever worn in a show for this one so that makes it different and special. In terms of Julie, ‘Jules’ that’s what we call her, during the rehearsal process, on the first day in Sydney she put the entire room at ease as we sat around the table and every company member introduced themselves. They said ‘I’m blah blah, I’m playing blah blah’ and it got to her and she was right at the end and Julie just said ‘and I’m Mum’ and everyone just started crying. So automatically she put everyone at ease.
Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady (Ensemble Women)
In the rehearsal process she was so patient and so wise, humble and so full of love for everyone and she always just had the biggest smile on her face. She was so encouraging you know you would catch her watching someone like in the background and she would be smiling. I found myself staring at her so much. You sort of have those moments where you sit there pinching yourself.
I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity to not only meet her but to work with her and have personal notes from her as well. Like when does that happen? You grow up listening to her sing and watching her act and so for her to sit there and listen to you sing it’s amazing. It’s been the most incredible experience.
Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady (Anna O’Byrne, Charles Edwards and
Dame Julie Andrews)
In terms of being the understudy on a show, for example in your case Cosette and Eliza what does that mean to you and what is the process behind having that role and your ensemble plot?
Understudying is a very challenging role. Once again you get out what you put in and you have to put in. There is such a huge responsibility understudying, especially a role like Eliza Doolittle, who carries the show, I could on at a minute’s notice and I have to be mentally and physically ready at any given moment in the show. Also there’s the responsibility of giving the same level of performance that the person playing the role would, without the time and attention they have had.
Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserables (Elisa Colla understudying Cosette)
Understudying is a really challenging and rewarding experience too when you do get to go on. But challenging in the way that you don’t have the luxury of working from day one with the initial creative team on the role, you don’t get that attention everyday and you don’t get the luxury of developing the character every show either. So there’s a lot putting your own work in your own time and cover calls.
But you know I don’t just sit around at home on my days or nights off I am constantly going over things and vocally going over things as well. So that I am near or on the same level as Anna is vocally. It is a lot of work but it’s great because your that other person that gets the opportunity to play the role everyone else auditioned for and missed out on. Even though you missed out on the role you still get the chance to play it and at least rehearse it if you never get to go on.
I think also with understudying I think it’s so important that you don’t just copy. You have to make the role your own within the guidelines and boundaries of the show. But there’s no point in going on and trying to be somebody else. My Eliza is so different to Anna’s but not different in a way that makes the show so different. It’s my version of Eliza my own little quirks and characteristics which is so important. Of course Anna would never want me to go on and be her and I think that’s the same with every other role in musical theatre.
Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady (Joel Parnis, Elisa Colla, Georgina Hopson
and Tom Handley)
You are also juggling your own ensemble plot, in terms of this show my ensemble plot is not very big so once I’d learnt it I just focused on my time learning Eliza. With Cosette my ensemble plot was bigger, I more stage time than Cosette, there was a lot more to do and learn initially. It’s all different every show you do but you have to work hard and be prepared to do so because if you go on and you haven’t put in the work it’s very obvious.
Lastly who or what inspires you?
Humility, hard work and kindness inspire me. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with people who carry all of these traits. To name a special few, Simon Gleeson, Alex Jennings our original Higgins, Julie Andrews and Anna O’Byrne, they carry all of these traits. I think it is so important to be kind and I’m continually inspired by people who don’t make excuses and truly work hard and who care for other people who are not in it for themselves.
Fame Reporter speed round
West Side Story
Summer or Winter?
Winter in Melbourne, Summer everywhere else.
Favourite holiday trip you’ve ever had?
Acting or Singing?
I can’t split the two.
Favourite song to sing in the car?
Warm-ups for the show.
Favourite My Fair Lady song?
Favourite Julie Andrews movie?
Broadway celebrity crush?
Place you most want to travel to?
Finally do you have any secret talents?
I can do a snake and Roadrunner with my hands, I’m really cool guys.
Thank-you Elisa for being our guest at The Fame Reporter we wish you all the best and chookas for the Australian tour of My Fair Lady for 2017.