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The interminable talent of Trevor Ashley

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David Allen has a candid chat with Trevor Ashley – star of Fat Swan, a hilarious new ‘Adult Only’ pantomime…

Trevor Ashley as Natalie Portley in Fat Swan“It amazes me that the new generation of music theatre stars in Australia is only just beginning to emerge. The real stars are still the icons from the 80’s – your Marina Priors and Peter Cousens’ and Debra Byrnes!”

And with this statement my interview with Trevor Ashley is off and running and I am astonished at how similar our thought processes run!

I arrive at The Winery in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, late, sweaty – it’s a hot day – and I’m instantly a little overwhelmed by my surroundings – tres tres chic. The fact that I am about to meet the iconic Trevor Ashley doesn’t help. Iconic indeed; and now – having interviewed him, having taken the time out to look at his career in the perspective of the Australian cabaret and music theatre industry, my question is “how is he not more iconic?”

Trevor Ashley emerged onto the Australian scene in 1998 with a very well received performance at the Sydney cabaret convention. He then went on to tour a string of smash-hit self devised shows, became a headlining fixture of the Sydney Mardi Gras, starred in Priscilla Queen of the Dessert the Musical, and gifted the Sydney cabaret scene with the now legendary and sorely missed “Showqueen” cabaret series at the Supper Club.

The dessert-scape Trevor inherited upon stepping into the Australian cabaret scene has become a more glittering place thanks to his presence, 13 years on, with Liza on an E, I Am Every Woman and Hairspray behind him, he is unquestionably one of the new generation of music theatre stars emerging onto the Australian scene – and I am fast to agree with him that they are a sorely needed commodity. His schedule is non-stop. Our interview has seen many a reschedule and has finally been crammed in between meetings with producers, costume design sessions and rehearsals. We take a seat in the hot sun baking down over The Winery – and underdressed amidst the finery of Sydney diners on a Saturday, I still manage to survey the patrons around me with a haughtier that says: “oh yes, I am having drinks with Trevor Ashley!”

Trevor AshleyTrevor is casual, bright, all smiles and laughter – every bit as big and bold as any of the characters he plays. I ask him about his upcoming show Fat Swan – a delicious and somewhat inevitable parody of the Oscar winning melodrama Black Swan.

“Oh it’s absolutely base humour!” he says with a laugh. “All the Sydney critics have been invited and I hope they know what they’re in for. It’s me having a lesbian love scene with Lisa Adam and making out with Brendan Moar” he leans in and candidly tells me “we rehearsed that for the first time this week and we both got the giggles.”

Fat Swan is everything an adult parody should be, it emerges. Packed with songs, in-house Aussie showbiz humour and utterly filthy – it’s burlesque, it’s cabaret, it’s vaudeville and it’s uniquely Trevor Ashley.

As he talks about the show I comment on his ability to put such productions together. The recent World AID’s day concert – a glittering tribute to Judy Garlabnd is a fine example.

“Oh I am so lucky,” says Trevor. “I remember when I was young, just worshipping all these incredible talented people. And now I’m working with them. Right now I get to work every day with Tara Morice – who is just so lovely and so incredible.” Tara, who you will remember from Strictly Ballroom – to simplify her many accomplishments as an actress, is playing the part of the psychotic stage mother in Fat Swan.

“In Fat Swan, it’s all set locally. The Sydney Ballet Company is staging a production of ‘Swine Lake‘ – naturally – and my character, Natalie Portly, she has body dysmorphia, wants to play the part of the Black Swine”.

To write Trevor Ashley’s words on the page does not do him justice. Live, even over a glass of sparkling, he’s absolutely hilarious! I ask him about the event in his upcoming list of productions that I am easily the most excited about – Diamonds Are For Trevor – where the State Theatre will be filled with the larger than life persona and masterful belt of Trevor in the guise of Shirley Bassey.

Of the many divas Ashley impersonated in his “one woman” show at the Opera House last year, Shirley Bassey was easily one of the most fantastically accurate. A Bassey-themed concert was only a matter of time, and now it is easily one of the hottest tickets on the Mardi Gras event line-up for 2012.

“To be performing at the State Theatre is just a dream come true” Trevor gushes. “I actually saw Shirley there live.” It’s serendipitous – as it would seem has been Trevor’s career from the very start.

He tells me a story.

“When I was twelve I went back stage at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne with my mother and met Rob Guest. We were in his dressing room and I have a photo with him and his make-up artist. Then last year, I walked into the Princess with the cast of Hairspray. They gave me the same dressing room and my dresser was Rob’s make-up artist. I put the photo of the three of us on the table in the dressing room and then we had another photo taken with her and I. I remember feeling, when I was backstage and so young, this is where I want to be, and this is what I want to be doing. It’s so incredible now, to be here, and to actually be doing it.”

Not simply walking on the shoulders of giants, Trevor Ashley can now count himself firmly amongst them. Fat Swan opened at the Reginald (formerly the Downstairs) Theatre at Sydney’s Seymour Centre on December 7th. Extra shows have been added as the production sold out swiftly and is at present the most successful show to run in that theatre at the Seymour Centre. Diamonds Are For Trevor plays at the State Theatre, one night only, Friday March 2nd as party of the Sydney Mardi Gras. The house is selling fast and rightly so.

“We’re in the middle of writing that now. We’re looking at making it somehow autobiographical. Not many people now just what a tough life Shirley had. She came from nothing, fought her way to a successful career – and not many people know either, she lost her voice in Australia!”

I certainly didn’t know this and ask for more information.

“She completely lost her voice while she was playing here. She used to headline at Chequers all the time and really no one had seen the like of her in Australia anymore. But the voice went and she had to completely retrain and relearn how to sing.”

My conversation with Trevor Ashley actually lasted longer than the interview warranted for the simple reason that I really was just enjoying talking to him. It’s always fun to meet another music theatre nerd!

Trevor Ashley knows his stuff, and with respect, killer instincts for his material and his audience – and a boldness and a resolution, the scene is in his hands. It’s comforting news.

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David has written 179 articles on AussieTheatre
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