Lisa McCune is one of Australia’s most successful screen and theatre actors, earning an impressive collection of awards, including ten Logie Awards, four of them Gold for “Most Popular Personality on Australian Television” for her work on Blue Heelers. Within musical theatre, Lisa has starred as Maria in The Sound of Music for the Gordon Frost Organisation, which she followed with her Green Room Award-winning performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She has also received nominations for a Helpmann Award and Green Room Award for her performance as Hope Cladwell in Urinetown. Other stage credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Dead Man’s Cell Phone and Guys and Dolls for the Ambassador Theatre Group. Lisa is now starring in The King and I after playing Nellie Forbush in the Australian tour of South Pacific for Opera Australia.
Earlier this month DanceLife had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Lisa about the show, her training within Musical Theatre, as well as giving advice to those who wish to pursue Musical Theatre as a career:
Would you like to tell the readers a little about your character and the story of ‘The King & I’?
Well the show is set in 1860 and it’s based on the diary’s of Anna Leobowen who was a governess that actually went to the Court of Siam to educate King Mongut’s children. It was a very interesting time as an English governess because it was a time in which the west was starting to become a concern for those Courts. It’s about her relationship with him, it’s about her love for the children and their eduction, but also about a time when things were starting to change politically. She was in a very dangerous and sensitive position but she became a confidant of the King.
Can you tell us a little more about the relationship between Anna and The King?
It’s a love story of sorts as there is a very strong connection between the two characters – a meeting of minds almost. It’s greatly romantic in not a normal way we usually see in musical theatre. They fall in love to a degree, but it’s a love that could never really be – he’s got 70 wives or something like that and lots and lots of children. It really is a beautiful.
A scene I love between those two is the one in which they perform “Shall We Dance” together. You wear a gorgeous dress in it – it’s so big though! How heavy is it and is it difficult to manoeuvre when you are dancing?
We actually weighed the dress one night and it was 13kgs! Roger Kirk is the designer and I think it’s the biggest dress that he’s ever done. But it’s so beautifully engineered – once you get moving it’s fantastic, it really does fly! But I’ve also started doing a light jog since the show started to keep the fitness up just so I can dance in it! It’s just a glorious job to be wearing such beautiful gowns, thank goodness I don’t have to do them up though!
This season of The King & I is going so successfully and has broken presale records for The Opera House, why do you think that audiences are being drawn to it again?
It’s like ‘South Pacific’ – the fact that it’s Roger’s and Hammerstein at The Opera House. Opera Australia always put on beautiful productions with big orchestras and you feel like you’re having such a special night out. It’s also a generational night out, like grandparents might bring their grandkids to come see the show and they’ll always remember “I saw a show at The Sydney Opera House” – that’s special and the show’s special. It’s something that the uniting of John Frost and Opera Australia has really succeeded in, not to take anything away from The Opera House and of course that’s the main focus here. But to be a part of bringing great health to the company and being able to offer such great work to the audience.
This is your second season with Opera Australia, do you love working with this company?
I was really lucky to come on board off the back of ‘South Pacific’, I think Lyndon and John Frost were extraordinary for offering me a second role straight away. Mind you, I think if the roles had of been similar they wouldn’t have done it. But the fact that the characters are so completely different, one was a girl from Arkansas and the other an English governess. I think now they’ll be resting me for a little while now.
Can you tell us a little about your past training when it comes to musical theatre – did you go to a music theatre school or did you learn on the job?
I think you always continue to learn on the job and that’s one of the best things about musical theatre is that you never stop learning – I do believe that it’s a career for life. But in my formative years I went to the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and did a degree in Music Theatre and was fortunate enough to study with an incredible teacher from Perth, where I’m from. It’s always a great love of mine – it was Les Miserable actually and listening to my mum and dads Roger’s and Hammerstein records. Listening to them made me realise that music is an extension of emotion and it’s what characters do, they sing or they dance in musical theatre because they can’t express it in the spoken word. So really it’s a lovely form if you get it right, but can be terrible if it’s not.
What advice do you have for aspiring musical theatre performers?
Get as much experience as you can and always work with good actors. I really believe, after the time I’ve done musical theatre, that it may not be the prettiest singers, but the people who can tell a story who really excel in music theatre – I think that this is a really important facet. When you look at our greatest musical theatre performers like Anthony Warlow, Hugh Jackman, Marina Pryor or Nancy Hayes, there’s so many, but they’re all very fine actors as well. They have great integrity as performers and they’re the people I aspire to.
The King & I is playing a strictly limited season at The Sydney Opera House until 1st November
To book tickets go to click here