Adelaide’s own multi-genre superstar Johanna Allen will be returning home this Adelaide Fringe to perform her show Euromash at the stunning Queens Theatre.
Johanna Allen is one of Australia’s most acclaimed artists, working in musical theatre, theatre, opera, film, television, cabaret…..the list goes on.
“My career so far sometimes feels like a dream. I feel incredibly grateful, lucky and privileged that I get to make my living doing something I love so much. I never take that for granted. I’m also very grateful that I have pursued, and circumstances have allowed me to pursue, a rather eclectic body of work. I tend to get bored quite easily. It’s kept the path of my career interesting. I’ve been able to say things in different ways and I’ve managed to get commercial shows in there too. I’m very grateful for my classical training because that has allowed my path to be quite versatile.”
From humble beginnings in Adelaide, Johanna always knew she wanted to perform, but there was always another career path at play.
“I grew up here in Adelaide and I always loved music and performing. I was quite a shy little girl and it took me a while to find my voice in the world. When I was applying for various university courses, I selected Law, because that’s what I thought I should do. I did get accepted, but at the very last minute, I changed my mind and did a late audition to the Elder Conservatorium of Music and the Drama Centre at Flinders University. In about my second or third year of music training I did start law again because part of me was still scared that I wouldn’t make a living from music. I also felt that artists need advocates, and by studying Law, I felt that I could be an advocate for the importance of what artists bring to society. That idea is still roving around in my mind. I think COVID-19 has made me think of it again, and with the world unfolding as it did with people in our industry being marginalised, I found myself thinking I should finish my Law degree.”
This is not an uncommon career change with many people in the performing arts industry starting out their careers in Law.
“Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade, both incredible artists from South Australia, both started Law. It requires quick thinking and a huge element of performance when practicing law. It’s the same adrenaline rush, I imagine, as what we get as performers. You can see why there is a correlation between the two in some ways.”
Last December, I was fortunate to see Johanna perform with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as part of their Christmas Proms. Being one of the first live theatre experiences since COVID-19 shut down the world, I was curious to know if Johanna values these magical performance opportunities more than she ever has before.
“I cannot tell you just how much live performance was missed. When we first heard the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, we sat in the rehearsal room, and they started with a gorgeous Christmas medley. In the last section, the piece really draws out, the organ comes in, the brass strikes up…I got really teary. It was the first time I had heard an orchestra play live since I was working on the musical Charlie And The Chocolate Factory up in Brisbane. To hear 120 people playing together again, and hearing that glorious sound, I got really teary. I have always tried to hold onto the fact it is a real privilege to do what I do, but I really felt that in that rehearsal room, as well as for those Christmas Proms performances.”
Johanna’s latest performance offering, Euromash, opens at The Queens this week.
“I have always been drawn to the music of Piaf, Piazzolla, Michel Le Grand, Weil & Bizet. They sing songs of survival and they have chutzpah in every single bar of their music. I love that stuff. I’ve never really had the opportunity to sing this music in a show I’ve made. I’ve got a Polish Mum and an Australian Dad, so there’s been a strong ethos of multiculturalism in my life and upbringing, and I wanted to somehow encapsulate language; this wonderful music did just that. So, it’s in part those incredible songs, but it’s also that deep down inside I cannot let go of my pop princess fantasy. Deep in the heart of every classically trained soprano is a pop princess aching to get out. So, in order to live that (and I’m not Kylie Minogue and I know that) I was able to take some incredible pop songs and reinvent them in the style of these other artists. Pop songs are becoming tangos! You’ll know some Madonna songs, but not how I perform them. There’s a sense of bringing modern music as we know it to the world of European music. This show is filled with Bohemian spirit, which really encapsulates my spirit and speaks to a lot of artists. There has to be a certain abandonment of certain things to pursue this life. The music is rich, the life is rich, and it really is a marriage of those artists and their music, and my version of some pop anthems.”
Johanna will be joined by two of Adelaide’s finest musicians, Mark Ferguson & Julian Ferraretto.
“They are the busiest musicians in Adelaide. They are incredible. I did the show pre-pandemic in Melbourne, and since then we’ve tweaked some songs, taken some out, and put some new ones in. Julian plays violin, as well as mandolin and electric saw. Mark Ferguson is the Musical Director of the show and plays the piano; he has worked on the arrangements with me and he is such an extraordinary musician. He’s currently doing a gazillion shows at the moment, cos everyone knows how amazing he is. They both ‘get’ this sort of music, which is fantastic and exciting.”
In March this year, those lucky enough to have snapped up tickets to The State Opera Of South Australia’s production of Carousel, will also get the opportunity to see Johanna.
“After the Fringe I’ll be jumping into rehearsals with the State Opera of South Australia’s production of Carousel. I’ll be playing Carrie Pipperidge in that, which will be an utter joy. I love her; I’m falling more in love with her every time I look at her part in the show. I love her spirit, her feistiness, her loyalty. It will be directed by Stuart Maunder – State Opera is so lucky to have him. He gave me, along with State Opera, huge opportunities when I was still living here in Adelaide and they really helped me along this path I’ve taken. To be able to come back and play Carrie in this production is very, very special.”
Euromash is running at The Queens Thursday 11 March to Sunday 14 March (daily, at varying times) as part of the Adelaide Fringe. Tickets can be purchased through FringeTix or directly at https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/euromash-johanna-allen-af2021
Interview by Ben Stefanoff