By Kristy Johnson.
We’ve seen them grace our screens on So You Think You Can Dance, and these much loved dancers are now making their mark in the world of musical theatre.
Dance Informa caught up with Talia Fowler, Jack Chambers, Timomatic Omaji, Marko Panzic and Hilton Denis, who are currently starring in FAME, West Side Story and Hairspray across the country!
Starring as ‘Iris Kelly’ in FAME.
So Talia, what drew you to want to try out for FAME the musical?
I had just got back from my performance in the US. I arrived back and actually got a phone call from Kelley Abbey. At that time I was with an agent kind of preparing to go back to the US and do the ballet thing. Kelley said to me “I’m directing and choreographing a new musical called FAME. I want you to watch the movie and check out this character, because I think you would be great for it and I’d love for you to audition.” So from there I watched the movie. I rented it straight away, liked the character and then went through the process of auditioning for the role.
Has working with Kelley again been to your advantage as she already understands your strengths and weaknesses?
Oh definitely. I think obviously So You Think You Can Dance would have been a big factor in me getting this role because they’ve already seen how I perform on stage and Kelley knew what my work ethic was like. So that was a big draw card, I think. And of course when Kelley was choreographing the show she knew that there were a few steps that were my specialty. She put them in the choreography so she could make it a part of us.
Touring can be quite exhausting. How do you keep on top of your game?
It’s really important for us to get our internal body clocks right. We finish a show at 11 o’clock at night and it’s important that we get some sleep that night and that we can still get up and do things the next day. It’s very important to change your schedule so you’re still being fuelled at the right time, so that you have enough energy to perform for 8 shows a week.
What is your schedule like?
At this point in the show we don’t actually have rehearsals at all before we do the shows because it’s been running for a while. So the show’s sitting pretty comfortably with all of us. I’ll start my day with a class at 9am. Just a ballet or classical class to really get my technique, feel my body and activate all the muscles for the day. Then it’s time to go home, do some normal things, have my lunch and make sure I get in some ‘chill’ time. Then in the afternoon I usually go to the gym and do some strength training. Then I come back, cook myself a healthy meal and go into the theatre two hours before the show. I spend the first hour getting ready – doing my hair and makeup, sewing new pairs of shoes or breaking shoes in. At hour call we have a group warm up…..and then it’s showtime!
Have you always wanted to perform in musicals?
No, not at all. It was never on the cards. I’d never seen any musicals until after So You Think You Can Dance, and then I got approached by a few people. My management let me know about it and that there was a role that would really suit me. I’m always up for a new challenge – something that will stretch me and something I haven’t tried before, so I was like “yeah let’s do it!”
What’s it like to work alongside Kelley Abbey again on FAME?
Kelley is an amazing choreographer and director, and I think she’s just amazing at dealing with people as opposed to just dancers. She’ll bring out the best. She’s really brought out the best in me through both So You Think You Can Dance and FAME, but more closely FAME because she’s so tailor made to you and what you do. And she doesn’t just put her ideas on you. I’ve soaked up all the energy, inspiration and passion that she kind of exerts.
Coming from the hip hop scene, have you been challenged by musical theatre?
Definitely. Through what I used to do, we didn’t really have to have a character and follow the path of a character. I think the main challenge for me was the acting. I’d done music before, so putting my energies into a character was probably the hardest, newest thing I’ve had to face. Even though you’re dancing, everything you do has an intention behind it. That’s what Kelley would teach us.
What would be your highlight so far whilst touring?
You know what, for me it’s just growing. Growing is a passion you need to endure more as a performer. It’s one thing to do a show and just leave it, but it’s another to be able to sustain a show. I think that’s taught me a lot about perseverance and endurance and to really keep my eye on the ball. If anything, I’ve learnt a lot about treating the body right.
In Hairspray, the character of Tracy Turnblad has a passion for dance, wins a spot on a television program and through this becomes a teen celebrity. Do you feel this transition mirrors your life, having won So You Think You Can Dance and gaining international recognition?
Now that you mention it, yes, Tracy’s life in Hairspray kind of mirrors what my life has been in the past few years! The only difference would be that I’m skinny and male!
The creative team behind Hairspray is quite phenomenal with David Atkins directing and Jason Coleman choreographing. What’s it like to reunite with Jason since the show?
It was wonderful to see Jason Coleman again. I am really looking forward to working with him in an atmosphere where he won’t be judging me! I’m also really looking forward to working with David Atkins. It’s a very exciting creative team, as well as cast, so rehearsals will be an absolute blast.
Any advice for dancers who would like to work in musicals?
My advice would be to continue your training to keep your ‘triple threat’ abilities up to par. Theatre is all about charisma and personality, so it’s important to let that shine through when you’re auditioning.
Starring as ‘Moose’ in West Side Story
Why did you try out for West Side Story?
It’s one of the greatest musicals of all time, so that’s why I wanted to do it. It’s a classic and everyone knows about it.
With musicals, you need to be a triple threat. How have you made sure to hone all your performance skills?
Before West Side Story I had to go to a lot of singing lessons because I’m not that much of a singer. I’m lucky that the cast members are so amazing because I can learn off them as well. I’ve had to work on acting as well. By watching other NIDA graduates act I learn off them. They give me advice and by just watching them do their own thing you pick up different strategies on how to improve yourself.
What would an average day entail for you?
We do 8 shows a week. We’ve got two shows on Wednesday and Saturday. I train in martial arts for a bit, just for fun. And on top of that I just choreograph. I’m always choreographing.
What does your role as Dance Captain for FAME involve?
Kelley choreographs and directs the show and then she leaves the show. So all the choreography and all the dance is left in my hands. I have to work on keeping Kelley’s original choreography and make sure that it stays exactly how Kelley wants it. So I’m keeping on the dancers, making sure everyone is doing their job properly. We also have swings off stage, so my role involves keeping the swings and understudies in use. We rehearse to make sure they’re ready to go on at any point if anyone goes off. So I have to rehearse all the understudies and swings.
Any advice for those dancers who want to get into musicals?
Take class and get fit. It’s about being ‘show fit’. When doing a show like this your body has to be able to handle it. I was choreographing a lot before I did the show. So I had to go into the gym and start looking after myself in a different way, because when you choreograph you don’t dance as much. So I would really tell people just not to be lazy. Musical theatre is a hard world. You have to have the look, you have to have the body and you have to have the fitness. You have to go in with the package because you only get that audition to show everything off. You can’t get the job and then work towards it. You have to be ready.
Want to see these dance stars in action? Make sure you get tickets to FAME, West Side Story and Hairspray and support Australian theatre.
FAME photos courtesy of Jeff Busby.
Hairspray photo courtesy of Belinda Strodder