Year of the Queen: The Making of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical

Year of the
Queen

Jeremy Stanford

First published in Australia by Wild and Woolley Press 2007

Reprinted by BPA Print Group.

Copyright © Jeremy Stanford 2007

The moral copyright of the author has been asserted.

eISBN: 9781620959459

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner.

Cover design by Anne-Marie Reeves

Edited by Annie Stanford and Ted Roberts

Typeset in Bembo by Jeremy Stanford

Cover photograph kindly provided by Priscilla on Stage

Cover outfit designed and created by Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel

Photograph 1, reproduced with kind permission from David Spencer

Photographs 3, 6 & 7 reproduced with kind permission from Michael Caton

Contacts:

Sophie Hamley, C/O Cameron Creswell Agency.

[email protected]

Lisa Mann, C/O Lisa Mann Creative Management.

[email protected]

Direct.

[email protected]

This book is dedicated

to my angel, Annie

and my two best mates,

Hunter and Ned.

And in loving memory of a

true genius of the theatre and dear friend,

Ross Coleman

About the author

Jeremy Stanford has been a performer for over twenty years and is best known for his portrayal of Buddy, in
The Buddy Holly Story
. His other credits in musicals include
High Society, Hello Dolly, Sweet Charity, Company and Looking Through A Glass Onion
. On stage he’s worked for the MTC, Playbox, STC and Handspan and on TV he’s performed in many Australian TV staples such as
Blue Heelers, M.D.A
and
Stingers
. He recently completed his first feature film,
The Sunset Six
which he directed, co-wrote and co-produced. He lives in St. Kilda with his wife and two sons.

Year of the Queen is his first book.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Garry McQuinn for being so unbelievably helpful. More a buddy than a producer - and thanks for the cover shot. Thanks to Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner for the faaaabulous outfit for the cover. To Troy Armstrong and Sophie Hamley for great advice. Lisa Mann and Carol Raby for your steadfast belief. Simon Phillips for absolutely everything but most of all your faith. To Lou Ryan for convincing me it was a good idea in the first place and for all your invaluable help. To Steve Worland for getting the ball rolling. Thanks to Anne-Marie Reeves for the cover design, David Spencer and Michael Caton for the rehearsal pics and to Tony Sheldon and Genevieve Lemon for their tweaking suggestions. To Mum for the oceans of love. And to my incredible wife Annie, this couldn’t have happened without you. You’re amazing. You are the well from which I drink. Thank you my darling.

Year of the
Queen

Jeremy Stanford

Elvis

I feel like death warmed up. I’m collapsed across a corduroy sofa in the pastel surrounds of a city hotel. My head throbs, my joints ache and I’m coughing up ghastly hunks of green phlegm. It’s Friday afternoon and in just three hours I’m supposed to be on stage for the final preview of “
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical
”. Tomorrow night is the much touted ‘world premiere’.

After an eight year break from big musical theatre I’ve been honoured with the dizzying responsibility of playing one of the three leads - an act of unbelievable good faith which I am determined to repay, but right now I haven’t got a clue how I’m going to get through it. I just want it all to go away.

I stare vacantly at the alarming collection of pills, potions and antibiotics assembled across the glass topped coffee table, none of which have delivered the slightest aid promised on the labels. I’ve been firing this growing arsenal of remedies across the bow of my illness for a week now but nothing’s worked. I’ve tried everything imaginable to sink it. I’ve even seen a hypnotist, but it’s all been nothing more than passing foliage along the highway to hell.

Out of desperation I’ve committed what’s deemed to be a mortal sin in the theatre. I’ve turned off my mobile phone and ‘holed up’ in this hotel room like Elvis, so there’d be no chance they could draw me back into the chaotic nightmare that’s going on backstage. A torturous three weeks has ground me into a paste, and I’ve finally accepted that I’ve run out of ideas of how to make it across the finish line. I implore a higher power to intervene and somehow bring me salvation.

A mysterious impulse makes me reach for my mobile and switch it on. Seconds after it boots up, like magic, it rings. Is this the sign I’ve beseeched? Am I Saved?

“Hello?” I croak.

“Jeremy?” says Sandra our company manager, in an alarmed yet concerned voice. “I think I’ve got something here that might help you.”

Chapter 1

When The Phone Rang

Christmas 2005

Who’d be an
actor
, huh? I call it a high wire act – others call it ‘that thing you do between waiting tables’. To keep yourself from pouring lattes your entire life you need the cunning of a gutter rat, lashings of faith and a darn good sense of humour. It pays to be versatile. So, life becomes a patchwork quilt of varying jobs, their threads overlapping and interweaving, ultimately keeping everything in place.

Here’s a snapshot of what is on the slate and keeps my world turning circa Christmas 2005: I’ve been commissioned to write a feature film, I’m script editing another, I play bass guitar in two bands, I’m directing a music video, I work part time as a casting director and I do voice over work and corporate theatre. The last full time salary I made as an actor was a
Playbox
play, back in September 2004. Life is complex and diverse to say the least.

