You've performed in Annie before, haven't you?
I certainly have – I was in the production 12 years ago as one of the ensemble members, and as the dance captain. And I was understudying the role of Lily.
Who was playing Lily then?
That was the beautiful Jane Scali of Young Talent Time fame. And Nancye Hayes – who is playing Miss Hannigan this time – was the resident director. The previous time it was produced in Australia, in 1978, Nancye was playing the role of Lily. According to my mother apparently I did attend that production. I would have been about three-and-half. So, Nancye and I feel like we've had a long running connection through the show and that she's passed the Lily baton on to the next generation.
Did you often go to musicals when you were a girl?
Absolutely. I was very lucky because my parents were both English teachers. So, going to the MTC, to musicals and shows that came through town was the norm for me.
Do you remember much of Jane Scali's performance?
It was so long ago and you tend to remember the person and not the performance. And she always kept herself very fit and uninjured, so as an understudy I never performed the role.
Speaking of fit and uninjured, I imagine you're a frustrating person to understudy because you're without doubt one of the fittest people on Australian stages right now.
It's a constant regime. My dressing room is full of stretch bands and massage balls and all sorts of things to roll out the niggles and keep the body in peak fitness and able to do the same thing over and over again. It's always when you're doing something repetitively that injury sets in.
You also have one of the most comprehensive CVs – arena anthems, diplomatic galas, concert performances, variety stage shows, commercial musicals, daytime TV, midday TV, evening TV, feature films, corporate entertainment, choreography, studio recordings and, of all things, a high-art Suskind play at the Sydney festival. How do you juggle these diverse interests?
When you're doing eight shows a week, you have to focus on keeping yourself fit and healthy for that six-days a week. But doing exactly the same thing over and over again, you also need other creative stimuli. At the moment Todd McKenny and I are preparing to do a concert with the Aussie Pops in May in Melbourne, and of course that requires prep. It means going back and having a look through all of your charts, seeing whether you need new band charts created, so there's a lot of preparation and creative stimulus in that process.
Are you restless? Or just pushing the limits of efficiency?
I don't think it would be restless. I like to have new creative goals. I like to challenge myself. Even auditions, I try to make a goal, other than actually getting the job, which you have a tiny percentage chance of landing each time. I tend to think, OK, so for this audition I'd like to achieve blah, so that I at least walk out of an audition thinking, that was a journey, as opposed to just a final point in the process. So I think I'm more goal driven. But at the same time, I do love touring. You could say that there's a restlessness in that.
A lot of the audience coming to Annie will have last seen you as a different blonde bombshell, Ula fromThe Producers. Looks like you're back in a platinum wig!
Yes, but Ula was a bit more of a vamp. People sometimes mistook her for being a dumb blonde, when she was really just language challenged. She had a naivety, whereas Lily St Regis is your classic dumb blonde.
The way I explain her involvement in the criminal world is by saying that she is a few ants short of a picnic. She's not totally aware of the repercussions of her crimes. So I try to make her an endearing criminal. But I don't know that the kids see it that way when I'm trying to steal Annie from Daddy Warbucks.
I never thought of Lily as actually dumb – I thought maybe she was just a working-class girl made to look stupid by the upper classes. I always found myself rooting for her and Rooster.
Every villain has to be endearing, and you realise with Lily and Rooster that they do what they do out of desperation, out of circumstance. As you say, they're working class. They have to stoop to much lower levels than if they were of a different class.
I also feel sorry for Miss Hannigan – I think my sympathies are all backwards.
Miss Hannigan definitely has shocking job satisfaction. I mean she is totally dissatisfied. Put her in a different workplace and I think she'd probably thrive. We've all gone into shops and seen someone who should not be working there. She's one of those. It's circumstance. Deep down, I don't think she wants to be the way she is. But my question was always, why does Miss Hannigan hate Annie in particular so much? We love questions like that, backstage.
Yeah, like what if Daddy Warbucks threw Annie out of the mansion? She goes back to the orphanage. It's all over in an hour and a half and everyone goes home.
You've got to ask the question, right?
We do it all the time. We did it with Love Never Dies. What if Christine is never shot?
They'd probably end up in the suburbs.
Playing happy families.
The Producers is for a totally different audience --
–but in a sense you're still playing the blonde decoy.
A friend of mine said, "Really, I think Lily St Regis has been written in there for the Dads in the audience." That's one way it can be looked at, the type of female who uses her sexuality to get places.
The question is whether Ula knew that her appearance caused a stir, or was she delightfully naive. Mel Brooks was certainly one to push the idea that she didn't know what she was doing. You're often guided by the director in these things.
The last time we did Annie it was Martin Charnin, who also wrote the show. He mentioned some of those things, that she is working class, that she has not led a privileged life, and that she does what she can to survive. And there is a sad quality in that too.
Annie, Regent Theatre, 24 May-17 Jun.
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