The Fame Reporter interviewed versatile musical theatre performer Eli Cooper, who will play Artie in Understudy Productions musical, Yank! part of MELT: Festival of Queer Arts and Culture Brisbane Powerhouse from 4 – 14 July 2019.
Eli studied at The Victorian College Of The Arts Secondary School, graduating as School Captain, with a Premier’s Award for Excellence in Dance.
Upon graduating, he joined Princess Cruises working as a dancer on several of their ships, before returning to study Professional Development of Musical Theatre, under Andrew Hallsworth, at Patrick Studios Australia.
After numerous dance credits across many facets of the entertainment industry as well as touring Asia as a swing on the children’s theatre production Thomas and The Hidden Treasure for Smile Live, Eli made his professional musical theatre debut in Grease for GFO, playing the role of Eugene and understudying the role of Doody.
He then went on to be in the Original Australian Company of Matilda for RSC/ Louise Withers as Ensemble/ Understudy Rudolpho, and most recently as Ensemble/ Dance Captain for Mad About Theatre’s inaugural production of Chicago. Eli also played Hunk/Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.
We talked to Eli about his experience in YANK the musical, his love of dance, his dream roles and more.
See our interview below!
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Eli, what sparked your interest in performing initially?
I was always an incredible liar, I’d lie about anything and everything as a kid, so I’ve always had that desire to spin a bit of a story I guess; but I was always pretty keen on dance and would do all the school concerts and things.
When I was 11 or 12 a teacher suggested to my parents we check out VCASS as a serious option for my high schooling, which we did, and I adored, so I started taking ballet once a week for the year before my audition and I fell absolutely head over heels in love with it.
How did your experience attending The Victorian College of the Arts and Patrick Studios Australia effect your current career progression?
VCASS gave me such an incredible skill set and work ethic and helped build such a determined, strong character in all of the students. We are a resilient lot no matter how long ago we left.
PSA came to me at the perfect time, I’d been working for 3 years in Australia and on cruise ships as a dancer, but I desperately wanted to work in musical theatre.
PSA whipped my very very average singing and acting abilities into shape quick and gave me introductions to so many music theatre creatives and connections and now colleagues!
What is Understudy Productions version of ‘Yank’ about for those who don’t know?
Yank is the story of a romance between two soldiers enlisted in WWII. It’s told through the diary entries of Stu, who throughout the war, documents his relationships with lover Mitch, frenemy Artie and his journey through the war.
It’s based on real diary entries and letters from LGBT soldiers that have been found over the years, which blows my mind.
It’s got all the gloss and camp and noise you want of a musical- but it absolutely sucker punches you right in the feels over and over and over.
What do you love most about your character, Artie and what made you audition for this production?
I didn’t audition initially! I got sent the brief and very quickly read in the show description, the score being compared to Rogers and Hammerstein and I thought well that’s absolutely not my gig then, I’m here to kick legs and yell pop songs, best of luck everyone!
Eventually I got a message from a friend who had a friend who had a friend etc, who emailed me the script and a character breakdown and said, if I were interested in auditioning, to submit a video of some scenes, a song and some tap dancing… and I thought hold up, there’s a role that dances?!
So I read the script, loved it and loved Artie, I put all the material on tape, chewed my nails for a few days and was thrilled when I was offered the part!
Artie is an absolute menace. He’s kind of the bad guy, but not really a BAD guy… he’s just always looking out for number one. He lives in a scary time being who he is, where it’s kill or be killed- so he’s become a killer… I talk a big game, but I am SUCH a pushover in real life it’s been so fun having a backbone for once!
Do you have a dream role that you are dying to play?
I’ve always been more on the “just gimme whatever work I can get” side of the dream role convo.
But if I don’t get a crack at Hedwig before I drop off I’m haunting everyone that ever gets to play her for the rest of time.
What has been the most rewarding and challenging parts about rehearsing this show?
While it is crazy fun getting to be bit of a villain, Andy Johnston, who plays Stu, has the ability to absolutely MELT your heart with a single look, so every time Artie does something that clearly hurts Stu, I so instinctively want to apologise to him and have to force myself not to!
What a treat it’s been to learn I’m not completely dead inside like previously thought by many, including myself!
You have several dance credits to your name, was that your first love and is there any big dance numbers in Yank?
Dance was and always will be the biggest love of my life (no wonder I’m still single).
It’s what I identify as instantly when someone asks who I am or what I do. It’s taken me all over the world, it’s pushed me over the line into casts of big musicals I probably really had no place in and it’s kept my crappy car on the road for a good 10 years now!
I get 2 great big dance numbers in Yank!, a tap number in act one when I first meet Stu, and then a dream ballet in act 2 with our incredible ensemble boys who have to deal with me throwing my entire grown adult male weight at them… bless them.
There is an amazingly camp Andrews sisters-esque number in this show too that I am FURIOUS I’m not in…
How was your experience as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and what did you learn from playing the classic man of straw?
Listen, it’s so clichè, but it was literally my dream coming true. If I ever wanted to do anything in my life it was be involved with a professional production of the Wizard of Oz.
As a kid I wouldn’t talk to you unless you called me “Eli Dorothy” and I was quoting the movie back to front before I could tell you what my actual surname was.
When I was offered the role after originally auditioning to be the understudy I knew I was gonna be an emotional mess the entire time… which I was.
What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Marilyn Monroe (I gotta know what really went down), Bob Fosse (to thank him for literally every step he ever choreographed) and Joan Rivers (so she can give me a good roasting)
Do you have any exciting future projects you can reveal?
I filmed a few scenes in a big Aussie movie last year which should be released soon which I’m excited slash terrified to see. Plus come September I’ll be heading to Noosa, Caloundra and Rockhampton to play Franz in Rock Of Ages which I am very much looking forward to (specifically the bedazzled unitard).
What are the main messages that you hope audiences take away from Yank and why should audiences come along?
I know audiences are going to leave Yank feeling such a sense of gratitude for all those that have come before us and have fought for us to be where we are now.
Regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, anything- we are all part of so many tiny communities and subcultures that exist because someone stood up for what they believed in and who they were- and Yank reminds us of that. I know we have so far to go in this world, but that shouldn’t mean we can’t stop and celebrate the wins along the way!
Yank reminded me that the first time I read the script, and I cannot wait for people to see this show… it’s truly beautiful.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Have more than 18 dollars in savings
Fake carrot nose that smelled like bolognese for some reason
Comedy or Drama
Por que no los dos?
Socks and sandals, so chic
Go-to Karaoke song
Cleanin Out My Closet- Eminem (MA BOI!)
Why don’t I live here already?!
Any secret talents
Barely any unsecret ones
Dream Girls (shut up)
Dressing Room necessity
An emergency exit strategy
Save those tears for your pillow
Rhonda Burchmore (always)
I’m EXCELLENT, in the shower…
Favourite song at the moment
The baby shark one but only Celine Dion singing it
Boys in the Band- bring it and book me!!
Place you want to travel to
A coconut hut in the ocean in Bora Bora
Marry into wealth
TV Show Binge
Catfish- I cry when it turns out they were telling the truth and just really busy or shy…
Finally, favourite thing about performing?
The sense of achievement nailing something you never thought you could, a harmony, a tap solo, a long tour without anyone on your side, a career where you’ve got 3 shots at making an actual living every 12 months.
It could be a smile out of someone in the front row, or a congratulations from someone you idolise… it never stops adapting and giving you fulfilment in so many different ways.
Thank-you Eli for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for Yank at Brisbane Powerhouse!
YANK! the musical Dates
Thursday 4 July – Sunday 14 July
For more information
All photos – Supplied