From Soap to Song & Dance
Craig McLachlan talks to Peter Pinne about Chicago.
In the late 1980’s Peter Pinne was the Executive in charge of production on Neighbours and Craig played Henry Ramsay. A show reunion took place for this special feature.
We last saw each other twenty years ago, and although he’s 43, he still looks the same (when will this guy ever age). He was playing Henry Ramsay, the big brother of Charlene (Kylie Minogue) in Neighbours, and I was Executive in Charge of Production.
In Neighbours his character was a prankster who fell in with the wrong crowd and eventually went to jail. In Chicago he plays Billy Flynn – an oily muck-raking lawyer.
In between Craig has built a substantial career working in television, theatre and movies.
We caught up in the QPAC Green Room.
What’s it like being in a hit show like Chicago?
“I love it. What a great role Billy Flynn is. When I’m standing in the wings waiting to go on, and the orchestra starts playing that overture, it gives me such a high. It’s incredible. I love the fact that the show has this rhythm underscore all the time. I love doing theatre. The feeling of adrenaline you get - sharing that amazing energy. There’s nothing quite like it.”
So it’s better than TV?
“Well, I love TV as you know, but it’s different. In theatre you get to experience that adrenaline rush eight times a week. You don’t get that on a three camera shoot in a studio.”
What’s your favorite musical theatre role?
“Frank N Furter. I was in the 1992 Nigel Triffet production. That’s where I first worked with Gina Riley. She played Janet, so it’s great that we’re working together again. Frank N Furter is a powerful character to take on. Richard O’Brien said to me that he stays with you forever, and he’s right. There was an amazing reaction to me in that role. People wrote letters to the papers about ‘Henry’ playing a transvestite. They didn’t think it was right.”
Well, now that you’ve mentioned Henry, let’s talk about him.
“It’s my favorite role ever.”
Why is that?
“Because it’s where it all began. I had the time of my life as Henry.”
Even though it’s twenty years since you were in Neighbours, do you still get recognized?
“Everywhere. From Melbourne to Israel. I have people coming up to me telling me how much they enjoyed me playing Henry. It’s really wonderful.”
Tell me about Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. It seems to be such a total contrast from your other theatre work.
“It’s based on the 1954 movie which starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and we did it at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton [U.K.], Christmas 2007. It seats 3,000, and they spent 3 million pounds on the set alone.”
Who directed it?
“Walter Bobbie, and Randy Skinner did choreography.”
How did you go with that? Billy Flynn doesn’t have a lot of dancing to do in Chicago, but if I remember correctly, the movie of White Christmas does.
“I’m not a trained dancer, so I had to work twice as hard as everybody else. I used to stay after rehearsals every day and work with Randy until I got it right. The show broke records.”
How did you handle the songs? I mean singing Irving Berlin is a lot different to what you’ve previously done.
“I’d only ever done rock shows, so it was a real challenge. I had to change my singing style completely. I worked solid on my voice, and found I had the range to handle that traditional type of music, and I love it, I really love it. Now, that I’ve found I can do it, it’s opened up a whole new range of possibilities for me.”
Did they ask you to do the show again?
“Yes. We did it at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 2008. I was also asked to do it this year, but I can’t because it cuts across my Chicago commitments.”
You used to have a rock band. Are you still active in that arena?
“No, that was back in the early 90s. It was called Check 1-2. We were signed to Sony, and we had some hits [“Mona,” “Amanda,” “On My Own”]. We charted locally, in the UK, Europe, and South America.”
You’ve been married and divorced twice. Any plans to do it again?
“No way. It’s difficult in this business to keep a relationship together, especially when I could be on a plane tomorrow to go to London to make a movie, or start rehearsals for a show or something similar. I have a girlfriend I see when I’m in Australia, and fortunately she’s in the business too, so she is understanding when I have to go away. I spend at least six months of my year in England.”
“One. He’s eight. I was a late starter. He lives in England and he just asked me could he have a guitar. I couldn’t say no because I was eight when I got my first guitar.”Craig, originally a plumber before he got his first break in Neighbours, grew up in The Entrance, on the NSW Central Coast. His father died when he was young and he and his older brother were brought up by their mother. She has always been very supportive of his career. Just prior to Craig being offered the role in Chicago she had a stroke, and Craig was determined to not accept any work until she got better. She had other ideas. When she was in hospital, she told him to get his bum on a plane and get down to Melbourne and do the show. She said, “When I get better I want to see you in a show where you’re wearing a nice suit.”
Mrs McLachlan is in for a surprise. Not only will she see Craig in a “nice suit” in Chicago, but she’ll also see a very accomplished song and dance man in action. It’s a long way from Henry Ramsay to Billy Flynn, but Craig McLachlan is in his element. Lucky for us!