South Pacific: Some Enchanted Evening
Gyton Grantley is taking on the challenge of playing the character of Billis in the musical South Pacific. Best known for his role in Underbelly, Grantley spoke with QP’s Alistair Sutton.
South Pacific, one of Rodgers & Hammerstein's best loved shows, is coming to Brisbane. Set on a tropical island during the Second World War, South Pacific has it all, romance, show-stopping numbers as well as confronting mixed-race marriage, prejudice and intolerance.
This vibrant Lincoln Centre Theatre production has proved hugely popular wherever it has played and in Brisbane, it stars Gyton Grantley – you probably remember him as the cheerfully lethal Carl Williams in Underbelly.
“I’m thrilled to be playing Billis in South Pacific,” enthuses Grantley. “Billis is the self appointed leader of the Seabees. He is an opportunist who runs his battalion with a Bullish charm. He becomes smitten with Miss Forbush. Her wish is his command.”
South Pacific was first performed in 1949, referencing audience’s experiences of the war. “This is a fabulous production that’s been touring the world for five years,” says Grantley. “It’s modern and full of colour. The choreography is explosive and the performers bring a deeper connection with their characters which modern audiences will respond to.”
South Pacific is light years away from Underbelly and he has been working feverishly to prepare himself. “This is the most exciting opportunity for me,” says Grantley. “I’m sure I'll be referred to as ‘Carl’ for the rest of my life. It’s just something I have to accept. Underbelly did wonders for my career. It opened doors to opportunities I might not have ever had. I've been lucky enough to work steadily and for that I am eternally grateful.
“But yeah, it’s good to be able to talk about something else. I've never sung and danced on the stage and can’t wait to let it all fly! While we've been thrown into the deep end of a very large pool, I'm enjoying learning to swim in such a short time! Soon I’ll be as good as a synchronized swimmer amongst this incredible cast.”
The rehearsal schedule for South Pacific is intense, and along with the pressures of touring, Grantley along with the rest of the cast has to juggle his personal life. He welcomes the opportunity to return to Brisbane. “I've had seven half days to learn the songs, steps and the jokes!” Grantley laughs.
The company will have a three-week break before meeting up again in Brisbane. “We have our first preview on the 27th,” Grantley says. “It’s been a full-on rehearsal period but very energizing. As far as touring goes, I have two suitcases and have been living out of them for over a year – it comes with the territory, I guess.”
An orchestra twice the size of most musicals and a cast of 40 headed by Lisa McCune, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Christine Anu will join Grantley in bringing South Pacific to life. Popular numbers abound in the show, such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair’, ‘Bali Ha'i’ and ‘There is Nothin' Like a Dame’. Grantley acknowledges the differences between doing a stage musical and television; he is looking forward to this opportunity to connect with a live audience. “This run of South Pacific is very short and it’s packed with so much colour, movement and music which I think people will really enjoy. None of us in the cast will have a chance of getting bored.”
Grantley studied drama at QUT Creative Industries, which he says was “awesome and a great training ground for my development.” He is often asked for advice. “All I can say is that there is no set path, no clear way to success. I'd advise some training, time to discover and refine your skills. But the most important thing is that you've got to love it. Your passion for the craft must out weigh your disappointment. It’s a tough world out there, but it’s also beautiful and can be incredibly fulfilling.”
Grantley admits to not being familiar with the work of Rodgers & Hammerstein before he took on the role of Billis in South Pacific. “Embarrassingly unfamiliar to be honest,” he laughs. “I knew some of the songs like ‘Wash that Man’ and ‘Like a Dame’, but I’d never seen the show or learnt about the characters. I think this is still a show that will entertain the current generation. At the root of it all, it’s a very fun show.”
South Pacific is directed by Bartlett Sher, resident director of The Lincoln Centre Theatre in New York. His production premiered in 2008, winning him the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Director of a Musical. Brisbane audiences get to experience the magic of South Pacific when it opens at The Lyric Theatre on December 27, 2012.
South Pacific, QPAC, South Bank, Brisbane. southpacificmusical.com.au
IMAGE: Nothin’ Like A Dame: Gyton Grantley plays Billis.