The Fame Reporter interviewed incredible local Brisbane theatre performer, Chelsea Dawson starring as Queen Katherine Howard in the highly anticipated new musical about Henry VIII’s wives – Six the musical! The show is playing at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre, QPAC from 30 December.
Chelsea Dawson (she/her), born and raised in Brisbane, is a proud recent graduate from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University’s Bachelor of Musical Theatre. While studying, Chelsea had great delight in performing in productions such as Les Misérables (directed by Alister Smith), The Drowsy Chaperone (directed by Penny Farrow) and Elegies: A Song Cycle (directed by Jason Langley). In 2021, Chelsea made her professional debut in GFO’s production of Shrek The Musical as the Wicked Witch and was also a part of Serpentine Arts Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
We talked to Chelsea about how she connected to the historic character of Katherine Howard, her love for Queensland theatre, how Six the musical empowers women and more.
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Chelsea, what sparked your interest in performing initially?
I was obsessed in primary school with the idea that when you go to high school you get to do school musicals. In high school I had the most amazing drama and music teachers. They said theatre is a career path and my best mate in high school had been doing musicals since primary school.
So, I think the doorway presented itself even though my family has not really been part of the arts industry.
It was sort of a scary step forward but I am so grateful for all of the mentors I had. My first musical in high school was ‘The Secret Garden’ and I played Lily Craven. She is the dead wife and she didn’t have any speaking lines but she had a lot of singing to do and I was only in Year 10 and was almost picked over some Grade 12s.
Jerrod Smith who went to university with me just closed ‘The Lovers’ at the Sydney Opera House. I got to see him in that show and it was a beautiful moment knowing we did our first ever school musical together and now both have performed at the Opera House.
My Mum told me the story of when I was little at the Christmas concert I stole the microphone and started singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, just on my own accord.
It was always in my blood to perform but I just don’t think anyone knew how to handle it.
What about ‘Six’ enticed you to want to be involved in it and what was your reaction when you found out you landed the role of Katherine Howard?
I was obsessed with the musical ‘Six’ as soon as the cast album was released on Spotify. I remember going to the gym during university to get fit for dance classes and I would play musical theatre playlists on repeat and ‘Six’ just kept popping up and I was like what is this musical.
One day I did a deep dive and I became obsessed. I was in second year of university at the time and I heard about auditions but when I was at The Con it was kind of a rite of passage that when you were accepted into 3rd year you could audition for professional commercial shows. Then at the start of 2020 the brief came out and it was a quick process. A lot of the girls at The Con submitted for an audition and only 7 of us got an audition time.
A week later I was in a tap dance class at university and I got the phone call that they wanted me to play Katherine Howard.
I am playing the character that never in my life I thought I would play. Then COVID came around and I never got to announce or join the cast but I had to wait a bit longer.
Do you have a role in theatre that you are dying to play?
I would love to do Wicked one day in any capacity even if it was to be monkey number 3. I would love to do Anastasia I am obsessed with it. I would also love to be Katherine in Newsies.
How does the show portray what King Henry VIII’s wives endured and what do you love about this method of storytelling?
‘Six’ tells this story so cleverly. The history lesson that you receive is incredible if you read the lyrics and really listen to what these women are saying. You hear every detail about these women’s lives.
The history is highlighted throughout these amazing catchy pop songs. Especially with Howard they created this high energy pop song with a twist.
With the cast album it was very much set up to be a pop album. It was so clever that the creators, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss could sell the concept in so many different ways.
As people listened to the album on streaming services it allowed them to hear the songs in their most pop element and they became obsessed with it. Then you were able to watch the musical and see the emotion evolve on stage especially with Katherine Howard’s song. Combined with the physical elements of choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, the whole show is genius.
The production can wrap up a history lesson in 75 minutes and give each of the six women their time on stage to own their story, it is a breath of fresh air. Each of the queens’ uniqueness is never dimmed by the other queens.
It is accessible for pop lovers, musical lovers, history buffs and all of them can take away something different from it. You can celebrate the women in your life or embrace sisterhood.
A beautiful saying the cast have is ‘Linked not ranked.’ We say that in our huddle before the show and that message is always at the forefront.
Please describe the music in the show for us?
The music involves inspiration from the iconic divas of our time. From Beyoncé, Avril Lavigne, Adelé, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Alicia Keys with influences from famous girl bands, Little Mix and The Spice Girls. The motifs throughout the show are brilliant in how they shift and change genres through each Queen.
What do you love about Katherine Howard’s narrative?
I love her optimistic idea of love. She is so beautiful in how hopelessly romantic she is. I believe she sees the world with a glass half full mentality until reality hits her and she is blinded by the same tricks from these men as they disguise their love.
