Melbourne-based music theatre performer Sarah Kate Landy is enjoying an international career in some of the world’s biggest shows including Cats, Mary Poppins, Miss Saigon, Saturday Night Fever, and Starlight Express. Upon finishing her contract with the Australian tour of Mamma Mia! The Musical, she reflected on the lessons learned and shared some heartwarming developments in her personal life.
Landy attributes her success to mentors who identified her potential early on and encouraged her to pursue opportunities which opened some exciting doors. Her professional debut was with the Production Company performing in Mack and Mabel with Caroline O’Connor. “Can you imagine Caroline O’Connor being your first example?”, Landy exclaimed.
What a muse to have, indeed. Given that at the time Landy didn’t know much about the music theatre industry, there could be no better influence than the great Caroline O’Connor.
Of O’Connor, Landy said “I remember she used to eat very small meals and she was hyperactive. She would do posé turns around the room and I [noticed] she was a ballet dancer so I could connect with that from my ballet training. I thought she was so cool.”
Soon after, when Landy travelled to Germany as a cast member of Starlight Express she didn’t know what to expect from the show. With no previous knowledge of the production or a clear understanding of the job of an understudy/cover, all Landy knew was that she needed to rollerskate onstage in show. And, at the time, she couldn’t even skate. But with three months of intense rehearsal, supported by her background in ballet, she was ready to perform in her first big touring show.
In her two decades of professional performance experience, one of the factors that contributed to the longevity of her career was discipline. “[I’m] trying to get my skills up in different areas because it’s very easy to get cut in the first round of an audition if you’re not the strongest dancer but you’re a really good singer or vice versa, so [the panel] don’t get to see what you can actually do,” she advised.
If one is fortunate enough to land a role, then Landy advises to be a reliable company member. “I try not to take time off, I try and work consistently which is important for a cover; you have to be reliable.” She has covered many iconic roles in music theatre and stresses the importance of covers and swings in every company. “It’s hard to cover because you don’t get to do the role consistently every night. You don’t get to really work on the nuances that you would be able to as a lead, and that’s really hard because you always come off feeling like you didn’t do the best that you could have,” Landy remarked.
Landy is not the product of a single performing arts institute, but rather her knowledge is a combination of classical voice training, studying multiple genres of dance, and learning on the job. She has studied at the Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music, Victorian Ballet School, Dance World 301 (Diploma in performing arts), and completed a Grade 8 voice practical exam through the Australian Music Examinations Board.
“I started ballet training when I was three which I think was very important because learning ballet makes you very aware of your body as a whole so you are able to copy different styles [and] your attention to detail is really good. Then, because of a beautiful singing teacher who really pushed me through and taught me a lot in a short period of time, I got into a bridging course, Initial Music Studies, at Melba Conservatorium,” Landy articulated.
She counts her blessings while remembering with fondness her mentor who led her to discover music theatre.
“Her name was Mavis Ford, and she got me into Melba Conservatorium. I stayed there for a couple of years but I missed dancing.”
Landy felt very lucky to have met someone in the industry who, as well as teaching English at her small country town school, also ran the school musicals, ultimately inspiring Landy to pursue a career as a performer.
“At this stage I had no idea about the industry and about musical theatre, and I came across Dance World – I don’t even know how I looked it up before Google, probably the Yellow Pages!? – and decided to go there. I didn’t know anything about it, I hadn’t heard of WAAPA or NIDA. I was so naive and so green. Dance World focused more on dancing and not so much singing or acting. I think they’ve improved since I was there. As part of our training, one of our exams was to do a musical theatre audition for Starlight Express and I ended up getting a role in it.”
While Landy believes discipline is a valuable trait for performers, she insists that performers should never blindly agree to something without knowing what their rights are.
“I think you have to be more educated now as to what’s appropriate to be asked of you. I’m a strong believer that once you find good producers to work, with you stick with them. Everyone wants to get in their shows so they have a bigger pool to choose from, and after doing Mamma Mia with really good producers I know that I won’t put up with things that I put up with in the past. Louise Withers [believes] that everyone needs to be treated with respect, and I love that. I haven’t always had that in the past. Withers is leading by example, and that’s awesome.”
Landy observed how tight-knit the performing arts community in Australia is and stressed that being a good cast member is crucial to every performer’s career. “Try not be a difficult company member and learn to pick your battles. If people are complaining that they don’t like this or that then [producers] stop taking you seriously when a big problem does arise,” she emphasised.
“I think arts education is very important. In Australia, we don’t realise how important music and ceremony are to us as a nation. That’s how we find out who we are as people and if we lose that then what are we doing? We’re just working to survive.”
It is evident that Landy loves her work. When asked what the highlight of her career was to date, her immediate response was performing the role of Donna in Mamma Mia! The Musical when Celine Dion was in the audience. “Thank God I didn’t know in the beginning that she was there and everyone was trying to keep it a secret until I overheard someone. I think they let it slip accidentally and I could tell by their tone that they were serious. So when I went on for the second act I did some deep breathing and told myself ‘this is it, you’re singing in front of the best vocalist in the world… don’t stuff it up!’” Landy laughed.
Thankfully the reviews were glowing that night. “You should be cloned” were Celine Dion’s words to Landy following her performance, Dion being brought to tears by Landy’s performance of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’.
Not only is her career going well but so is her personal life. She’s four months pregnant with a baby boy on the way, and along with fiancé Jason Wasley made the announcement on Instagram in true Cats alumni fashion, dressed as Bombalurina and Old Deuteronomy, respectively.
However, the touring life is not all glamour. “When you have signed on for a show it’s like you’ve signed your life away. Contracts are usually [for] a year but I have done two shows which went for nearly three years. Touring takes you away from home. You miss big family events, that’s what’s hard. And for covers, often you don’t get annual leave approved because you are the backup. That’s something that you have to expect when you are covering which is hard to take sometimes.”
She has two decades of professional experience and despite being told by others that she could retire happy now Landy still has a lot to offer. In her time off-stage she mentors clients in voice and she runs the project Songs for Seniors. “That came about when I wanted to perform for my grandmother who lived to the age of 102 and she hadn’t seen me perform for a very long time. She was too frail to see any of my shows and I thought it was a way to go to her,” Landy explained.
Landy’s love for nostalgic 1940s music and artists like Vera Lynn led her to pursue music therapy for aged care facilities. As she described how fulfilling and meaningful this initiative is she began to tear up. Landy certainly has a lot of compassion, maturity and valuable experience to pass on and she is looking forward to her biggest role yet: motherhood.