AussieTheatre.com’s David Allen catches up with leading lady of music theatre, Lucy Maunder to talk about her life as a performer and her latest project - Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, a collection of free verse poems and songs inspired by stories from the Project AIDS Memorial Quilt…
Sitting in a trendy café in Surry Hills feeling out of place, I down the rest of my third soy mocha for the day and try to fathom whether the caffeine is making my hands shake – or nervous excitement. I am, after all, about to meet a major star of the Australian music theatre, and this is always cause for excitement. But, beyond anything else, I am legitimately nervous. The lady with whom I am scheduled to meet is known to be quite formidable.
Of Lucy Maunder a great deal has been said and it’s enough to give any fan of the genre pause. She is unquestionably a star on the rise and one of the next generation of Australia’s leading ladies. At age 27, she has already played a host of the most coveted roles in the canon. In 2011, however, she cemented herself as a fixture of the Australian music theatre industry with her subdued and transfixing performance as Lara in Doctor Zhivago the musical.
Lucy appears running across the street clutching an iPhone in one hand and a parking ticket in the other. She has, to put it mildly, a face like thunder. She sits down opposite me and announces: “I hate phone companies and I hate parking tickets!”
I am absolutely riveted. And, frankly, who can’t empathise with her sentiments?
She smiles suddenly. “I’m so sorry – what a terrible way to get started. I’m just having one of those days.”
We order more coffee.
The first thing you notice about Lucy Maunder is that she is astoundingly beautiful. Her hazel eyes are steely and observant, smouldering over a pair of high cheek bones and framed by not quite raven hair. Her skin is absolutely flawless and her smile is the definition of enigmatic. Her demeanor is open and ironic and in minutes I’m in the palm of her hand.
We talk about her favourite shows – there are several – and we bond over her instant answer “anything by Sondheim!” And with A Little Night Music already under her belt she’s well on her way on that front. I suggest that she would make a spectacular Dot, the leading lady in Sondheim’s artiest arthouse musical, Sunday in the Park with George. She groans delightedly, “I just love that show! And she is such a great character.”
Her favourite theatre is the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne. And the role she dreams of playing… she looks guilty. “Now I know I could never play her, but I would really love to play Elphaba.” Take a moment to picture Lucy Maunder in the green make-up – it’s actually a fantastic image and I say so. “Yes. But I can’t belt that high.” Well, she’s more honest than many other potential Elphabas.
This raises a point that interests me and I ask about casting.
Lucy Maunder, with her classic and elegant good looks, doesn’t really fit any one music theatre stereotype. Rather she possesses aspects of many of them. Not quite an ingénue, she is also not quite a vamp and not quite a diva; and yet she has performed to perfection in roles requiring virginal innocence, commanding sexuality and powerful vocals. And yet, in this day and age, in an industry dominated by pop-eras, roles that require anything beyond a dramatic talent for one stereotype or the other abound.
She nods. “It can be difficult. And so very often I get cast in period pieces. And that seems to be my look. Janet (Rocky Horror Show), Anne (A Little Night Music), Lucy (Jekyll & Hyde), Lara (Zhivago), Polly Peachum (Threepenny Opera), – they’re very different women, but they all seem to inspire the same sort of costume. I’ve been through classes and workshops where they strip you back to basics and you discover the vibe you give off – how you are perceived. And it’s important to work with that.”
Our coffee arrives and she pauses. My fourth coffee. Her first.
“The truth is,” she continues, “I really just love to work. I consider myself lucky to be able to perform and I want to be able to do that all the time.”
Since departing WAAPA, I comment, she’s barely had a break to speak of and she smiles. “I have been very lucky. My first show, I’d just graduated and I read the brief for the audition. A young girl with the right sound and the right face to play a young Mary O’Hara (Marina Prior). I thought I had a pretty good shot at it and I read for it and I got it. After that came Jekyll & Hyde and then Rocky Horror and I’ve just gone from there.”
I ask what it was like being directed by her father (acclaimed Opera Australia director Stuart Maunder) in A Little Night Music.
“It was terrific. I love working with my parents and I’d love to work with them more. But Dad and I have always been very careful about it. We don’t want to give the illusion of nepotism. I want to make my own way in the business and that’s what I’m doing.”
But we’re meeting to talk about the show Lucy is presently in: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. I ask her about the show.
“It has the most beautiful score,” she says. “It’s a song cycle performed within and around a series of monologues. Everything sung or spoken is from the perspective of someone who has died of AIDS or is living with AIDS, and the people who were close to them. There are some very tender, very moving moments – it’s just the most beautiful show.”
I admit my knowledge of the show is limited to the 2001 cast recording and what Wikipedia and the Internet Broadway Database has told me. I know, for instance, that the concept of the show came from the NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt. The link to the quilt in itself is enough to make the show fascinating. The AIDS memorial quilt is a collaborative effort, the world’s largest piece of community folk art, it weighs in at fifty-four tons. Every panel in the quilt is submitted by people affected by HIV AIDS and is representative of a loved one who has died.
“Elegies: Everything sung or spoken is from the perspective of someone who has died of AIDS or is living with AIDS, and the people who were close to them…it’s just the most beautiful show”
“The monologues are all performed from the perspectives of people who have died from AIDS. The songs are all written from the perspectives of the people living with them through it all. There’s a lot to be said in it. I’m really looking forward to our first performance.”
Elegies is part of the 2012 Sydney Mardi Gras Festival and opens at the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre on Tuesday, February 28. “It’s great to be a part of Mardi Gras,” says Lucy, “especially in a show like this which has something so important to say.”
But then AIDS awareness is nothing new for her, and I mention the World AIDS day Judy Garland Tribute concert in 2011 where she gave a touching performance of the Garland standard “The Boy Next Door”.
“I enjoy concerts like that so much. It’s for an amazing cause, and all the performers are always so happy to be there – the atmosphere backstage is always incredible.”
And the performance of the cast of Elegies at the 2012 Hats Off concert can only back that up. Four members of the cast performed an anthemic ensemble number from the show with passion and poise, and I found myself after the concert, digging out my cast recording of Elegies and listening to it again with renewed interest. Elegies is indeed a beautiful show with a beautiful score by Janet Hood. However, the Australian cast has brought it a new warmth and gentility. Opening night looks set to be a roof-raiser.
Coffee’s number one (Lucy) and four (Me), have both gone, and so I ask a closing question. What’s next?
“Beyond Elegies, I am putting together a show constructed around the music of Irving Berlin. I love his music – he is the most incredible songwriter. We’re calling it Songs in the Key of Black. It’s going to be very simple, just a few instruments on stage with me, talking about the songs and about Berlin. It’s not going to be autobiographical. This is going to be about his music.”
I ask one final question: if she had her pick, what would she like to do next?
“I’d love to go back and do Zhivago again. It was such an incredible experience and I just wish it had lasted longer. We had the most incredible cast. Everyone was so supportive of everyone else. But then I’ve always been lucky in that respect. I’ve never been in a company where there have been problems. We’re all working together and we’re supportive of each other.”
Sydney Mardi Gras 2012
A collection of free verse poems and songs inspired by stories from the Project AIDS Memorial Quilt
Seymour Centre, cnr City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Charity Preview: Tuesday February 28 at 7pm
Season: Wednesday Feb 29 – Saturday March 3
Wed – Thurs 8pm; Fri 6pm & 9pm; Sat 4pm & 8pm
Prices Adults $40; concessions $35 – General admission seating