She is so strong and I only wish that she could have lived a full and happy life. We joke around because in the song ‘Six’ at the end of the show when she can rewrite her own story and she says ‘I learned everything now all I do is sing.’ It’s kind of funny because she learned every math equation, why good and evil exist and she still only chooses to sing.
There is something so innocent and beautiful about that positive energy even throughout all of the horrid things that she endured, she can still stand strong.
She stands stronger because of the women around her. Howard is like my best friend now truly.
How do you think the song ‘All you wanna do’ encapsulates Howard as a woman in the 16th century?
Howard had such a short life, as I think a lot of women in that time probably did. It is a bit blurred when her birthdate was so they give a rough 5 year grey area. They believed she may have died between the ages of 17-18 or 22-23 years old.
She was beheaded younger than I am now. In her history unfortunately her Mum passed away quite young and she was sent to a boarding school that was run by her step-grandmother. That when she meets Francis Dereham and possibly Henry Manox too.
Looking into what the history books say, I don’t think as a young woman she had much guidance from a mother figure. Although they were written by the male gaze as men were likely to be the most educated at the time.
She was highly sexualised, so I try to strip away some of the male gaze when I read about her life. It says her mother wasn’t around so she looked to these other younger women that were trying to figure out life without their mothers. I believe that is part of what led to her downfall.
She was guided by these men who said I will protect you, I will hold you and I will love you, whatever love meant. The song ‘All you wanna do’ does a fantastic job of unfortunately objectifying her at the end of the day. She doesn’t even realise the words that she is singing are at her demise because, it is written in a pop, bubbly spirit. It is a cover up and throughout the show we are in their armour.
As you know, ‘Six’ surrounds the six women in history that were married to King Henry XIII. The show is a special circumstance as all the wives can ‘meet’ and share their own stories, what is it like working with this incredible cast?
It is honestly a dream come true. I pinch myself everyday.
These strong women and non-binary people came at such a perfect time in my life. I have learned so much and being not only the baby in the show but also in the cast being the youngest.
It is truly one big family and to spend the last 11 or so months with them, overall about 14 months with rehearsal they are mine forever now. To grow and change with this job has been incredible with the best support network. Living away from home for the first time was a big change.
The show is so emotional but celebratory and vulnerable too but I always have the cast behind me.
What did you love about working with Queensland based theatre company shake n stir?
That was after doing Shakefest. When I started getting into theatre my drama teacher said you need to apply. Kids from around Queensland, actors, set-designers, musos, costume-designers and more come together to share their love of art through Shakespeare.
The top kids from the state competition in the holidays put on a Shakespeare show. I got picked to do that after I graduated Year 12. We did ‘Much Ido about nothing’ and Johnny Balbuziente was our Director and it was just a party. We also had Nelle Lee come in for a some of it.
It still is a dream of mine to work for Shake n Stir professionally. It was amazing and I loved doing that show with Queensland-based people. I have had these amazing experiences being able to perform in Brisbane.
What was it like making your professional musical theatre debut as the Witch in Shrek the Musical?
That show was such a crazy learning curve. I think I learnt Shrek in 3 days before the whole ensemble came in. We ran the show from the top and did a slow stumble through to fill in the gaps of parts I didn’t know and to refresh the original cast’s memory.
Truly a dream come true to perform Shrek in my hometown of Brisbane. Now we get to perform Six in Brisbane and half of the original cast are from Brisbane.
Why should Brisbane audiences come along and see Six?
Six is the best party Brisbane can start the New Year with. It has local Brisbane talent, Loren Hunter, Vidya Maken and me. Come along and support Brissy performers. It is a badass, kickass musical.
You would be kicking yourself if you miss out on the opportunity to come and see it.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Shrek the Musical
Favourite mantra when you are down
I am a mentality giant
Any secret talents?
Auslan – Australian Sign Language
The last five years and Legally Blonde. Kala Gare and my pump-up tune is ‘What you want’
Savoury or Sweet
Dressing Room necessity
Biotene mouth spray, all singers need it.
Can’t live without
The band Lawrence
Place you want to travel to
West End, London
Australian theatre scene
The & Juliet cast just came out, that’s the Australian theatre scene we want to see
To be part of theatre-making that includes hearing and deaf actors
Finally, favourite thing about performing
I love telling stories, it is the most powerful thing we can do to live on this rock for legacy to be made, for hope to inspire, for questions to be asked and change to be made. That’s the power of theatre.
Thank-you Chelsea for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for the Australian and New Zealand tour of Six the Musical!
Don’t miss out on the fan favourite powerful new contemporary musical about the legendary lives of Henry VIII’s six wives – get your tickets below!
All photos – Supplied