Part 1 – DIRTY DANCING interview with Stars Kurt Phelan and Kirby Burgess

Published on 1st Dec, 2014

Kurt & Kirby (c) Kurt Sneddon

Part 1 – DIRTY DANCING interview with Stars Kurt Phelan and Kirby Burgess

Australian audiences are lapping up the current previews of the Australian production of Dirty Dancing, which will play at the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 28 November this year, followed by Melbourne’s Princess Theatre from 4 March 2015 and the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from 27 May.

Two extraordinary young talents will make the leap from chorus to leading roles as the two iconic characters in this much loved musical production. The role of charismatic dance teacher Johnny Castle will be played by Kurt Phelan while the role of innocent young “Baby” Houseman will be played by Kirby Burgess. A NIDA graduate, Phelan is an actor, choreographer and writer. His musical theatre credits include Singin’ in the Rain, Witches of Eastwick, Saturday Night Fever and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Burgess has been seen on stage in Sweet Charity, An Officer and A Gentleman, Hairspray, High School Musical – Live on Stage and currently in LOVEBiTES, and on television in Wonderland. A few weeks ago DanceLife had to opportunity to watch a rehearsal for the show as well as interview both Kurt and Kirby. Here in Part 1 of our 3 part interview with the pair they talk about the audition process which lead them to their roles:

Can you tell us a little bit about the audition process?

Kirby: Well I was in Perth playing Rizzo in Grease so I was on a very tight time frame. Unfortunately. But I flew over and they were kind enough to do everything at once for me; usually auditions will span out over a couple of days or a week. So I went in and did all of my scenes and I didn’t have to sing – it was weird not singing! After the acting I did a dance call, which involved a lift trial on the floor because they wanted to see your flexibility and your back strength so they can see your ability to hold yourself. Then I flew back to Perth later that day and did my show that night and continued to do shows for 2 more weeks when I got a call back and was flown back to Sydney. At that call back I did pretty much the same thing and I also had to dance with Kurt at another dance call and the rest was history!

Kurt: I was choreographing and acting in a play that I had written for an independent theatre company I work with at Melbourne Theatre Company. It was a pretty big production, there was thirty 11 & 12 year olds from Tasmania and it was a physical theatre/ general play so I had so much content to create and clean. So I was doing that and it was opening night when I got a phone call sussing out whether I would be interested because I hadn’t submitted for the show. I second-guessed myself and thought that I probably wouldn’t be right for the character of Johnny and I didn’t really think there were any other roles I was right for in the show so I was thought I’d let this one pass. So that call happened at the hour call for opening night so I went into that show with that in my head! The morning after that I got sent through the scripts at 11am and my audition was at 2pm and acted, just acted. I thought this is excellent, I kind of left the dance world and trained as an actor and thought “wow, I’m really comfortable here!”.  They said to me that I was bringing great stuff to the table and then asked me to dance and I was really happy – now I get to dance. Then I went to Sydney to dance with the Penny’s, there was about 4 or 5 of them, and then the only Baby I danced with was Kirby. What is usually a 1-2 week audition process was only 2 days and then I had to go back to Melbourne to finish the run of my play.

It’s amazing what performers go through, it can get so busy and manic!

Kirby: I mean, the number “Do You Love Me” (see the clip from the movie here) was the audition piece for the dancers in the show. So it wasn’t just a 5, 6, 7, 8 high kick it was find a partner, throw yourself into it and all of a sudden you’re grinding on someone!

So do you think it helped auditionees and the casting team because they had such famous source material with the movie?

Kurt: And also, the show has been on for 10 years around the world. They know the type they want and the body. There was no wasting of time, it’s not one of those audition processes that went on for a year – it was great. We were able to conserve our energy so we could show them our best.

Kirby: What was hard was that Eleanor Bergstein (the writer) gets final say and approval. So we got that first offer of “we want you in the show” but, we have to wait for approval.

Kurt: All the Australian team approved us and the UK team that was here did too. So it was a month after hearing “yes” waiting to be approved by Eleanor.

Kirby: That was hard! It was like a semi-offer – I was so excited because it was my first lead but she could’ve turned around and said no!

Kurt: So I just hit the gym straight away because I was playing an emaciated junkie in my play and I was like 65kg and I needed to get that Johnny physique!

Dirty Dancing opens on November 28th at the Sydney Lyric.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster

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