You may know her as Christine Daae in the original Australian production of Phantom of the Opera, Maria in West Side Story, Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins, Baroness Schraeder in the recent Australian tour of The Sound of Music, or even as ‘that nice lady who sings every year at Carols by Candlelight’. There isn’t a lot that Marina Prior has not done in her performance career over the last three decades.
Adelaide audiences are in for a treat on February 6 and 7, as Marina Prior will be performing two concerts at the stunningly renovated Regal Theatre.
I recently caught up with Marina to discuss her upcoming performance, her career and to find out if she ever has moments where she looks back at her career and wonders, “how did this happen?”.
“Not really until recently, because when you’re in the thick of it, you’re in the thick of it. It’s been 36 years of performing and it’s been one foot in front of another, one show after another, one thing leads to another – most of the time there isn’t time to stop and think. It’s often when I do an interview and have to stop and talk about it all that I go “oh gosh! There’s been a lot going on!”. Honestly, the thing I’m most proud of is that all these years later, I’m still performing. It’s the longevity that I’m grateful for and pleased about. And the diversity! I love going off and doing plays, then doing character roles and concert work. I love that sort of diversity, I’m really lucky to be able to still be doing it.”
Music has always been part of Marina’s life, right from an early age.
“My parents were amateur singers so we grew up in a house full of music. I come from an Irish and Scottish background where Celtic music was sung and played by lots of family members. So, music has always been part of the fabric of my life.”
Like so many artists, the past 12 months have been tough with no real creative outlet. Marina discussed how it has given her the opportunity to reflect and realise how special live performance actually is to her, and to so many around the world.
“This year, a lack of performing has really made me realise how special what I do is. The fact is that music and performing are such shared experiences, where a whole group of people can come together and share the emotional ups and downs that a night in the theatre can give you. It’s sacred, it’s like church for us. It’s the way we come together as human beings, and not having it this year has been really instructive to me. It’s very precious, what we do, and our community needs it, we all need it.”
Between 1990 and 1993, Maria played the role of Christine Daae in the original Australian production of Phantom of the Opera with Anthony Warlow, and later, Rob Guest. This role shot her to the top of the list of musical theatre performing artists. I was curious to find out the things she took away from playing such an iconic role for an extended period of time.
“Doing something like Phantom, which is a big show for two lead characters (Phantom and Christine), taught me and gave me incredible stamina and resilience. It was the first time really, I had to step up and carry the responsibility of the show on my shoulders. Before that, I had often been cast as the romantic lead and while that was fantastic, and still a lot of work, doing a show like Phantom really makes you go “wow, if I’m not good, the shows no good – no pressure!” So, it taught me to ‘step up to the plate’, to step up and go “I’m ready for this”. It taught me that I could do it. It taught me that I could really hold a huge amount of the show up. Of course, there’s a big team of people who are doing that together, but there are certain roles where the responsibility really weighs heavily on you. That was a real watershed moment; it taught me that I can do this, I had the chop, because I really did doubt myself up until Phantom. I still doubt myself all the time, it’s part of being an artist. You’re constantly questioning yourself if you’re good enough, but I think that’s what spurs you on to keep getting better at what you do.”
Like so many families around Australia, it has become a Christmas Eve tradition to watch Carols By Candlelight on TV. Every year, a highlight for me is Marina’s stirring rendition of ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, and I wanted to find out from her how it was performing at the 2020 carols, without an audience in attendance.
“It was surreal; it was the strangest experience. It was actually empty. The only people out in front of us was the choir, and they were socially distanced and reduced numbers to normal. They were the only people facing you and then the grass of the Myer Music Bowl was just empty. It was unusual and bizarre. I was just so happy to be there and to be able to continue the tradition for myself. I hadn’t really done anything all year, so it was a relief to be able to just be there and work with close friends, such as David Hobson and Silvie Paladino.”
In May this year, Marina will be joining the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of the musical Fun Home. As a director, musical director and producer of theatre myself, Fun Home is a stunning new musical, and I was very interested to hear Marina’s thoughts on the show.
“I love that Fun Home is both funny and tragic, which is what life is often, and I love that it’s captured the sadness and the humour of life. There are a lot of musicals now that don’t slant towards the hetro-normal, historic story-telling that we’ve had in musical theatre. Fun Home certainly doesn’t follow those themes. The music is stunning.
“I like it because it also feels like a play with music, and that really appeals to me. The storytelling and narrative in the way it’s written – I really love it. It’s not a formulated sort of show. It’s also a small cast, which I love working with. I’m just so thrilled to be able to get back onto the Opera House stage and create something.”
On Saturday February 6 at 8pm and Sunday February 7 at 2.30pm, Marina will be performing at the Regal Theatre, with accompanist David Cameron and a string ensemble. This show will be a chance to see Marina in a very unique, unscripted and intimate setting. She will take you on a journey of songs from her back catalogue of theatre roles as well as numbers from artists that she treasures. It also will be Maria’s first public performance in front of a live audience since February 2020. No doubt, she’s looking forward to it.
“I’m going to be absolutely thrilled. As much as I love and adore theatre, I really love working ‘in concert’. The last few years I’ve done a lot of concert tours, particularly with David Hobson. We have a show we’ve toured together, and we did around 150 shows around Australia in the last three years. I just thrived on it. I love the ability to pare away, to strip back and just be me and have a chat with the audience. I can sing what I feel like singing. I don’t just do musical theatre, I do some Celtic music, some American standards, a bit of operetta – a real diverse mixture. I’m really excited to be able to craft the evening myself. It’s a real different skill and different feeling than being part of a play or musical theatre cast.
“I also love chatting with the audience. A lot of the time audiences think of the girl who sings at carols, and people are sometimes taken aback when I chat and laugh with them. It’s going to be a very informal night, which I love and am looking forward to. It’s nice to do something that is very intimate, authentic and real.”
Marina Prior, presented by Roulette Shows, will be performing at The Regal Theatre, 275 Kensington Rd, on the evening of Saturday February 6 at 8pm and a special matinee performance on Sunday February 7 at 2.30pm. Full details and bookings can be made at www.rouletteshows.com.au or https://www.trybooking.com/BNIGS
Interview by Ben Stefanoff