Robert Clark brings his years of theatre pro­duc­tion to Ip­swich

QT Magazine - - MUSIC -

Over the years Robert Clark has worked along­side some big names such as Frank Si­na­tra, Whit­ney Hous­ton and Pe­tula Clark plus been be­hind some of the big­gest events in the world, like Olympic Open­ing Cer­e­monies and State of Ori­gin.

So it’s quite an hon­our for a com­mu­nity pro­duc­tion to find a man who is in de­mand all over the world, gladly of­fer­ing to lend a hand to a pro­duc­tion that is go­ing to hit the stage at the Ip­swich Civic Cen­tre this month.

Based on the 1995 book by Gregory Mac­quire, Wicked is in many ways a pre­quel to the events of The Wiz­ard of Oz, and is one of the most suc­cess­ful mu­si­cals of all time.

Robert was in Ip­swich re­cently to take the mu­si­cians through their paces be­fore jet­ting off back to the US where he is de­vel­op­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“To be hon­est one of these days I’m think­ing about writ­ing a book, es­pe­cially about what it was like tour­ing,” Robert said. “Some of the fun­ni­est things that have ever hap­pened to me have been back­stage and I’ve learnt lots of great life lessons.

“That’s the great thing about com­ing back to Ip­swich to do this show, be­cause ‘Wicked’ is some­thing spe­cial. We had over 120 peo­ple au­di­tion to be in this and only 25 could get the job so they’re al­ready ex­cep­tional.”

Robert pretty much grew up with mu­sic in his blood, and ended up on stage with an orches­tra purely by chance.

“My orig­i­nal train­ing was in clas­si­cal mu­sic, as my Dad was in the Queens­land Sym­phony Orches­tra. On week­ends I’d go along with him and watch. Some­times they were short of a few peo­ple and I’d end up on stage dur­ing re­hearsals, as I could read mu­sic

“They are singing the same notes in Ip­swich that they are singing each night on Broad­way.”

– Robert Clark

and play drums. Even­tu­ally years later that turned into an in­ter­na­tional fel­low­ship to at­tend the best mu­sic school in the world, which is In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity.

“I still have a strong re­la­tion­ship with them. Last year they awarded me a dis­tin­guished alumni medal for my work con­tribut­ing to mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion and cre­at­ing pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties for per­form­ers Learn­ing in Amer­ica I was able to do three things, a clas­si­cal stream, a Broad­way stream and a show choir stream, and I learnt one se­mes­ter from Leonard Bern­stein, that’s as good as it gets in this in­dus­try.

“I was able to look at all these dif­fer­ent styles of find­ing a way of mak­ing a liv­ing while study­ing in the US. I worked at theme parks in Florida as an MC be­cause I had a funny ac­cent, and I learnt a lot about theme park en­ter­tain­ment.

“One of my first con­tracts at just 26 was with Sea World on the Gold Coast to de­sign and direct the Pi­rates of Par­adise ski show that ran for 15 years, then went to Movie World and di­rected the Po­lice Academy show which ran for 17 years. So I have a 25 year his­tory with these theme parks,” Robert said.

“For me it was a mix of mu­si­cal theatre and the busi­ness of it all. I be­came known for putting on big shows.”

Robert has a sim­ple set of cri­te­ria when he is asked to take on a pro­duc­tion, such as open­ing or clos­ing cer­e­monies for big events like that Olympics. Imag­ine be­ing asked to take on the job….where do you start to put some­thing so big to­gether?

“When we start, for ex­am­ple on the Olympic Games, first thing I ask is ‘what is the story you want to tell?’ We have 15 min­utes on the world stage, so how do we want the au­di­ence to feel, and how do we put that to mu­sic so it’s ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one?

“There’s no cookie cut­ter you can use for each pro­duc­tion so you have to be spon­ta­neous and in­no­va­tive”

Robert is ex­cited about see­ing the end re­sult with his work on Wicked with the Ip­swich Mu­si­cal Theatre Com­pany who in the past have put on shows like Mary Pop­pins, Phan­tom of the Opera and The Pro­duc­ers, all on the Ip­swich Civic Cen­tre stage and us­ing lo­cal tal­ent.

“It’s won­der­ful to come here and pass on things I’ve learned from some amaz­ing pro­duc­tions. It’s about teach­ing how to do the roles, how to do the har­monies…that’s been the cool thing for me.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to work on Wicked. I have an Ip­swich lo­cal who’s been do­ing my sound and light­ing for over 30 years,” Robert said. “He told me he was helping to put this show to­gether and he asked me if I wanted to be in­volved.

“With Wicked, all the el­e­ments of theatre are there. They are singing the same notes in Ip­swich that they are singing each night on Broad­way. Many of the mu­si­cians who did the QPAC pro­duc­tion are work­ing on this one, and they have come from ev­ery­where to be part of this in­ter­na­tional orches­tra, and ev­ery­one knows it’s a good thing on a re­sume say­ing that you worked on Wicked.”

For a show that has been per­formed around the world and re­mains more pop­u­lar than ever, Robert has an idea why it hits so many right notes with the­atre­go­ers.

“It re­lates to many gen­er­a­tions, that’s why peo­ple love this show. Steven Schwarz (Wicked’s com­poser) has been

around a long time, and has a way of writ­ing that is edgy and which ap­peals to all ages.

“The ori­gin store of the Witches of Oz is a great story, and the mu­sic res­onates with the au­di­ences. It has rock, swing, big bal­lads …some­thing for ev­ery­one. It’s a big call but it’s up there with West Side Story in that it was a defin­ing mu­si­cal when it came out, along with the likes of Les Mis­er­ables and Phan­tom of the Opera.

“This is prob­a­bly the one that drew a line in the sand. In terms of mu­sic, it is one of the most dif­fi­cult to sing, there are chords that you don’t nor­mally find in mu­si­cals,” Robert said. “I re­mem­ber I was in the orches­tra pit at Wicked on Broad­way, and dur­ing the in­ter­val I said to the pi­ano player ‘How many shows have you done?’

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence most mu­si­cians in Aus­tralia do sev­eral shows a week for just a few months. He said ‘this is my twelfth year, do­ing the same show, eight times a week’. He played the mu­sic from start to fin­ish each night from mem­ory!

“My pro­fes­sor once told me that ‘Ge­og­ra­phy doesn’t de­ter­mine ex­cel­lence’, and I’ve never for­got­ten than. I know that the cast in Broad­way sends their bless­ings to Ip­swich.”

Wicked is on at Ip­swich Civic Cen­tre this month

Robert Clark with the mu­si­cians of Wicked.

Si­mon Gal­la­her from the Bris­bane pro­duc­tion of Wicked.

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