The hair. The voice. The pelvis! It’s time for a musical revolution, baby. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is back!
Read to the end of the article and enter the draw to win two free tickets!
From his Mississippi childhood to his 68’ comeback and ascension into Rock King-dom - the high-energy, brand-new bio-musical Elvis: A Musical Revolution celebrates the extraordinary life of the legendary Hillbilly Cat.
Written by acclaimed international writers, Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, the production features over 40 hit songs, show-stopping choreography and an all-star Australian cast.
You can expect iconic Elvis hits like "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound Dog," "Suspicious Minds," "Blue Suede Shoes," and many more classics.
The Australian premiere kicks off at Sydney's State Theatre on August 5th, then continues at Melbourne's Athenaeum Theatre starting October 6th.
The production showcases pivotal moments in Elvis’ life and music career; through the lens of people who knew the King best, including Elvis’ mother Gladys Presley, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe: the inventor of Rock.
David Venn Enterprises (DVE) are excited to bring the cultural icon back to life, forming a team of accomplished Australian creatives, featuring Alister Smith as director, Michael Ralph as choreographer, and Daniel Puckey as musical director.
The creative team features Dan Potra as Set Designer, Isaac Lummis as Costume Designer, Declan O’Neill as Lighting Designer, David McKinnon as Video Designer, and Greg Ginger as Sound Designer.
Elvis expert Mark Andrew, a world-touring tribute artist and Elvis Presley confidant, enriches the team with his unparalleled insights.
But who is playing the leading man, you ask? Casting a cultural icon and legend is no easy feat.
In an exhilarating nationwide talent hunt, theatre and television sensation Rob Mallett triumphed over a pool of 700 applicants.
Tasmanian born and bred Mallett grew up in the Huon Valley working on his family’s apple orchard with aspirations for a career in the military
During his formative years, Mallett practised Irish dancing which introduced him to the stage where he discovered his true passion for performing.
Mallett has had notable on-stage roles including Disney's Aladdin, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Singin’ in the Rain and on screen roles including in Home & Away and House Husbands.
Now, blending his theatre roots and Irish dancing background, Rob steps into the role of Elvis - all while anticipating fatherhood with wife Chloé.
The Swanston Gazette’s Leah D’Cruz had the privilege of interviewing Mallett, gaining an insight into Australia's performing arts industry and its challenges, and the pressures associated with portraying a cultural icon.
You’re obviously very talented, having performed in productions including Disney’s Aladdin and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But how did you prepare for the role of Elvis Presley, a cultural music icon for Elvis: A Musical Revolution?
The internet is a powerful thing, let’s say that. Basically, I prepared for the audition through the consumption of endless hours of Elvis interviews on YouTube. I was like a superfan. I listened to Elvis’ voice over and over, repeating the sounds and inflection of his voice. I worked out where Elvis’ voice sat in my voice, then matched his rhythms and tempo. Once I secured the Elvis lead, I started working with a singing teacher to further understand how I could make his voice and mine come together. I did not want to perform a flat-out impersonation, but rather an interpretation of his performance style. It also had to be done in a sustainable way since I had to sing the material everyday, six days a week. These were some technical hurdles I faced surrounding his movements. But through the help of Mikey Ralph, our exceptional choreographer, I learnt to paste Elvis' moves onto my body.
Why did you want your voice to be an interpretation of Elvis instead of an impersonation?
When you are doing an impersonation, you are telling a story, so it has to have a high level of authenticity. The audience has to ‘suspend their disbelief’ or idea of what Elvis is in order to believe that in that moment I am Elvis. But, that doesn’t require me to mimic him, but rather to allude to him, with all the necessary puzzle pieces of his stardom - like the fashion and the voice. I have to have the moves for them to believe me - while not delivering a ‘caricature’ version of him. Sometimes, impersonations may come off as being a bit cartoony where it feels more like a parody - rather than an authentic story being told.
Was this one of the hardest aspects of Elvis’ life to capture? What other aspects of Elvis' life and character did you find most challenging?
