The Fame Reporter interviewed Tom Oliver starring in the return season of the highly-acclaimed storytelling concert about war, love, protest and peace, Rolling Thunder Vietnam. The show is playing at QPAC on 18 and 19 March!
Tom Oliver is one of Australia’s brightest young stars with a broad portfolio across music, theatre, film, TV and cabaret. He starred alongside Marcia Hines in the Australian & New Zealand tours of the disco-fuelled circus/burlesque cabaret Velvet. Tom later joined The Marcia Hines Band and toured Australia with Sister Sledge, KC & The Sunshine Band, The Village People, among others.
Tom’s versatility as a performer includes lead roles in the rock musical Rent (Mark Cohen), Sondheim’s Into The Woods (Jack), and in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (Romeo) and in his own cabarets More Than A Boy and Jive Talkin: the songs of the Brothers Gibb.
Tom starred as the young Australian soldier Johnny in the original cast of Rolling Thunder Vietnam when the show premiered in 2014 at QPAC in Brisbane.
We talked to Tom about returning to ‘Rolling Thunder Vietnam’, his connections to the show and the Vietnam War and more.
See our interview below!
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Tom, what sparked your interest in performing initially?
Thanks for having me! This is a good question. I grew up playing sport (cricket & rugby) and I thought that’s what I wanted to do with my life. My mates in the rugby team and I auditioned for the school musical in grade 10 and I (somehow) got the lead role. It all slowly started to change from there.
What about this show ‘Rolling Thunder Vietnam’ enticed you to return to once again tell this story and what is your ultimate favourite moment in the show?
It’s just such a glorious show. On so many levels.
The story speaks directly to the people who lived through the Vietnam War. We get to represent veterans and their families onstage.
We get to perform some of the best songs ever written by artists like John Foggerty, Simon & Garfunkel, Steppenwolf, Roberta Flack and more.
My ultimate favourite moment is singing Bridge Over Troubled Water at the end of the show.
Do you have a role in theatre that you are dying to play?
Boq in Wicked, & Joe Pesci in Jersey Boys if we’re talking musicals. Both not big roles but iconic characters that I know I could have a lot of fun with. In terms of challenging, some sort of Shakespeare character would be great – Puck, Bottom, Romeo.
There’s also a one man play called ‘I Love You Bro’ which I saw years ago that I’d be terrified to perform but love the challenge.
How does the show portray the hardships and triumphs that the soldiers in the Vietnam War went through?
The story is told through real letters written back and forth by soldiers in the war and loved ones at home.
We also project real footage and photographs onto 4 massive screens onstage. These are then mixed in with the soundtrack from the era played by iconic Australian musicians.
What has been the most rewarding and challenging parts about performing and telling the stories of these people?
The reaction we get at the end of the show. They all stand up and clap as they wipe the tears from their faces. The veterans and their families are so thankful for the show and music lovers just love the music.
It challenging to perform because there is a big legacy involved in this story but the reward is then so much greater at the end when you see how people connect to what you’re portraying onstage.
Describe the music in the show and how does it advance the story?
The show is built, very cleverly by Bryce Hallett & David Berthold, around 4 central characters living through the Vietnam War. A young larrikin from the country (my character) who decides to go to Vietnam for an adventure, his girlfriend at home in Australia, a private school boy from Sydney’s north shore who is conscripted & an American marine who’s following in his father’s footsteps.
These 4 represent completely different perspectives of the war and sing songs from the 60s & 70s to help progress the drama of the show at different points. It’s an iconic era of music and very unique in terms of its attitude. Artists like Joe Cocker & Jimi Hendrix were performing songs in protest of the time that they were living through.
Our show completely captures the attitude of the Vietnam war and turns it up loud – un apologetically – in front of thousands of people and they love it.
What did you learn about yourself and society whilst performing the show the first time?
I decided that war doesn’t make sense. It’s interesting that no matter what era of time you like at, there has always been war and for some reason we haven’t completely mastered the art of stopping these sorts of conflicts. It never works.
Innocent people die and the people who are actually arguing sit behind a desk in an office far far away from where the bloodshed takes place. Ironically, a lot of beautiful music has come from these situations.
What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Barry Gibb, Jennifer Lopez & that Mr Trololol guy from YouTube.
Do you have any connections to this show or the Vietnam War and if so how does that assist in performing these special stories?
My connection to the show is that I’ve been involved with it since its inception. I was in the first creative development for the show in 2013 and performed every tour since.
In terms of conflict, my great Grandfather was a soldier in WW1 – he was shot in France, captured by the Germans and released on Armistice Day 1918. My Dad was in the Australian Navy just after the Vietnam War & my Aunty was a singer & Go-Go dancer for Aussie, NZ & American troupes in Vietnam.
I think every Australian knows someone who has lived through this era.
Why should Brisbane audiences come along and see Rolling Thunder Vietnam?
Because I’m in it and I love Brisbane.. ha ha. As well as this, it’s the soundtrack to the 60s & 70s played by one of the best bands in the world (seriously – these musicians play for John Farnham), it’s got a heartfelt story and gets a standing ovation every time it plays.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Favourite mantra when you are down
Let’s boil the kettle.
Rolling Thunder Vietnam
Rock n Roll
Any secret talents
Yes. They’re very secret.
It was Jersey Boys for a long time.
Dressing Room necessity
Into the woods
Into the woods, into the woods, then out of the woods and home before dark!
Can’t live without
Are we acting? Is this real life?
Place you want to travel to
Australian theatre scene
Incestuous but full of heart.
Happiness for me and all humans.
TV Show Binge
Finally, favourite thing about performing
Being completely honest and engrossed in a moment.
Thank-you Tom for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for the tour of Rolling Thunder Vietnam!
Don’t miss out on the most exciting and heartwarming show at QPAC playing 18-19 March. Get your tickets below!
All photos – Supplied