Gemma-Ashley Kaplan: Australia’s new Moonshadow

Gemma-Ashley Kaplan
Gemma-Ashley Kaplan

Gemma-Ashley Kaplan  has performed in both Australia and New York City. Originally from South Africa, she comes from a family of performers, including her grandparents, parents, and her two sisters. Today in Melbourne, she begins rehearsals for her starring role in the world premiere of Moonshadow – the new musical featuring the songs of Cat Stevens.

The first thing Gemma-Ashley tells me, as we talk over the phone, is how excited she is to be part of Moonshadow. And she’s been holding that excitement in for a long time.

“I did the workshop back in October, and I’ve known since three weeks after that that I was in the show, so it’s been a lot of waiting.”

It’s a change for Gemma-Ashley, who says she hadn’t auditioned for a musical for ages. “I went overseas doing concerts, and I’m passionate about film so I had focused on that.”

She’s also developing with her sisters a TV series that’s also musical based.

“Both of my sisters are actors, and we always wanted to do something together, and we’ve never had the chance. We finally all made a commitment to one another and decided to just do it. It’s been a year in the making and the pilot’s all written. It’s sort of a family drama/comedy with a huge musical element… It’s kind of nice to combine musical theatre and film like that.”

It’s been hard work, she says, balancing writing a TV series and preparing to debut a new musical, but a project with the music of Cat Stevens was impossible to resist.

“I’ve grown up with the music,” she tells me. “Both my parents are guitarists and it was something I heard all the time… It was a big part of my growing up. There wasn’t much of the material I had to learn!” she confesses, laughing. She also confides that her favourite song to sing in the show is the famous ‘Moonshadow.’

Gemma-Ashley says the workshop and being part of the development stage helped her to really fall in love with the musical, which she believes is quite unique.

“The workshop was a really pleasant, really incredible experience. And the show’s starring Gareth Keegan, who was in my year at WAAPA – we did West Side Story together in our final year and played Tony and Maria, so it’s like a real reunion getting to work with him again.”

Due for four weeks of rehearsals before they open at the Princess Theatre on 31 May, Moonshadow is a musical fantasy that Gemma-Ashley says is incredible due to the input from Yusuf Islam (better known as Cat Stevens), and the director Anders Albien, who Gemma-Ashley hails as “absolutely amazing.”

Moonshadow is set in a parallel universe and its themes are relevant to everything we do in ours. It’s pretty magical with images like 3D projection… People are going to see themselves in it. It’s got a fable-like essence. Yusuf’s vision is so inspired and it’s amazing to be the first to see it and to be the first actors doing it. Every musical that has been successful has had to break some new ground to make an impression, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Gemma-Ashley Kaplan
Gemma-Ashley Kaplan

“The music sits so comfortably in our voices, Gareth and I say we could do twelve shows per week. It’s just meant to be.”

I asked Gemma to tell us why we should go and see Moonshadow. She paused for a moment, and then said “You should see if it you’re a lover of Cat Stevens. If you’re not a lover of his music it’s only because you haven’t heard it, so you should see it.

“It’s an incredible adventure with amazing characters. It’s heartwarming, with lots of laughter and sadness. It’s very introspective and makes you question the big things. It’s gut-wrenching… it draws you in and makes you part of that world.”

And, she finishes with a laugh, “There’s no intention to tour so everyone should get their asses to Melbourne to see it.”

This Sydneysider is convinced.

Moonshadow wiil open at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on Thursday 31 May 2012.

The show will star Gareth Keegan as Stormy, Gemma-Ashley Kaplan as Lisa, Jolyon James as Moonshadow, Blake Bowden as Pat Matthew and Robert Grubb as Mr Hojja.

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Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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