I think the most challenging thing was trying to endow Elvis, with the level of hysteria and fandom that he had at that time. It’s very hard to tell the audience to scream and shout like the audiences would have back then. It’s hard to show an audience what it was like to experience Elvis for the first time, to hear a new sound, to see new styles of dancing, to see this kind of radical fashion. In a show, endowing anyone, any actor, any character on that level when really, the audience almost also has a role to play in that process. That has been the most challenging thing in my opinion.
Elvis Presley had a significant impact on the world of music and entertainment. Were you familiar with his discography? How did you further immerse yourself in his music?
Honestly, by listening to lots and lots and lots of it. Again, YouTube is such an incredible resource, there are endless hours of his movies, interviews, and live performances. And of course, there’s his 68’ special which features heavily in the show. In a world where I had more time before production and rehearsals commenced - I would have loved to have visited Graceland or attend the Parkes Elvis Festival in New South Wales. But yeah, just listening to lots of his music, which isn’t hard to do given that it’s so bloody good!
How has your personal life, including becoming a parent (congratulations!), influenced your perspective and approach to your career in the arts?
Working in the creative arts, part of the nature of being an artist is that - your work is inextricably linked to your life. We tell stories in the way that we do by using our bodies. We bring all of our own vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and all of our colours and personality to the stage. Or to the screen. So my personal life influences everything about my work and vice versa. It dictates where I live, if I’m supposed to go on tour, it even dictates the sort of odd unsociable hours that we work - meaning being away from family for long periods of time. Becoming a parent, though, is the ultimate sort of perspective thing. There’s a tendency for artists, performers, and actors to take their work very seriously, and I think having a child has certainly given me an ability to just withdraw and to take an experience for what it is.
What’s it like working on something so iconically Australian like Home & Away?
It is surreal. Most Australians grew up with it, it’s somewhere in their psyche. In mine, it was sort of always in the background but still, it was always there. So it was weird - good weird -to be on set with some of those legendary or legacy characters that you know from the big TV.
As an actor, you’ve experienced success in various productions and on screen. Are there any dream roles or projects you’re aspiring to? What’s the future of Rob Mallett after Elvis?
I want to be able to do a bit of work on stage, in musicals, straight theatre, and on screen - either TV or film. Or even voice-overs, and all the random bits that come on with it. That’s kind of my idea of an ideal career. One with ‘fingers in many pies’.
Do you have any advice for creative students or performing arts students that are looking for a way to break out or get noticed?
If you’re young and still in a position where you can be building your skills, start there. Get to a dance class or find a singing teacher and build those skills that are required. Get a bit more creative, find short student films, do a bit more of the hustle. Invite agents to smaller plays that you might be in, like a community theatre or send them self-tapes that you’ve done at home. Do that sort of cold-call approaching type thing. Or put yourself online, Youtube and TikTok are so powerful - and free.
Supporting Rob in the role of Young Elvis are four talented boys, aged 10-12: Oliver Bosward, Rhys James Hankey, Finn Walsham, and Tommy Kent.
Assuming the roles of those who knew Elvis best are Noni McCallum as Gladys (Elvis’ mother), Ian Stenlake as Colonel Parker, Annie Chiswell as Priscilla Presley, and Kirby Burgess stars as Ann-Margaret in the production.
The Swanston Gazette’s Drew Baker caught up with APO Arts Academy graduate Annie Chiswell who’s recently wrapped filming the series High Country as Maddie Harris for Binge.
Annie, would you share a bit about your journey into the world of performing arts and what initially inspired you to pursue a career in acting and theatre?
Even from a very young age, I have always been creatively driven. I would force my siblings to do living room ‘plays’ with me, or I was one of those girls creating dances with friends on lunch breaks. But I didn’t see it as a realistic career path, until I auditioned for a performing arts college in Adelaide and got in. After that institution, I landed a tour show in Melbourne. Everything took off from there.
Graduating from the APO Arts Academy under a scholarship program is impressive. How did training there shape your skills and prepare you for your career in the industry?
Training was extensive, six days a week, both musical theatre and dance. I’d train from 9am to 8pm, it was full on. It turned me into a musical theatre machine, which is why I was able to book my first role - I was ready to go. I was living and breathing the industry - by then, it was too late.
You recently completed filming for the television series High Country. Could you tell us about your role as Maddie Harris and what viewers can expect from the series?
