Travelling from Uganda to New Jersey with Josh Mulheran

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Getting your big break in show business is not an easy feat. Most acting graduates spend years trying to make it in the professional circuit after many years of smaller jobs.

Enter Josh Mulheran – still pretty fresh out of his diploma of Musical Theatre at ED5 International, Josh was fortunate enough to be cast in the Australian premiere production of The Book of Mormon. Now, he is beginning rehearsals for the upcoming national tour of Jersey Boys. To say that luck has been a lady to Josh would be an understatement, but it doesn’t come for no reason. A man of many talents, there is a lot more to his world than just musical theatre. It was an absolute delight to have the opportunity to chat to such a successful newcomer about all things performing arts.

What’s your story?

So I was born in Brisbane, where I did singing and dancing from the age of 5 up to high school. While I was there, I did the Brisbane version of “School Spectacular” called “Creative Generations.” From there, I was lucky enough to work with a fabulous director and choreographer named William Forsyth who owns a school in Sydney called ED5 International. In grade 12 he asked me what I was hoping to do next year, and I said I didn’t know – he said “come and audition for my school.” So I went down there and auditioned, got in, and did the 2 year diploma course! From there I was lucky enough to land my agent, Division 1 Management, and from there I spent time performing on a cruise ship with Carnival Cruise lines around the Caribbean. Once I was back in Australia I was auditioning hard, chasing the dream, and managed to get my break in the Production Company’s West Side Story. From there it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, really. I did Ghost the Musical (Ambassador), Sideshow (Hayes Theatre Co.), came back to Melbourne and did Dusty (Production Company), and then Book of Mormon (GFO) which was the most incredible experience, and now I’m about to start Jersey Boys. I managed to fit some holiday time in between some of the shows luckily!

Is there something you do to help you shift from role to role, or character to character?

Luckily for me, Jersey Boys is a show that’s been done so many times before, not only in Australia but across the world. And thankfully, these people are real life characters, not just someone’s imagination, the show is all about things that they did. Being able to play Joe Pesci – who was in Home Alone, a movie that I grew up watching – and being to understudy Frankie, it’s kind of crazy to think that you’re going to play someone who actually existed. Of course, I watch as much of their work and listen to songs, interviews and performances to just capture the essence of their character. With Book of Mormon, it was almost the complete opposite. They give you the characteristics of what a Mormon is, but it’s such a big ensemble show that we got to kind of find our own characters and workshop that to play into the show. I played two elders in the first bit, Elder Cross, and then once we moved to Uganda, Elder Davis.  I was also lucky enough to play Mormon, the title character who essentially ‘wrote’ the books, and got to wear a blue toga every night with a blonde wig – and it’s true what they say, blondes do have more fun!

Josh Mulheran as Mormon

Do you think Jersey Boys going to be a bit less full-on than Book of Mormon?

Not necessarily! One of the things I tend to find is that in the Book of Mormon there’s obviously a lot of swearing in it, but what a lot of people forget is that the Jersey Boys were these rough guys from the street, and there’s a bit of swearing in that show as well. And when you think about the tight harmonies and the crazy falsetto (especially Frankie’s) it’s equally as challenging. Obviously Book of Mormon was a full on show, it was practically two hours straight of cardio, but they’re both full on in their own different ways.

Why do you think Jersey Boys is so well loved?

For me, I’d say the music. It’s been almost 70 years since these guys started music but they’re just such great songs. And they’re so well known – just think of “Ten Things I Hate About You” where Heath Ledger is singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” it brought the music to a whole new generation. The songs are just so timeless and it’s kind of hard not to sing along to them. The story as well is amazing. It’s crazy to think that these four guys who grew up on the street worked so hard and against all odds came out to be one of the most recognised acts in music. For kids my age (in their 20s), they’ll go and see the show and hear the song and think “Oh! I know that song!” It’s actually kind of funny just how many people really do recognise their songs.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

It depends on the show and the people I’m with. I don’t do anything like lock myself in a room and get mentally prepared. The thing I love about theatre is that it’s such a group effort. Usually I just find the people I interact with on stage before the show – before Book of Mormon we’d all fist bump Ryan Bondy (Elder Price) before we started. In Ghost I had a few friends who I’d find and we’d all practice split-jumps before we were going on. I guess the only thing I consistently do before a show is find my friends and go through the little ‘in-jokes’ to get each other pepped up.

You’ve been fortunate enough to play quite a few lead roles in your career – are there any that were an absolute favourite?

They’re all up there. Every show is special, but Book of Mormon was just the best. Every night I got to share the stage with these ten fantastic guys who were singing and dancing their butts off, giving a hundred and ten percent every night. And it was so good to be working with these people day in and day out.

The Australian cast of The Book of Mormon

What do you like to spend your (albeit very limited) free time on when you aren’t working on a show?

I was lucky enough last year, with the long run of Book of Mormon, to have a fair bit of spare time. I made a New Years resolution at the start of 2017 to release an EP of original music. So luckily, I was in one place for long enough to sit at a piano and write a bunch of tracks and tell stories that were important to me through song. I spent a good deal of last year putting together this EP with my band, Gunning for Allie. It’s just me (on lead vocals and piano) and my friend James Waters (who does everything else!) at the moment. It’s a 5 track EP called “Everyday War” and is just full of personal stories about me and my friends and some things that kind of happened to us through our lives. There’s a particular thing that runs through it about fighting for illness actually, and one song in particular (“Braille”) which started that off. I wrote it for a friend who was diagnosed with brain cancer and I wanted to write this song to her to tell her that even though there is this crazy illness in her life, that she has to keep pushing through each day and find a way to wake up in the morning and keep going. So the other songs almost spurred from that, and it turned into this album of original music which tell my stories and that I hope other people can relate to.We like to describe ourselves as “teenage angst pop-rock”, like if you imagine us back in our younger years with our emo fringes listening to all these bands like Panic! At The Disco, Simple Plan, Paramore. That sort of music that says “I have all these things going on and I want to say something about it!” It’s kind of inspired by that, obviously a decade later it’s a bit more modern. We have some synthesisers in there, some vocal effects. We’re hoping to record some more music this year, despite me being busy with Jersey Boys.

The Broadway cast of Jersey Boys

How do you manage to juggle all this work?

A lot of caffeine! I think the really great thing about musical theatre and performing arts is that we’re in a job that we love, and it’s our passion. When we love something, it’s not really work. It’s going on stage every night and having fun, giving your all, singing and dancing. It’s not that hard to find something that you’re passionate and creative about that you can put your blood, sweat and tears into. This is the industry that you want to be busy in, want friends to be writing new shows, be jumping from role to role, being in demand. For me that was the idea, you never want to stop learning and you want to keep pushing yourself. Even when doing Book of Mormon I wanted to still push myself and write original music as well.

Jersey Boys will open in Sydney at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets are available at jerseyboys.com.au/.

You can get Gunning for Allie’s music on iTunes and Spotify. You can view their Triple J Unearthed profile at triplejunearthed.com.

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