Australian musical theatre legend and internationally acclaimed star of Broadway and The West End, Caroline O’Connor is no stranger to QPAC, having performed here in Chicago (1998/2008), Anything Goes (2015) and From Broadway to La Scala (2019) to name a few. She is currently performing her first gig post-COVID, with her solo show, From Broadway With Love, in our Cremorne Theatre.
O’Connor’s incredible career includes playing Velma Kelly in Chicago, Mabel in Mack & Mabel and performing for the Queen of England in The Royal Variety Performance. She also starred as Nini Legs in the Air in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, and the one-woman play Bombshells written especially for her.
The formidable triple threat squeezed in a chat at the QPAC Café with us between her shows. Here’s what she shared:
Q: You have played so many great roles in your career to date. Is it possible to choose a favourite?
A: It is very difficult to choose a favourite. I have to say Velma Kelly from Chicago has a very special place in my heart because so many wonderful things have happened for me from playing that role, including going to Broadway. I have to include portraying a couple of great ladies of the stage, Judy Garland and Édith Piaf because the songs and music are so extraordinary. Obviously playing Nini Legs in the Air for Moulin Rouge was a highlight for me. To do a musical movie is such a rare opportunity. And also playing Sweeney Todd in Paris, with Steven Sondheim himself being in the audience, was something else. I really feel fortunate I’ve been around such a long time and I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences.
Q: You have performed at QPAC many times including starring in Chicago and Anything Goes. What do you like about performing in our theatres?
A: We always feel incredibly welcome in Queensland. Brisbane is such a beautiful city. It just gets prettier every time I come, and it’s not finished yet, of course, there’s a lot going on currently. But it’s such a great city to work in and the weather is so beautiful, and the venue is fabulous. I’ve actually never performed in the Cremorne Theatre before, and I didn’t realise what a beautiful little venue it is. My show is really up close and personal, and I think sometimes the theatre experience is actually more enjoyable for people when they can see the sweat, and possibly a tear in your eye because they’re closer to you. When you do a show like From Broadway With Love it is a very intimate experience, so when you do it in a large venue, perhaps sometimes the audience do not get that conversational experience.
Q: You have recently made the move to Noosa in Queensland from Sydney. How are you finding living in the Sunshine State?
A: It’s the best decision we ever made. I can’t even begin to tell you how it’s just made our lives. My husband always wanted to live by the water. He’s from England and we’ve always thought about moving near the sea and having a boat. The thing about our life is that we really can be anywhere and with most of the theatre productions in Sydney or Melbourne, I initially thought I’ll set myself up in Sydney because my family is there. Now I feel moving to Noosa, we couldn’t have made a better choice!
Q: How did you cope during lockdown and how does it feel to be able perform your first live show since the pandemic at QPAC in From Broadway With Love?
A: I honestly was not coping at all during lock down and that’s the truth… I talk about it in the show. I found it incredibly hard, like something that was such a big part of my life was missing, not doing what I love. I’m a bit of a workaholic and I just love it so much and it and it was so strange not to see any kind of a future either. My friends overseas are still living in that nightmare, but here thank God we’re just starting to come back. I cannot believe that I was doing a show last night on stage with an audience because I honestly, I’ve shed a lot of tears during this period. I’m sure a lot of other people in the industry have and not just actors. Musicians, crews, designers, directors, choreographers, everyone was just cut off. I really was struggling and I’m not going to lie, I wondered what I was going to do with myself. Performing is all I’ve ever done. So being in a new home, setting ourselves up, we just started to establish ourselves in our new location. We’ve made some new friends and that’s been a bonus. You just start again. It has been incredible performing to an audience again after more than a year. It felt a little strange and my legs were shaking a bit, but it felt absolutely wonderful.
Q: Not so long ago you added a puppy to your family. How would you say becoming a dog owner has changed you?
A: I really didn’t realise what an impact she would have on my life. People are saying to me now that my Facebook page should just be called Lola because photos of her are pretty much all I post. I called her that because she is a show dog, a show girl and honestly, I don’t think I would have coped as well without her during COVID. I’ve always wanted to have a dog, but with touring, it’s very difficult. She’s brilliant, the perfect dog. She’s obedient and she can do tricks. She might end up on the stage with me. I have become actually incredibly dependent on her for my own mental health. Many people have spoken to me about pets before and until I experienced it myself, I didn’t realise how wonderful it would be.
Want to hear more from Caroline O’Connor? See below.
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