David Harris: A Whirlwind World Theatre Tour, part 1
David Harris, Australia’s quintessential leading man, has been working hard for the last few years. Starring as Chris in the Aussie revival of Miss Saigon, Fiyero in Wicked (Australia, Singapore and now South Korea) he has had little time for rest and relaxation.
Recently, however, he managed to squeeze a short holiday into his busy schedule, visiting London and New York along the way and Harris details his adventures on Broadway and the West End for AussieTheatre readers.
Find out which shows inspired him, and discover what makes this star of Australian musical theatre tick…
Well, after a whirlwind couple of months, I can actually only now find some time to sit quietly in my new favourite cafe in Seoul, and write about the past month or so. What a crazy, fun, inspiring, exciting and somewhat exhausting time it was.
After closing a successful five month run of Wicked in Singapore on April 22, the cast had a four week break before starting another run in Seoul, Korea (which we opened to very enthusiastic crowds on Thursday May 31).
A lot of people took time out to head back to their respective home towns to have some R&R and catch up with friends and family, while many of us took the chance to go on a holiday.
Knowing I was leaving my Wicked adventure and heading directly into rehearsals for Legally Blonde soon, I was in the take-a-holiday-while-you-can camp. Apart from some time in Berlin and Montreal, a large part of that holiday was spent in both London and New York, catching up with friends and seeing as many shows as I could cram in that time.
[pull_left]Somewhat ashamedly and still surprising to me, I had not been to London since I was a teenager[/pull_left]
Somewhat ashamedly and still surprising to me, I had not been to London since I was a teenager, some 20 years ago, which made heading there now something I was really looking forward to. For those familiar with London and particularly the theatre scene, you will know how inspiring a place it is. In London’s West End there are theatres on nearly every corner, housing shows that have sat for almost 60 years (Mousetrap), 21 years (Blood Brothers), continuing runs of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera as well as exciting new works like Matilda; all co-existing together in a thriving, history-rich London.
There are far too many shows to see in the eight days I was there, so I decided to see some old favorites as well as some new shows… I wish I could have stayed longer to see many more.
First off was Warhorse. I was really curious to watch Warhorse as it had received loads of great reviews and lots of friends had told me how wonderful it was. Well, I am going to “buck” the trend (pardon the pun) and say I was not totally fussed by it. I know, it’s like saying I don’t like Vegemite or Sondheim, but for me I think the major mistake was seeing the film before the play. I did not like the film that much and thought it very Hollywood-like and predictable. Seeing then the stage play, I was not captivated by the story. I did love the puppetry and I thought the performances were brilliant, especially the talented, hard-working puppeteers operating the horses. I strongly suggest anyone to avoid the film before seeing the live production as it really took the shine off the play. I may have also been suffering from jet lag, which did not help my first night in the theatre.
In contrast, Matilda was next and what a great show it is! It’s always nice to see works in their premiere seasons as they are fresh, tight and sometimes still in that exciting creative phase. Matilda has brilliant performances, a wonderful story, and most importantly heart. Our actress playing Matilda this performance was perfect. Actually, I could not find anything I would change and it was nice not having any preconceived ideas about a show before going to see it. Similar to when I first saw Wicked in NYC when it was still just in its second week of previews nine years ago.
I really wanted to check out Les Mis and Phantom whilst in London. These are two classic shows that inspired me when I was a teenager and it was nice to return to them. They are true classics from the Golden Age of musical theatre of the 80’s. Although design-wise they are dated in comparison to today’s high-tech advances, which is now their appeal to some degree, it took me back to the time when moving barricades and crashing chandeliers were absolutely amazing visual feats.
I remember traveling by bus as a kid (yes, bus) all the way to Melbourne from the Hunter Valley where I grew up to go and see Phantom. I sat in the auditorium spellbound and cried when the show ended and it was time to leave and go back to my life, and school.
Les Mis too had the same effect, and I think they are two shows that will always be classics and remain on my list to see. It is like re-watching your favorite film from way back. These shows were my childhood. There is something really nice about seeing them in such beautifully old theatres too. Like in most theatres in London, I would sit down trying to imagine who else had sat in these seats and what shows graced the stage.
Another show that I revisited 20 years after seeing it last time in London was Blood Brothers. I remember last time laughing so hard and then crying and I wondered if seeing it now many years later it would have the same effect. It did! I love this powerfully funny and harrowing story of twin brothers separated at birth by their desperate mother and seeing their lives unfold into a beautiful friendship and ultimately tragic ending.
Still heavily styled in the 80’s in both staging and score, you would think it would now be naff to see. On the contrary, it is still as powerful and affecting as ever. It relies heavily on the performances of the cast, particularly the two actors playing Mickey (one of my dream roles I would love to get the chance to play one day) and Eddie. Both were exemplary nailing every moment of Willy Russell’s book, which again had me laughing out loud and quite honestly sobbing at the end. The whole cast were dedicated to telling this story and it was so inspiring. I have seen this play numerous times and it can be murdered, but this current London cast is wonderful. It’s a great example of less is more.
Sweeney Todd had not long opened and I really wanted to see a production of it, as I had not yet seen one, so I went along to the Adelphi Theatre to see Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.
[pull_left]It might ruffle some feathers when I say I don’t like some of [Sondheim’s] music[/pull_left]
Now, I know Sondheim is like God to many people, and there are many “experts” in the field (I do not profess to be one) so it might ruffle some feathers when I say I don’t like some of his music. Shoot me dead, I know! That being said, I absolutely love a lot of his work (give me a melody like ‘Johanna’, ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ and ‘Being Alive’ any day) and I am glad I got to see this production. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton are brilliant and their scenes together are very entertaining. It certainly is a Michael Ball we have not seen before.
On my final day in London and after a lot of sightseeing, shows and catching up with some friends (and a bit of night life of course), I took a quick train ride out to Woking, about 40 minutes out of London to watch Legally Blonde which had just started its first UK tour. I missed seeing it in London by a matter of weeks, so I was lucky I was able to go see the tour.
I don’t think I have ever sat and watched a show, knowing I was going to be in it before, so it was kind of weird and very exciting. It was great to catch up with a number of the cast before the show, have a chat with Stephen Ashfield (who played Emmett so perfectly) and to have a peek backstage and onstage.
Everyone seemed fun and energised with adrenaline pumping, as you are at the five minute call before curtain up; especially since it was only their second performance in Woking after arriving there two days before, bumping in and teching the show in one day.
A quick “Chookas” in the wings to Faye Brookes who plays Elle Woods (who was amazing by the way!!) and I was into the auditorium to take my seat. The audience was excited from the moment the curtain went up and wow, I can now see why. What a powerhouse of a show it is!! The energy was HUGE coming from everyone on that stage! By the end of the show the audience was cheering and on their feet. They clearly had a great time and enjoyed the last two hours, myself included.
I walked away so excited and on a complete high. I can’t wait to bring the show to Australia and I can’t wait to be on stage with Lucy, Rob, Helen, Erika, Cameron and the rest of the cast.
I think Aussie audiences will absolutely love the show as they did the night I saw it. Its heaps of fun, jam-packed with great choreography and brilliant songs… I can’t wait!!
Keep your eyes peeled on AussieTheatre for the next instalment of David’s Whirlwind Theatre Tour blog