Since graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium in 2015, multi-talented Australian performer Vidya Makan has certainly made her mark in the entertainment world. Her Twitter bio introduces her as ‘Composer/Lyricist, Actor/Singer, Human/Woman’ – a summary that seriously underplays her litany of successes and achievements in her career to date.
Makan was bitten by the performance bug when she played Dorothy in a school production The Wiz; the rest, as they say, is history. As well as being an accomplished cellist and pianist, Makan is better known for dazzling audiences with her array of talents, including her recent role in Six, in which she ‘[blew] the roof off with stunning vocals’ (The Guardian). What’s more, here is a performer who really does represent, maximising her high profile to champion under-represented BIPOC and CALD groups: Makan wrote, directed and produced ‘I Need You to See Me’, which she describes on her website as a ‘call to action’ to the arts sector, cementing her commitment to ensuring that the marginalised get a better deal in the entertainment industry.
For Makan, her own dreams really did materialise, so it is fitting that dreams are the subject of her upcoming project, the iconic Merrily We Roll Along, which makes its Hayes Theatre debut on 24th June. Here, Makan shares a few insights into the production, in which she plays reporter KT, and Meg – an ambitious, naïve and starry-eyed starlet.
A Fable for our Times
In the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth darkly comic musical Merrily, Makan is set to star alongside a cast with serious acting chops, including Matilda’s Elise McCann and Aaron Tsindos of Muriel’s Wedding fame. The whole ensemble, in fact, boasts an enviable vintage, suggesting that Merrily is a story that really resonates with performers and audiences alike. Makan admits to the show being one of her favourites, having starred in a production very early in her career. She points to its relevance in the context of the pandemic that has forced everyone to think differently and consider the opportunities available to them; in a similar way, Merrily’s three main characters are presented at pivotal moments in their lives and are shaped by the decisions they make.
The plotline of Merrily starts in present day and looks back over the personal and professional lives of a trio of friends: Frank (a wealthy film producer and one-time penniless composer), Charley (promising lyricist turned hard-boiled opportunist) and Mary (an aspiring novelist who evolves into bitter and sardonic theatre critic). All are successful in their own fields, but at what price? What had to be sacrificed along the way in order to achieve commercial success? And how far had each of them compromised and deviated from their younger idealistic selves on their journey to recognition? Told in a kind of reverse chronological order, Merrily turns back the clock on the past twenty years of their friendship and examines key moments – and, ultimately, invites the audience to ponder at which point the characters became sell-outs. Did they just ‘merrily roll along’ and not even realise the cumulative impact of each decision they made? Or did they make a conscious choice to discard their utopian dreams in favour of something more materially profitable? At the start of their journey – ironically, at the musical’s end – the three idealistic friends vow to ‘change the world’ through musical theatre, having just witnessed a spectacle of what is possible: the Russian Sputnik orbiting the earth on a cold October night in 1957. For Makan, the parallels between world events such as this and the current international situation are clear, and part of Merrily’s topical appeal.
Small Roles; Big Performance
For Makan, understanding what the show is trying to do is crucial in determining her characters’ roles within the story arc. KT and Meg are relatively small roles in this production – but offer sizeable opportunities for a talented actor; audiences can expect something more than archetypal characterisation, as Makan intends to inject a little fun into her portrayals, to select the right ingredients to breathe life into the roles and create fully-rounded characters. And the process of creating these unique characters is all part of the fun, according to Makan.
Brought on board earlier this year, the American Idiot star does not hesitate in pointing out how special this show is. First and foremost, Makan sees the opportunity to star in a Sondheim musical as absolute heaven. She points to the timing, the show’s themes, and the stellar cast and production team all brought together to tell an important story in a unique way. Given recent history, the high stakes only intensify the sense of gratitude and determination to get this show up and running.
If, as Merrily suggests, life is about the decisions we make and the impact they have, then Makan’s career choices to date have been shrewd ones. Her decision to join the cast of Merrily looks set to be yet another good choice…
Photo Credit: Phil Erbacher