Serendipity: How Amelia Cormack landed the role of a lifetime… twice.
Amelia Cormack, immensely talented Australian diva, musician, actor, WAAPA graduate (I could go on…) first tread the boards professionally in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat for the Really Useful Group at age 13.
Now, after an amazing turn of events, she is starring as a ‘Diva’ in the London production of Priscilla Queen of The Desert, and the 30 year old actress admits it has been the ride of a lifetime.
“It’s really an amazing story”, Cormack says during our Skype call recently, fresh from the show and full of energy. “I keep thanking the universe for the opportunity”.
Cormack has worked consistently in Australia since graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2004, creating the role of Clara in The Hatpin workshops (2005 & 2007), performing in FAME! The Musical, LOVEBiTES, releasing her self titled debut album in 2010, and starring as Diva 1 in the original cast of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, The Musical.
And since September this year, she dons the famous Diva wigs and cockatoo costumes every night, serendipitously performing the very same role in Priscilla at the Palace Theatre on the West End.
As Cormack tells me the story from her flat in London, I cannot help but break into an enormous grin. It’s wonderful to know that fairy-tale stories like hers are real…
“It was actually quite amazing the way it worked out”, she laughed. “I just happened to have come to London — I had literally been in London for two weeks — and I got this email from Spud Murphy [original Musical Director of Priscilla] saying ‘What are you doing? Get in touch with me as soon as you can, I might have a job for you’.”
As it turns out, thanks to the theatre industry’s international grape vine, a contact in New York had told Spud (who was in Brazil setting up the auditions for the South American premiere production of Priscilla) that Cormack had recently left the USA and was headed to London.
“The plan was to come to London and try my luck over here as it was my last year to activate the two year working visa. I was about to go up to Edinburgh for the last weekend of the Festival with some friends, but thinking Spud meant a corporate gig or some promo work, I emailed him back saying ‘yes, I’m in London, I’m looking for work’.”
With excitement, she tells me that the reply email was essentially “Great. How would you like your old job back?”
A stunned Cormack recalled receiving countless phone calls on the train heading to Edinburgh from the London production’s company manager, musical director and other heads of department wanting to see her as soon as possible.
“I ended up in a really loud pub talking to the MD under the table organising a Skype session so I could sing for him the next day. But my friend’s computer wasn’t working, so I had to sing into my phone — he couldn’t see me, just hear me — and he was happy with that, thank goodness!”
In the space of one weekend, Cormack was back in London, singing for the Musical Director (this time via skype with a working connection), having meetings with the resident director and fittings with the wardrobe department.
“It was crazy!”, she said. “The final thing was the costumes. On the Tuesday, they said that so long as I fit in the costumes or that they could be adapted for me, then the job was mine!”
“I had this fitting where I was just thinking ‘please let the costumes fit, please let the costumes fit’ and of course they were able to adapt them and by Friday they had made the offer. I was back in the show in my old job!”
Amelia’s job became available due to an injury in the existing cast, and it seems the production were lucky that she was in the right place at the right time. The turn around between offer and first performance was fast indeed.
“My first day of rehearsals was the 19th September, I had a music call and two full days of rehearsals, then I shadowed the plot and by the 23 September, I had started on stage”.
After nearly 3 years on the West End, Priscilla is sadly preparing to close on December 31 2011, but a brand new production will open tomorrow in Milan, Italy. In fact, the Australian musical phenomenon has been performed in Sydney, Melbourne, New Zealand, Toronto, New York, London, Milan and with the Brazillian production in pre-production, it seems that the show is not slowing down any time soon.
Cormack explains that while most of the Diva 1 ‘plot’ is the same the Australian production, there are the occasional variations. A hip to the left here, a few more shakes of the head there, but nothing this consummate professional couldn’t handle!
“Yes, there are some slight differences. For example, my original plot in ‘Nightlife’ doesn’t exist anymore so I’m doing a completely different track”, she explains, “But mostly just slight differences in things that I had to get used to.”
Cormack also believes that the ‘vibe’ of some of the choreography is also slightly different in London.
“In Australia, the Divas were quite etherial and quite proud almost, whereas the Divas in London are a lot more sassy, so there are a lot more heads, and attitude. But it’s really fun”.
When I ask Amelia what she plans to do once the show wraps up in just a few weeks, she laughs and explains she needs to get through the festive season first.
“Well, we have Christmas eve and Christmas day off, but a night show on boxing day. It’s crazy, but we do have 10 shows in the final week here!”, she said.
To an Australian performer, 10 shows in a week seems an incredible task, but she assures me it’s not as It’s not as hectic as the London Rock of Ages cast’s schedule:
“They do a 5:30pm then an 8:30pm show on a Saturday. They get the half hour call for the second show as they are performing the finale for the first!”
In all seriousness, Cormack does admit she is a little nervous about what 2012 will bring, post-Priscilla the second time around. In part, Cormack believes that part of the reason she left Australia was to have the ‘London’ experience, but concedes that she hasn’t experienced it in the same capacity as other Aussies trying to make it big.
“I have been so unbelievably lucky over here. Lucinda [Shaw], who is also playing a Diva in the show took 18 months to get her first West End gig. I’m here two weeks and I walk into a job that sets me up with a West End credit. My experience over here is very, very rare”, she said.
“January is scaring me a little bit because I don’t have a ‘normal’ job lined up. It’s hard over here without having a regular income. It’s the same feeling as you get back at home — when a job comes to and end, there is always that ‘what do I do now’ feeling. It’s just that over here, I’m on the other side of the world and I don’t have mum and dad’s place to go and retreat to.“
In true Amelia Cormack style, however, it looks like she won’t be idle for long.
“I’ll be putting on Love For Sale, my one woman show next year, and I want to meet casting directors and stay involved in the industry”, she said.
With a thriving theatre scene, it isn’t hard to stay inspired in such a town as London. With what Cormack describes as a “real sense of community, a real vibe”, it’s no wonder so many Australians make the trek to the Motherland to seek their fortune.
“We recently had the West End Amateur Bowling Championships. It was us and Wicked and The Lion in Winter, Warhorse, Ghost, Les Mis and Phantom casts all playing 10 pin bowling. It’s really nice”, she laughed.
Australia may not be seeing the talents of Amelia Cormack for a little while yet, but we can rest assured she hasn’t forgotten where she started. She speaks with such reverence of the people who have influenced her along her journey, including her family, it again brings a smile to my face.
“I’ll be in London for a while I think, but I’ll be home for my Dad’s 60th in May”, she says, in her farewells.
It will be great to have you home, Amelia, but until then: Go get ‘em, Diva.
Amelia’s Album is available on iTunes