Opening to a sold-out house and playing packed theatres for the rest of the week, Chicago has officially burst onto the Melbourne theatre scene.
The 1975 musical has lasted the test of time, and has already thrilled audiences in Sydney and Brisbane. Now, on its final leg of the Australian tour, Melbourne is welcoming the crooks and crooners to the State Theatre. With a killer cast, I thought it was best to chat with Jason Donovan and Casey Donovan, who are playing Billy Flynn and Mama Morton respectively, about their time working on the show and what they love about these full-on, powerful roles.
Jason is no stranger to Australian screens, and is known for his portrayal of Scott Robinson in Neighbours, where his character arc included the iconic wedding to Charlene Mitchell (played by Kylie Minogue). He received a Logie Awards for Best New Talent (1987) and the Silver Logie for Most Popular Actor (1988) for the role. Jason has also achieved success as a singer, having sold 13 million records worldwide. His breakout theatrical performance was the titular role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat on the West End, from which he received an Olivier Nomination. He has since starred in some majorly successful West End Musicals including The Rocky Horror Show, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Annie Get Your Gun, and The Sound of Music. After Chicago, Jason will be returning to Joseph to play Pharaoh.
Casey also made her career debut on Television, having won the second season of Australian Idol in 2004. She has since gone on to be a multi-award nominee and winner, including an ARIA #1 for Listen With Your Heart. In 2017, she took out the title of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, and released her EP Off The Grid and Somewhere In Between. Some of her theatrical credits include Killer Queen in We Will Rock You (Andrew Pole/Ben Elton), Joanne in Rent (Hayes Theatre), The Flower Children (Magnormos), As You Like It (Company B), Opera Yarrabah (Opera Australia), and The Sapphires (Company B/Black Swan).
Neither of you started out in Musical Theatre – how does it feel to now be stepping in to two of the most iconic roles of the genre?
Casey: It’s a big thing. I always feel like I’m putting on bigger shoes than I can fit into. Playing Mama is absolutely amazing, she’s just got this… there’s something about her being grounded and knowing what she wants out of life. Not so much bossing everyone around, but being 12 steps ahead of where everyone else is. And working with Billy, all the scheming behind closed doors. And Billy and Mama don’t get much time together, but when you see them for the brief seconds there’s these smiles and cheekiness – they’re always up to something! I’m basically ripping everyone off! And [“When You’re Good To Mama”] is such a great song to sing night after night, Mama doesn’t do nothing for nothing.
Jason: I never really aspired to become a Musical Theatre performer. When I left school, it was to become an actor, and then when I got into Neighbours, watching everyone else around me sing… I wanted to sing. I’d done a bit of singing prior to that. I guess the two kind of found themselves naturally, in a way. Musical Theatre has been really good to me, particularly in the UK, but good to be here for this awesome, platinum experience. It literally is an incredible show with an incredible cast and band.
Casey, you specifically come from a singing background, and have really broken into the acting world recently – how has this been for you?
Casey: It’s exciting and nerve wracking. I love acting, it’s such a different adrenaline rush for me. I’m learning on the job, and getting to work with people like Jason and Nat… I’m always learning and always trying to critique my craft and be better. It’s a different adrenaline playing a character than just being me because we all know I’m a bit of a larrikin [laughs]. I’d love to do more. I’d love to play Effie in Dreamgirls.
Jason, with your dad having originated the role of Billy Flynn in the original Australian cast… do you have some big shoes to fill?
Jason: I’m not relaxed [chuckles] You know, one could say I’m not really relaxed. But you know, Dad is… he’s been very supportive. He better be [complimentary]! I think secretly he’s pretty chuffed.
Chicago showcases some of Fosse’s most influential choreography. Have you guys had to brush up on your dance skills?
Casey: Mama doesn’t have any dances! So it’s just her standing her ground going “this is what she’s gonna do and this is how she’s gonna do it.” It’s very vaudevillian, she gets to play and tell the story of how her role is going to play out during the show.
Jason: I don’t do a lot of dancing in this! Dancing is not my strength, which is great because it means I get to spend less time with the Physio on Monday. But look, you talk about presence, that’s sort of the point with these two characters. And particularly with my dialogue, it’s about sort of taking control of the situation, which, in my age, I sort of gravitate to. It needs a bit of experience to come into a role like this, needs a bit of history. And that’s where I’ve started from, the last 30 years of my life. But I hope you enjoy it, because it’s a great show. Great cast, the benchmark is high in this one!
Chicago is currently playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.
For tickets and more information, please visit the Chicago Australia website.