Johanna Allen finds her dream as Mother Abbess

Musical theatre veteran Johanna Allen, who performing onstage as Sister Sophia in Australian tour of The Sound of Music, will be promoted to the coveted role of Mother Abbess for the musical’s final run in Perth. Allen will be taking over the role from Helpmann Award winner Jacqui Dark.

Johanna Allen. Image by Alex Vaughan
Johanna Allen. Image by Alex Vaughan

Mother Abbess, Maria’s confidante and advisor, is a beloved role that Allen says she is “ecstatic” to tackle in Perth, having understudied the role in earlier in the run.

“I’m just very grateful that the producers had the opportunity to see me in the role in previous seasons and have put their faith in me to bring home the train, so to speak. And also because it’s a role I adore. It’s come to mean a great deal,” said Allen.

Despite now having a strong connection with the role and the show, Allen admits that it is not one she was immediately attracted to.

“It’s not a role I was immediately drawn to when this process began […] but it’s a role that I’ve come to really love,” she said.

“I remember one of the international producers saying on our first show, it’ll creep up on you, how much this show will come to mean, and I think that’s very true.”

Mother Abbess is best known for the operatic, iconic ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, which carries the heavy responsibility of closing Act I.

While excited to sing something that audiences relate to in such a powerful way, Allen hopes to take advantage of the age difference between her and the Mother Abbess in the iconic 1965 film to bring the character in a different direction.

“I think there’s a misconception or an idea of what that role is that comes from the movie, because the movie was so iconic, and [the Mother Abbess in the movie] is much older than I am,” she said.

“My interpretation hopefully retains her gravitas but doesn’t exclude the possibility that she’s in her 30s!”

Allen says the interaction between Mother Abbess and Maria, in which Mother Abbess tells her to “find the life you were born to live” contains her favourite piece of dialogue from the entire show and “sums up what we’re all trying to do”.

In her pursuit of the life she was born to live, Allen has spent much of her time away from her hometown of Adelaide, but recently enjoyed spending some time at home while The Sound of Music completed its month-long run at the Adelaide Festival Centre.

“My family are [in Adelaide]; they live at Henley Beach. I’ve had a chance to walk the dog along the beach… it’s these little things that I really miss and love,” she said.

Allen is also excited to perform in Perth, as her only other visit was brief and under very different conditions.

“I have been there before very briefly in a very different guise – as a backup singer for Reece Mastin many many years ago – could not be more different than the Mother Abbess! So I’m really excited to get to know more of Perth and I do have plans to make it to beaches and Margaret River and all those kinds of things.”

While she says she is aware that, as a performer, she must keep “looking forward and not get stuck”, she says she doesn’t think she will ever get sick of the role – most aspects of it, at least.

“I will never be sick of singing ‘Climb Every Mountain’, but I possibly will be sick of wearing the blanket! I’m pretty excited not to have to wear false eyelashes and five pairs of tights and leotards and that kind of thing. It’s just put on the blanket and away we go!”

The Sound of Music completed its season at Adelaide Festival Centre on 4 September, and will run at the Crown Theatre Perth from 14 September – 7 October.

In between these dates, Johanna Allen will also be performing her solo show The Songs that Got Away from 8-10 September 2016 in Sydney.

Paige Mulholland

Paige Mulholland is an Adelaide based writer, reviewer and perpetual volunteer for all things artsy in Adelaide. She has a double degree in International Relations and Journalism, and and writes for Adelaide Theatre Guide and ArtsHub as well as In her spare time, she takes classes in dance, voice and theatre, and sometimes has deep philosophical discussions with her cats.

Paige Mulholland

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