SOPHIE Highmore may be a 17-year-old, Gowrie, year 12 student at the arts-minded MacKillop College, but just like Peggy, the aspiring young hoofer she plays in an upcoming production of “42nd Street”, she has her eyes on the stage.
It’s an age-old, Hollywood, showbiz story: small-town girl gets her big break on Broadway.
In the time-honoured tradition of “A Star Is Born” and “Singin’ in the Rain”, this tap-dancing musical sees Peggy arrive in the Big Apple from Pennsylvania and win a spot in the chorus line. But when the star, Dorothy, injures a leg, Peggy steps in and outclasses the diva.
“I’ve been dancing for around 15 years with Legs Studio,” Highmore tells “CityNews” at Queanbeyan’s Q theatre where the show is being presented by Free-Rain Theatre Company, praising her dance teacher Michelle Heine, who is choreographing the show in the style of legendary dance artist Gower Champion.
But this role, in parallel with her character Peggy, is her big break. As a child she performed in “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for Canberra Philharmonic, later joining Anne Somes’ Free-Rain Theatre to play small roles in “The Little Mermaid” and “Mary Poppins”, then a small featured role in “Les Miserables”. But it was MacKillop, she tells us, that first gave her an opportunity to do acting workshops and act in shows such as “Hairspray” and “The Addams Family”.
“I’ve had a lot of featured roles at school, but nothing like a lead role,” she says.
”Although I’m not a small-town girl, I feel like I relate to Peggy in a way, wanting to get into the big time, someone who started out as a nobody and ended up as a somebody.”
It’s full of “glamour, glitz and high-intensity dancing,” Highmore explains. but she’s not entirely out of her comfort zone, since Heine is the choreographer and the cast includes a few fellow students from Legs and a couple of teachers from the school, too.
“It’s a big dance show, so combining the elements and then blending them with the vocals and the acting is huge; a logistical challenge,” says Free-Rain producer Somes. “But it’s also so much fun to be in”.
She describes the music as infectious, saying: “All the cast know every single vocal.”
What’s more, it’s a kind of jukebox musical, standards such as “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” alongside songs from the 1933 film “42nd Street” and other songs that lyricist Al Dubin and composer Harry Warren wrote for other films, including “Gold Diggers of 1933”, “Roman Scandals” and “Dames”.
Conductor and “CityNews” music writer Ian McLean, we hear, has been busy engaging top brass performers from around town to beef up the sound of show stoppers such as “We’re in the Money” and the title number, “Forty-Second Street”.
“It’s a like great big happy family having a wonderful time,” Somes enthuses, but notes that “the technicality of the tap is very evident – there’s nowhere to hide.”
With such demand in mind, Free Rain has a company physiotherapist in Kylie Janssens.
“Performers have to be super show fit to cope when they’re doing tap,” she says.
“42nd Street”, The Q, Queanbeyan, until April 15. Bookings to theq.net.au or 6285 6290.