David Harris is back in Australia for three weeks (sorry if we got anyone’s hopes up!), after having moved to New York last year. He’s been busy performing over in the US, starring as Jean Valjean in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Les Miserables as well as being part of a number of workshops and readings.
He’s back in Sydney for the upcoming Defying Gravity Concert and we had a chat with him (just off the plane!) about life in New York, what he misses about Australia and what we can expect from the concert.
You’ve recently got back from living in New York. What inspired you to go over there?
Yeah I just got back today! Well, New York is the home of musical theatre and the pinnacle of what we do. So it was always one of the goals; to go to New York, where it all happens. The very first trip that I went there, about 12 years ago, I knew one day I would live there.
So that was the impetus to go: to be involved in shows at the ground level, where they get created. Every week there’s a new workshop of a new show and they all start like that. And we get them here in Australia, 10 to 20 years after that process happens. And in New York, you’re at the ground roots of that. A lot of work doesn’t get off the ground, and a lot of works clearly do get off the ground and I wanted to be involved in that part of the process.
What was it like to perform and do workshops over in America?
It’s fantastic. I got to do the reworking of Jekyll & Hyde and a new musical called Rain which is about to open up in San Diego, I did a workshop for that and a reading. It’s great to be involved in all that because you get to have a stamp on it and have a little piece of that show, however long its life may be. Hopefully when I go back in 3 weeks, that will continue on. The whole point of being there is to be involved in that.
I’m presuming you saw a lot of theatre whilst there – which musical was your favourite? And how did theatre over there inspire you?
I got through phases of seeing shows. Sometimes there’s a whole bunch of shows I see in succession, other times I go for a month or two without seeing anything. There’s a different mentality when you’re there on a ten-day holiday; nearly every day and possible moment, you go see a show. Whereas when you’re living there, life takes over a lot more and you have a lot more time to go and see those shows so it’s spread out a lot. A good friend of mine directed and choreographed On Your Feet so that was the most recent show I saw. Just last week I saw Hayden Tee, our Aussie who just had his Broadway debut as Javert in Les Mis.
What do you miss most about Australia when living overseas?
There’s a thousand and two things, that’s just off the top of my head. The first thing I did today when I jumped off the plane, my sister picked me up and we went across to Coogee beach and I dived in the ocean. That was the first thing I wanted to do. Then I had a decent coffee. Things like that I miss incredibly, the lifestyle of Australia and all the things that go with that lifestyle; the beaches, the weather, the fresh air, the beautiful food. There are a lot of things about Australia and the Australian culture I miss. But there are a lot of things about the American culture and New York particularly that I enjoy and that inspired the move there.
Do you miss anything specifically about Australian musical theatre scene?
I miss my mates! I spent 20 years fostering my career here and working with some beautiful people, and all of the people that I worked with are so dear to me. When you spend 20 years with these friends then you suddenly move across to the other side of the world and you’re plonked into the industry over there, you have to establish new friends and new colleagues. That’s the main thing I miss about the Australian industry, my friends and the people involved in it.
Can we hope to see you back in Australia sometime?
Absolutely. The point is not to leave the Australian scene at all. I’ve spent so long creating a career here and there’s so many wonderful things about it, and this will always be my home. It’s just opening up the field and going to New York, so I’ve got a hand in both markets and both opportunities. In saying that, I have to give New York a good chunk of my time and energy. But it’s great to be able to come home for projects like Defying Gravity and little things that keep popping up here or even a big show that draws me back. But definitely I will be back here to perform and that’s the goal to live and work in both Australia and New York.
You’ve performed alongside some incredible artists. Who is one of the people who you’ve enjoyed working with the most?
I don’t think I can single out one person because there are so many people in my career that have influenced me on different levels and to different degrees. For example, working with Todd McKenney, Jill Perryman and Chrissy Amphlett in my very first musical here in Australia. They were my teachers because I didn’t really go and study music theatre, so the people I worked with were my mentors.
I worked with Terrence Mann in a production of Les Mis in the states last year who was the original Javert and who has won multiple Tony Awards. To be directed by him and star opposite him and watch him work taught me so much. But then there are young people that I see on stage and they inspire me with their enthusiasm and their skill. And I wonder at that age, and they have all these skills already. So everyone person I work with, I’ve gained something from.
Who do you one day hope to work with?
I’m looking forward to working with Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster, that will be cool. But apart from that… Kelli O’Hara, I want to star in a show with Kelli O’Hara.
What’s your dream role?
My dream role hasn’t been written yet. It’s going to be a new show that no one knows about, and I don’t even know about it. But that’s my dream, to create a role that no one else has had a stamp on yet.
An inevitable question for the upcoming concert, what’s your favourite Stephen Schwartz song or musical?
I don’t think I have a fave. I saw the latest production of Pippin, which I really loved, I thought it was really inspired. I think Australia may be getting it soon, I’ve heard that rumour. And if that’s the case then I urge everyone to go see it. The production last on Broadway was phenomenal and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think my days of playing Pippin are over because I’m too old but if I got back in time, that’s probably the role I’d love to play, he gets to sing some brilliant songs.
Can we expect any Pippin songs from you at the concert?
I think I will be singing some Pippin, yeah!
What are you most excited about with Defying Gravity?
Working with some mates I’ve known for many years; the creative team and producers, the MD, and Helen who I’ve worked with a number of times now and we get on like a house on fire. And also working with the American crew; Betty and Aaron and Sutton. And working with Joanna Ampil who I met last week, caught up for a coffee. I’ve known her since I ushered at the Capitol theatre, my very first gig when I moved to Sydney, when she was Kim in Miss Saigon, so I got to see her night after night.
I’m also looking forward to being back in front of the Aussie audiences.
What can we expect from the concert?
I think you can expect a few surprises. I know a couple of little things that I’m sworn to secrecy about. And you’ll learn a lot more about Stephen Schwartz. A lot of people know certain shows or songs, but he’s got such a catalogue of music that’s all so varied. I think people will walk away learning a hell of a lot more about Stephen.
David Harris will be posting pictures and videos of rehearsals and in the lead up to the concert, so check out his instagram at @DavidHarrisOz. And check out our ‘Learn your Defying Gravity concert stars well!’ pieces for more information before the concert!
Three shows only
Friday 12 February 8pm and Saturday 13 February 3pm & 8pm