When the phone rings with the offer to be part of the workshop for
Priscilla
, I’d just finished pitching the feature film I’d been script editing to a producer, and am on my way to read the eulogy at a friend’s funeral. I’ve struggled to get out the door in the first place as my wife Annie, who’s also a performer, is singing Christmas carols in a trio called
The Holly Belles
and there’s a potential crossover with the kids. Serious juggling is going on. If I don’t get home in time, Hunter, 5, and Ned, 2, could be left standing like bewildered unloved calves in the street, mooing to the horizon for their cow parents.

I make my meeting, and the producer is cautiously positive about the script. As the writer and I descend the soaring city skyscraper trying to interpret what he has just said to us, my guts are churning, half from the despair at having to read the eulogy in forty minutes, and half from the excitement that finally, a producer seems interested in one of my film projects.

After nearly twenty years as an actor, in 1999 I’d had the sudden brainwave to go to film school. Like a madman I decided to leave behind the insecurity of an acting life and retrain. Move onto something with some real job security: film directing! Six years on, my journey has brought me to this point, and as I sift through the fragments of our meeting I’m not even really sure where that is.

We hit the street and my phone rings. The familiar warm current of expectation runs through me as the caller I.D. tells me it’s my agent. Any actor will tell you that the moment you see it’s your agent calling it’s like the lucky dip at your best friend’s birthday party when you were five. What could
this
be? A badly paid ad for incontinence, Baz Luhrmann has finally seen my brilliant work on
Blue Heelers
and wants me for his latest block-buster, or the accounts department is wanting those tax decs back? I farewell the writer and take the call. I’m sheltering from the searing December sun in my funeral suit as my agent, Lisa asks what I’m up to in January. Suddenly I’m sprung. I should have mentioned this little workshop I’m doing for a musical called
Three And A Half
, about a Martian who’s crash landed on earth and wants to get home. I hadn’t said anything previously because the money was crap, and January is notoriously quiet. No one works. Only David Wenham. My secret should have been safe.

“January?” I say nervously - with expectation. “Not much.”

She tells me about
Priscilla
. A bunch of producers have bought the rights to put it on stage as a musical. It’s workshopping for ten days with a studio performance at the end to see if the idea has legs. She doesn’t know who the producers are, only that it’s at the Melbourne Theatre Company rehearsal studios but has nothing to do with the Melbourne Theatre Company. They’ve asked if I’d like to play TICK, the Hugo Weaving role.

This is like a light bulb going on. It instantly makes sense. Of all films to convert into musical, this one was made for it and I could picture me playing the role.

What’s going on? I’m working in
January!

She trots out the dates of the workshop and of course they clash with
Three And A Half
. Story of my life. I’ll have to ‘fess up about the other job. You’d think I’d be safe to conceal a little job like this from my agent, but suddenly January is filling up. What am I, David fucking Wenham?

Priscilla
turns out to be a way better offer than
Three And A Half
. For a start, the script for
Three And A Half
needs major surgery, not just a workshop, the money’s lousy, and they’ve already said it’s highly unlikely to go into production in the foreseeable future. But the problem is I’ve already committed to it.

I tell Lisa I’m extremely interested in
Priscilla
, but I have to talk to the director of the other show first. I won’t pull out if they feel they can’t replace me.

Babs McMillan is the director in question. She’s the reason I’d committed to the workshop in the first place. She’s complete theatre royalty and I adore her. As I’m being offered this job in
Priscilla
, the irony strikes me that it’s really because of Babs that it’s happening at all. She’s responsible for getting me into musical theatre in the first place.

Back in 1991 I’d auditioned for a “Playbox” play that she was directing. She seemed completely detached through the whole audition until the end, when she asked me if I played guitar. “Of course”, I said, secretly hoping it would get me the job. It didn’t, but a couple of weeks later my agent rang, (familiar warm current of expectation), and asked me if I’d like to audition for the title role in
The Buddy Holly Story
. The show had already been running in Sydney for about four months with an imported Brit playing the role, but now with Babs at the helm, they were looking for an Australian to take over.

I auditioned for Babs in Melbourne and then they flew me to Sydney to audition for the producer. The show was playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre and I was escorted to the bowels of the theatre to meet the production team. They were extremely effusive with me when I arrived. They even had my actor’s head shot on their desk with Buddy Holly glasses drawn on my face in texta. They were extremely warm and welcoming. I call it
the shine
. It’s when you know you’re the one they like for the role. You do your audition and the director immediately bonds with you because they know they’re going to be working with you soon. It’s palpable when you get it, but it’s also crystal clear when you
don’t.
That’s the cruel one. Directors can be as sweet and complimentary about your work as they like, but when you don’t get
the shine
, you don’t get the job.

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