The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be… Natalie.
Joining the ranks of stars such as Gwen Verdon, Liza Minelli, Renée Zellweger, and Brooke Shields, Natalie Bassingthwaighte dons the blonde bob as Roxie Hart in Kander and Ebb’s iconic musical Chicago, which is opening in Melbourne this week.
Often recognised for portrayal of Izzy Hoyland in Neighbours, Natalie has proved herself to be an incredibly versatile performer. She has hosted various reality programs including Changing Rooms and So You Think You Can Dance, was a judge on The X Factor Australia, and competed on I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here. Natalie has been nominated for various Logie Awards, including Gold Logie nominations. As a musician, Natalie was the front woman of internationally acclaimed band The Rogue Traders, achieving multi-platinum sales, two APRA nominations, an MTV Award win, and seven ARIA nominations. As a solo artist, she is only one of 10 women to reach Number 1 on the ARIA Charts. Some of her stage credits include Fanny Brice in Funny Girl In Concert (Sydney Symphony Orchestra), Sandy in Grease – The Arena Spectacular (GFO/SEL), Ariel in Footloose (GFO/SEL), and Mrs Cohen/Maureen u/s in Rent (Cameron Mackintosh).
The show opened in Sydney to rave reviews, before moving through to Brisbane. It’s now fosse-walked down to Melbourne’s State Theatre, and audiences can’t wait for the razzle dazzle. I had a chat with Natalie about taking on the brilliant and bodacious blonde.
How have you found the response to Chicago so far?
It’s blown my mind. The talk in the town is everywhere, and the feedback that we’re getting… people who have seen it on the West End and Broadway have been saying they loved ours more. Crazy things like that. It is a very tight cast, we get on so well, and I think it’s so solid and so sleek. It’s incredible to be a part of such a phenomenal show in itself, and the audience have been loving it.
What’s it been like taking on such an iconic role?
I started my career in Musical theatre so to come back to it is such a pleasure and a joy. It’s definitely a lot of hard work, we do 8 shows a week. And playing such an iconic role like Roxie, I really have to look after myself. I feel very blessed and grateful to have been given this opportunity, 20 years after I first was a part of Chicago.
And have you done any extra prep for it?
So when I found out at the beginning of the year [that I had the role], I thought “okay, I haven’t danced for a long time.” I had to make sure that not only could I pick it up quickly, but that I would be able to cope with the pace of the show and the stamina for 8 shows a week for such a long time. I started personal training for fitness about 4 times a week, added yoga and pilates into that. Then I would do a dance class every second week learning the routine to try and get my head around it. Even up until recently, I was thinking how challenging the show is stamina wise. When I started I did my groin, and then my shoulder… and it was just so challenging. But in the last few weeks I feel like my body’s sort of… come into its own, and I know what it’s about now. I still have to look after myself, but I actually don’t physically feel like I can do a hell of a lot more than I am, with doing 8 shows a week. I did some pilates classes in Brisbane, but hopefully in Melbourne, in my own house, I might be able to do a few classes a week as well. Apart from that, you don’t really go out. you tend to go home and just rest. It really is about resting, eating well, sleeping well, and looking after yourself.
Do you have a favourite part of the show?
I feel a bit selfish in saying this, but the Roxie monologue going into “Roxie.” I feel like its’ the first time we understand who Roxie is. As an actress, it’s one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever had. Every night there’s so much flavour and so much in that… I feel so fortunate to be able to do it night after night. I play around too, and a lot of people laugh and say I change the show every night. I just think that to be totally in the moment you can’t ever be exactly the same. I absolutely love that from a selfish point of view. But I do love watching the dancers in “Cell Block Tango.”
Why do you think Chicago is still so popular?
It’s so interesting. It’s definitely stood the test of time, and it’s still packing out houses. We’re filling out every show, night, day, whatever. It’s definitely classy, sleek, sophisticated, sassy, and I think the thing that ties it together is the essence of the story for sure. It’s quite relevant now in a strange way, as much as it was when it first entered our arena. I think it’s the combination of the book, the music, the lighting and sound… everything is such a group effort. And I really feel it’s more of an ensemble show too, because without that ensemble it would make the whole show weak. When you tick all those boxes, it can’t not be successful. I also think the movie brought a new generation to the show – we’re seeing teens right up to 80 and 90 year olds.
Do you have any advice for aspiring performers?
I’m a learner, I’m constantly open to challenging myself, and I want to get better. I want to be better, not the best, because that doesn’t exist. When I was in my early 20s and auditioning for musical after musical and not getting any job, I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t know what was missing from my audition. You need passion, and you need to fall in love with the show or the role. I used to think I had to go for everything and then would be so disappointed if I didn’t get it. With this, I wanted to be Roxie. When I found out Chicago was coming I rang my agent and said I had to play this role, so they got me an audition. And I did all of it, learned the routines, did the monologues. Go for the things that you really want, and know why you’re doing it – is it just to get a job? Or because you love the piece? Or is it going to challenge you? I don’t do everything now, because I want to fall in love with it. Be passionate! And hang in there, because it’s a bumpy ride!
Chicago The Musical opens at The State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, on Saturday 14th December.
Tickets and more information are available at www.chicagothemusical.com.au