Marney McQueen loves doing character cabaret. But none of McQueen’s characters have ever sashayed off the stage and into real life in the manner of celebrity beautician Rosa Waxoffski.
Rosa is the character who will be showcased in McQueen’s contributions to cabaret seasons in both Adelaide and Sydney and she really does get around. “I’ve been able to integrate her into any situation,” says McQueen.
In her signature Lycra leopard-print jumpsuit, Rosa has MC-ed at events, sold raffle tickets, spoken to sporting groups and appeared on television. And not just in Australia: she’s also struck up conversations with strangers on the streets of Los Angeles.
“She’s really just taken off,” says McQueen. “I sometimes feel like I’m not there at all. There’s someone else completely who takes over. Also Rosa is a terrible flirt. The most I can do is to sometimes have a little bit of influence about which people Rosa happens to stop and talk to.”
McQueen is a singer, dancer and actor who has played Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray and Marion in Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical. She conceived of Rosa while a student at NIDA.
“One of our graduation tasks was to go out and observe somebody in their workplace over a period of three months—without their knowing it—and then come back and perform as that character for ten minutes,” she explains. “I really wanted to do a good job of this particular exercise. I’ve always loved impersonating people and creating characters.”
She chose a beautician—an actual person she defines as “a real character”—from a salon on Anzac Parade, near NIDA. “It nearly sent me broke,” McQueen says. “Every time I went in, I had to come up with some new treatment I needed to get—and I was an impoverished acting student.”
So when the beautician offered a free appointment, McQueen jumped at the opportunity. The deal was that salon staff, in training to do a new treatment, would practice on McQueen.
“She said she’s just teaching them to do bikini waxing. Anyway, I walked in and there are these four trainees—all girls—and she said to me, ‘Okay, pants off. We’re going to take it all off.’”
Says McQueen: “I said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought it was just going to be a little trim around the edges.’ So I sort of chickened out.”
In spite of this mishap, McQueen describes her beautician as “just fantastic. She knew everything about life.” She had “enormous hair and spoke with a very thick European accent,” and her devotion to looking good extended to wearing high heels all through the long hours she worked at the salon.
After observing this beautician for three months, McQueen performed her monologue to her classmates and teachers. “I was taking it very seriously,” she says, “but the rest of the class all started laughing, and the teacher was laughing.”
Impressed by the comic potential of the character, one of her teachers invited McQueen to perform at NIDA events. And in a wonderful stroke of fate, Barry Humphries watched one of these performances.
McQueen says that Humphries is committed to helping emerging artists, and has been “really supportive” of her. In fact—as Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival—Humphries invited McQueen to create a new show and perform it in the 2015 program.
Hair to the Throne is the result. It has already been part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and after the Adelaide performances, will be presented in the Hayes Theatre Cabaret Season.
Hair removal is, of course, a somewhat uncomfortably intimate topic. But, says McQueen, everyone can relate to it—including men, who are “under so much more pressure to be groomed and man-scaped.” She finds that audiences want to share their own experiences: “after a show, people will start telling me about their beautician, or they’ll tell me bikini-waxing disaster stories.”
The team behind Hair to the Throne has great credibility. Tim Bain—who wrote the script—is currently a children’s television writer in the UK, but previously contributed to Australian television comedy shows like The Wedge and Rove. He and McQueen met at Melbourne University about 20 years ago. “I could not have done what I’ve done with my characters if it weren’t for him and his incredible imagination,” she says.
Mark Jones is both Musical Director and actor, playing Rosa’s assistant, Boris Longschlongadonski. He is, according to McQueen, “an incredibly talented man”, unassuming even though his Melbourne music studio is filled with Green Room awards for musicals and cabaret productions. She credits him with a “very beautiful old-school sense of musicality and sense of the theatre,” adding: “I trust him implicitly. Any direction he might suggest for the show, he’s always right.”
McQueen was drawn to character cabaret because “I’ve always loved singing and I’ve always loved playing characters.” This goes right back to her childhood, when her impersonations of teachers entertained the very people she was imitating. One of her teachers “was very short, and when she used to rub things out on the blackboard, her bottom would wiggle. I was doing that, and she was crying with laughter.”
Even during the years when McQueen played in long-running musicals, Rosa “was always in the back of my mind. Then when I finished Priscilla, I thought, ‘I really want to have my own show. I want to have control of my own destiny as a performer.’”
The decision wasn’t without its costs. “I was terrified. Terrified,” she says. “I lost a lot of weight, just with the anxiety. Is this going to work? Are people going to like it?”
But Rosa has proved to be a real trouper. In this new show focusing just on her, she reveals something of her childhood, and also shares insights into her celebrity clients and the current events in which they are involved.
Okay, so it might be a teeny bit indiscreet of her, but a celebrity waxer certainly has unique access to society’s great and good, and an up-close perspective that few people ever achieve.
And that can mean only one thing: Ouch!
Adelaide: Sunday June 7 2015, Monday June 8 2015
Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Bookings: through BASS outlets or through the Festival website. Click here.
Parramatta: Friday June 12 2015
Bookings: phone (02) 8839 3399 or book online. Click here.
Sydney: Saturday June 13 2015, Sunday June 21 2015
Cabaret Season, Hayes Theatre
Bookings: phone (02) 8065 7337 or book online through the Hayes Theatre website. Click here.