A WORLD OF EXPERIENCE
Robert Clark brings his years of theatre production to Ipswich
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.