The Unstoppable Lucy Maunder

The Unstoppable Lucy Maunder

Image: Lucy Maunder, Anthony Warlow and the cast of Chicago. Photographer: Jeff Busby.

Ever since Lucy Maunder can remember, she wanted to be on the stage. Born to showbusiness parents, Lucy was cradled in the dressing room of the Sydney Opera House, went straight into WAAPA after school, then into a non-stop musical theatre career. Now a stage mother herself, she spoke to David Spicer about her latest role in the touring production of Chicago.

Lucy Maunder plays the charismatic killer Roxy Hart. She has lots of killer lines including “all that jazz”, “who says murder is not an art” and “do you wanna take my picture”. But her favourite is, aptly, “Haven't you read the papers lately? I'm a star.”

David Spicer: What do you like about playing Roxy?

Lucy Maunder:  I've loved the role since I first saw it in London, when I was 12. Roxy is so deep and has so many layers to her character. She's conniving and she's street smart. She's a killer, but she's got charm and is still likable. You have to understand and want to go on that journey with her, otherwise she just can be portrayed as a monster. The role has humour, and a lot of emotion at the end of the show as well. It's just got everything that you would want in a role.

DS:  Are you best known for playing nice characters?

LM: I did play Heather Chandler in Heathers the Musical, which was just monstrous - and so much fun. Also Rizzo in Grease is not particularly nice. But yes, Miss Honey in Matilda (was nice), and Cynthia in Beautiful was sassy but a very positive kind of character. Mrs. Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and my roles in Pippin and Fun Home were different altogether. So yes, this role is not what people have seen me do in a long time.

Image: Lucy Maunder: Photographer: Juliet Taylor.

DS: Is it more fun playing someone who's not so nice?

LM: I think so. It is definitely good to stick your teeth into those characters. I mean Roxy is just so ambitious and, I guess, narcissistic, but she is adorable as well. 

DS: How have you found rehearsals?

LM: My body's very sore. I haven't done a show this physical in quite a while and there's a lot of very specific direction and choreography. My brain is full. But it's wonderful. I mean, it's such a perfectly constructed piece of musical theatre. 

DS: Well, let's look back. Were you destined to be on the stage as your mother (Anne-Maree McDonald) is an opera singer/pianist and father (Stuart Maunder) an actor/director?

LM: I think so. I always did a million extracurricular activities. I played the violin, the viola and the piano. I did jazz, tap and ballet. I also did competitive ice skating until I was about 14 years old. 

I grew up in my mother’s dressing room at the Opera House. I was never a kid that watched any sort of cartoons. I was always watching Esther Williams, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Rita Hayworth. It was something that I had a passion for from a very young age.

I did plays and musicals all through high school and then went to WAAPA as soon as I finished the HSC. It just all snowballed from there.

Image: Zoë Ventoura and Lucy Maunder

DS: Your mother was quite a big star at a young age.

LM: She was the youngest principal with the Australian Opera at the age of 20 and she worked with Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge and many amazing people. 

DS:  The editor of Stage Whispers Neil Litchfield first met your father Stuart Maunder at university, when Stuart was studying to become a lawyer.

LM: His heart wasn't in law. And then he went into stage management and then into resident directing (and is currently the Artistic Director of the Victorian Opera).

DS: You were an only child and were encouraged to take part in the performing arts. Did you ever sort of say, no, I'd love to have a break?

LM: No way. The whole family was just so driven by music, and it just was in my blood and my bones, and it was always something that I wanted to do. I've been so lucky with the range of roles that I've been given the opportunity to play. The last few years have been mental. During Covid I lost quite a lot of work.  Then I got cast in Pippin, which was the first musical back on stage after the lockdown. It's been nonstop since then.

DS: Now are there any funny stories from your childhood with parents that are such great performers? 

LM: I remember my mother telling me that the way they calmed me down if I was crying, was to put me in the baby carrier in the orchestra pit. I would just listen to the music and that would be something that really soothed me.

I was in her dressing room with her. There is as a photo of me when she was playing Peep-Bo in The Mikado, and she's dressed to the nines with a full stage face on and I'm just sort of sitting on her lap.

That's exactly how my daughter Edi has grown up as well. We started Matilda when she was six weeks old. In Perth she was in my dressing room for nine weeks. Since then, she just travelled around and was always on tour with me until she started school at the beginning of last year. 

Mary Poppins was challenging because she had to stay in Melbourne, so I was traveling constantly, and she would be over with me for school holidays. 

(Our very own Mary Poppins) my mother-in-law, has taken months out of her life in the last six years to come on tour with me and make it possible for Edi to be with me, and also to make it possible for (my partner) Jared to continue to perform. 

But now we own a cafe in Melbourne that is going through the roof, and he is totally thriving in that role.

DS: Do you employ actors as waiters?

LM: Not really. That happens less than you would imagine. He’s got me in a couple of times to do a few shifts.  I help out when I can, running coffees and making toasties.

DS: Is your daughter doing all the dance lessons and ice skating?

LM:  Yes, she's doing it all. Acrobatics, dance, ballet, jazz tap and musical theatre the whole bit.

DS: Take us back to your audition for WAAPA. You must have had outstanding preparation from your parents?

LM:  Yeah, I suppose. I was very young. I had just turned 18, and I didn't think that I would get in. I just wanted to do the audition and then when I got offered a place I cancelled my gap year around Europe and I moved over to Perth. 

DS:  What was your first big break? Was it playing opposite Anthony Warlow in Doctor Zhivago?

LM: I came out of University and did a role in a show called Harp on the Willow with Marina Prior. (My on-stage husband) was Tom Wren and then 17 years later, we were cast as husband and wife in Mary Poppins again. After that I went straight into A Little Night Music with Opera Australia and then Janet in The Rocky Horror Show. Dr Zhivago was my first big commercial break. 

It's been nearly 13 years since Anthony Warlow and I did Dr. Zhivago together. It's really, really nice to be working with him again, and he's phenomenal in show.

DS: And what sort of electricity is there between you two onstage? 

LM: We’ve got a comfortability, a great rapport and a lot of banter. And so it's really, it's good to have that comfortability going into this, for sure, because we do a lot together in Chicago.

Chicago opened at Crown Theatre Perth on November 21, 2023, ahead of seasons at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from January 2, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from March 23, and The Capitol Theatre, Sydney from June 9Festival Theatre Adelaide Sun 04 Aug 2024 to Sun 18 Aug.

Australian production images by Jeff Busby.

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