Entertainment

Interview: Ellis Dolan Sings The Praises Of Sondheim

Like so many in the Arts, the onset of COVID-19 saw musical theatre performer Ellis Dolan move back home to Adelaide when the Australian tour of School Of Rock was forced to close in March 2020. Ellis was moments away from opening the Adelaide season, where he was the cover for the lead role, Dewey Finn, when COVID-19 forced the production to close early.

Even though his contract was canceled, Ellis is still thankful for his experiences with School Of Rock.

“It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, as well as total insanity. It was a real shock to the system as I went from student to ‘Here’s your two-year contract; go and tour all around Australia and China! Some nights you’ll just be sitting in the green room, but other nights you will be the lead and be carrying the show’. It was all of these huge dynamic swings throughout the whole thing. It was an incredible group of people to be working with. I have made some life-long friends as a result of doing the show, as well as learning so much working with some of Australia’s most accomplished actors. Nothing beats on-the-job training like that. There was also this trust put in me. As a newcomer to theatre, it was my first major gig after NIDA. It was a huge honour to play the role of Dewey Finn. Dewey, in a sense, was me in high school – unbeknown to me, I had been doing research for the role since year eight.”

It was no surprise to Ellis’s friends and family when he chose to chase his dreams of forging a career in the Arts and study at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).

“I have always loved musical theatre from a young age. I did Theatre Bugs as a kid and was in musicals at high school, but it wasn’t until later when I was doing a lot of community theatre where that really started to take priority over my studies. I came to the realization that if I was putting all of this effort into the community theatre, why couldn’t I try to see if I could make it my job? From there, I got into NIDA and everything just sprang from that. I was very fortunate that things all happened the way they did. “

As part of Star Theatre’s Back2Back Short Show Festival this year, Ellis will be presenting Ellis Dolan Sings Sondheim. What is it about Sondheim in particular that drew Ellis to writing a show featuring his music?

“First and foremost, Sondheim is a genius. There isn’t a composer like him working at the moment, or at all. It’s the way he has revolutionised musical theatre, and, I believe, elevated it to an art form that really says something about the human condition and humanity. He really looked at these serious topics you wouldn’t usually associate with musical theatre. But because of Sondheim and the shows he’s written, that’s what musical theatre is now. This is all before you look at the music, which is simultaneously beautiful but challenging, exciting and intricate. We had a rehearsal with Cadence, my pianist the other night, and we were just in awe of how Sondheim can express these complex emotional ideas through short bits of music. Then his lyrics on top of all of that…. I am just in awe of his work. Every time I listen to Sondheim, I find new things to love about it. From an actor’s point of view, there is no better composer than Sondheim. He just gives you everything you need to deliver a good performance.”

Ellis will be accompanied by the extremely talented Cadence. Cadence is no stranger to Adelaide audiences, after several successful Fringe shows over the years, including 30,000 Notes and Awkward Activists.

“The fact they happen to be in Adelaide at the moment is the reason this show is happening. When we were both living in Adelaide before they moved, we would catch up and just play Sondheim songs in our spare time. So, when they said to me, ‘Hey, I’m back in Adelaide!’, we decided that we needed to do a show together and do what we would have been doing anyway, just on a stage.”

Ellis Dolan Sings Sondheim will be performed at Star Theatres for 2 performances only: Friday 22 October and Friday 29 October at 7.30pm

“There’s a bit of insight into the music and I’ll be doing some obscure Sondheim songs, so there will be a little bit of education about the backstory on these. But it’s mainly about my experiences over the last few years through the lens of Sondheim’s music. I’ve decontextualized the songs to tell a personal story, which is exciting. It’s not something that I’m used to, so I’m getting to try new things in that regard while being supported by some of the best compositions ever written.”

Tickets for both shows are selling fast. Don’t miss your chance to hear one of Adelaide’s best voices and best musicians present a stunning night of Sondheim.

Bookings: https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing?eid=808858&fbclid=IwAR0sH2oa8UdKb2pu8G5D4JX7tsjStnlcMcKnse_9u8q0ZeOAl1vVg7reF2E 

Interview by Ben Stefanoff

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