I was so very excited to book that role. I was one of the ones lucky enough to cross into the film and TV space – which can be really hard. The series is set out in Victoria’s beautiful high country. It was incredible absorbing the beauty of our country and working with legends from the Australian screen. I’d describe the series as quite similar to broadchurch, a very high-stakes mystery thriller full of murder, deceit and revenge. I play the daughter of Brian Harris, an influential man in town, who is tasked with assisting detective Andrea Whitford.
How does your approach to acting differ when working in television compared to live theatre, and do you have a preference between the two mediums?
The greatest acting difference between the two is rehearsals. The stage has four or more weeks of rehearsal and a real development stage. There’s time to map the performance out, or to ‘put it on its feet’. The show settles into itself. Rehearsing a lot you find different things and you work with them. But in television acting, scripts always change - you have to constantly adapt and be present. Always ready to go. You get more time to play in theatre, TV you just have to be prepared and know the medium and your character. Now, which is my favourite? I don’t know. Us creatives, we want to do it all. I like a balance of the two. I love theatre productions for touring the nation, but I love the journey screen acting takes.
You've had the opportunity to play a wide range of characters in theatre productions, including Monica Geller in Friends the Musical Parody. What drew you to these roles, and do you have a favourite character you've portrayed on stage?
I've enjoyed my journey in the industry and all facets, comedy roles, lead roles, and ensemble roles. My favourite role, if I had to choose - would most likely be my role in the Shrek musical. As well as playing Teen Fiona, I covered a range of roles. I had 11 costume changes in the first act alone. Dream role? I’d love to be a ‘swing’, which is a role that covers everything. I think I have the brain for it. They’re the backbone of our industry and some of the industry’s hardest working people. But I will always say yes to whatever opportunities come.
Now, you're part of the cast of Elvis: A Musical Revolution as Priscilla. Can you share your thoughts on portraying this iconic character and what excites you the most about being part of this production?
What excites me most about Elvis, is the fact that it is being developed and produced with an all Australian team. They have taken a script from the US and are completely reinventing and re-envisioning it here, with all-Australia acting, dancing, costuming. Originally, I didn’t audition for Priscilla, I auditioned for her cover. So it was a moment of shock and gratitude when I landed the role.
It's truly an experience stepping into the role of a real life human, especially one that is still alive today. And more so into the role of a phenomenal woman like Priscilla who helped shape the life of Elvis.
Are there any dream roles or projects you aspire to in the future, either in theatre or television? What’s next for Annie?
I have really loved being in an all-Australian led show. I’d love to continue this. And even with TV actring. I’d love to continue on a lot more Australian projects. And to be a part of the new generation of Australian creatives that are coming through now.
Sienna Embrey (Hairspray) embodies Dixie, Elvis' close friend and former girlfriend, while Matt Heyward (The Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady) takes on the role of Elvis' father, Vernon Presley. Ben Hall (Devil's Playground, Love Child, Neighbours) portrays Memphis record producer Sam Phillips.
The cast includes Aidan O Cleirigh as Scotty Moore, Hanlon Innocent as Bill Black, Connor Morel as DJ Fontana, Zuleika Khan as Betty and others, Jo-Anne Jackson as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and others, Charly Williams as Jackie Brenston & others, and Joti Gore as Roy Brown and others.
The Swanston Gazette’s Drew Baker also caught up with Zimbabwe-born and Australian-raised music artist Jo-Anne Jackson who brings her eclectic, culturally-enriched music repertoire to the role of Rock ‘n’ Roll inventor Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Jo-Anne, being born in Zimbabwe and curating your career in Australia, you have a diverse cultural background. How has this background influenced your eclectic musical style?
I think being born in Zim, I started my early life in South Africa where I attended international schools. Then, I moved to Australia in 2003, and now have grown up most of my life here. This was a unique experience, giving me a very different perspective. For the arts, it is all about the space you create. As a teenager, I felt a lot of pressure to know who I was, and what my identity would be. Was I going to stand on being an African in Australia, or a migrant in Australia? Or would I embrace being an Australian, in the place I now call home? And ultimately, I decided on a blend. I definitely bring a lot of my background and influence to my performance. But I love Kylie Minogue. And many aspects of Australian music.Why can’t I do a bit of everything?
Can you share some insights into your musical journey, from your early experiences to your breakthrough in the Australian music scene?
I was saying this to the team – this has been a 20-year dream fulfilled. My family are all musically inclined, we can sing. I grew up harmonising and singing with my family everyday… I remember moving from Cape Town -a country town in South Australia- and thinking this is so different and weird. I thought, how can I get back to the feeling of ‘home’ and its music, or what career choice will get me there? What can I do? So, I thought about what my breakthrough will be. Naturally, with my genetic gift, I looked to music. I started writing and recording. And when I moved to Adelaide for university I made friends with people like me who were so interested in music and unique sounds. Now, flash to 2018 where I had settled into Queensland. A DJ friend had asked me to put vocals on a track, for an artist in the UK. This track ended up being a hit, which opened so many doors - like opening acts for international artists. After that, I was told to start an Instagram to build my fanbase and to be more reachable. But what led me to musical theatre was my brother-in-law. He is a producer, who encouraged me to audition for the musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. I was successful. It was at that musical that a fellow cast member gave me the brief for Elvis. And you know the rest.
Your music is known for blending various genres and creating unique ‘smash-ups’. What inspires you to experiment with different musical styles, and how do you approach this creative process?
My experimentation is mostly inspired by my diverse cultural background. Basically, I see it as I am trying to perform my Spotify playlist. I listen to a lot of South African house music, African artists. Afrobeats. The stuff you’d find at the PromiseLand festival. I love electric hop, particularly the type used by artists like Sneaky Sound System. As well as pure pop, like Kylie Minogue. My voice is quite RNB, very Destiny’s Child or Brandi esque. So I thought, how do I sing? How do I make music I want to listen to, that isn’t exclusively one thing? So I experimented with the instrumentation of things and sounds, while incorporating elements of my culture as well. In lock down I did a smash-up of Dua Lipa with an upcoming Zimbabwe artist, just by hearing how they could come together in my mind. I just find ways to add those different cultural elements.
You're now part of the cast of Elvis: A Musical Revolution. Can you tell us about your role and what it means to you to be a part of such a historic musical production?
Well, Elvis is my second musical ever, and I am blessed to be part of the originating cast. My role is Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She is slated as the Godmother of Rock N Roll and one of the original influences to Elvis. And many other artists that we know. Sadly we don’t know her as well as them due to history - but they are here because of her. She was a black, queer woman, who grew up in the church. She played guitar, and experimented with speeds and distortion. She was a bit older by the time Elvis and the youth really heard her. They eventually took over her sound and made it more palatable to their generation. Popularising her work for new (white) audiences. She is now in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, as of 2018. But still, many people do not know her. In her time, she used to have to get white artists to headline her tour, so she could get billed or recognised. Thankfully, we have come a long way. Now we can tell the story of a woman who inspired Elvis and got him to the status of a King and cultural legend.
What are your long-term career aspirations, both in terms of your solo music career and your involvement in musical theatre?
I definitely want to be in musical theatre for a while. I feel like I just got here. I have so much more to learn and tell. I have dedicated my immediate future to the Elvis musical and polishing my craft. Toward mid next year, I will begin working on my solo craft. I’d love a solo launch into Australian space, making my mark. Maybe a single or an album. You’ll just have to wait and see.
What message would you like to give to your fans and audiences, or to those students aspiring for a music career in the Australian music landscape?
Do not give up, everyone says it – but it's so true. I started in marketing at university, never dreaming of being where I am today. But, in my spare time I kept gigging, and putting myself out there. Even if you can't study music or you think you don’t have opportunities. You do. Create social media accounts, upload covers or smash-ups on Youtube. Make your mark or build your space.
The dynamic musical ensemble lineup also includes Jarryd Byrne, Nic Collins, Lauren Jimmieson, Callum Marshall, William Motunuu, James MacAlpine, Moniquewa Williams, Nicole Vella, and David Cuny, who will step into the role of alternate Elvis for specific performances.
Now that you know what to expect - with energetic performances, an all-star, all-Australian cast and Elvis hits galore - it’s time for a little less conversation and a little more action.
Secure your seats via Ticketmaster. We guarantee you’ll fall in love - you can’t help it.