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Canberra Today 4°/8° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Billy steps confidently into the serious spotlight

Star singer Billy Bourchier… “The preparation I had at Marist helped me to be at the right level at university, where I studied for a bachelor’s in musical theatre.” Photo: David Duketis

Billy Bourchier’s is almost the perfect story about a Canberra boy made good. 

He’s scored the lead role of Tony in Opera Australia’s coming production of West Side Story for Handa Opera on the Harbour 2024.

When I catch up with him, he’s also just been cast in Opera Australia’s planned production of Sunset Boulevard with Sarah Brightman in August, covering the role of doomed hero, Joe Gillis.

Bourchier is a Canberra boy through and through. Born at Calvary Hospital in 1994, he was schooled at Garran Primary then Marist College from grades 4 to 12, benefitting from the latter’s famed drama and music courses. 

He studied piano from about age eight, then in years 11 and 12, armed with Marist’s Roma Flynn Music Bursary, he completed a double major in music under Margaret Smith, head of music and choir instructor, Gemma Heath.

“They made me audition for the boys’ choir and found out I could sing so they plucked me out for vocal tuition,” he says.

Locally, Bourchier’s name is familiar because he’s been appearing as a guest artist at the CAT awards for years, beginning around 2005 after he performed in Camelot at the Bicentennial Hall in Queanbeyan. 

CATs founder Coralie Wood and judge, Stephen Pike, singled him out and got him to audition for the lead in a production of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Describing himself as “overjoyed that someone gave me such an opportunity,” he says Pike and Wood offered him “a well of support”, which meant more awards, including one in 2009 for playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.

One of the lucky few to make it straight from school into Queensland Conservatorium, he moved north to study in 2011. 

“The preparation I had at Marist helped me to be at the right level at university, where I studied for a bachelors in musical theatre… it was a content-heavy course that very much prepared me for the industry,” he says. 

It meant studying 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and appearing in shows on weekends, as Jack in Into the Woods, Young Tim in The Wishing Well and, hand-picked, in Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s Spirit of Christmas concert.

In first year, he says, he got a good theoretical grounding, placing him ahead of the game, but he notes that it’s not altogether uncommon for singers who can’t read music to learn it from tapes.

While at The Con, he got training in dancing and acting as well and says, “It stood me in good stead for my future… now I can call myself a singer-actor who can dance.”

Since graduating, he has been in constant demand as an ensemble performer in musicals, also covering the lead role of Chris in the Opera Australia’s Miss Saigon last year and in 2020 developing and performing his own cabaret show The Corner of Brisbane & Broadway.

As an ensemble performer in The Book of Mormon, he says, his jazz ballet skills were pushed to extremes, so he’s happy to hear that they’ve built a slip-proof surface on the harbour so that Jerome Robbins’ challenging choreography can be performed in the rain. 

His family, including his in-laws, are still in Canberra, but with a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, he and his wife are finding out all about life on the road.

“I feel like it’s very much my time, I feel I’ve got that momentum,” he adds, “Tony is a dream role.” 

Trained as a boy soprano and graduating to becoming a lyric tenor, his register is considered perfect for the part.

The most challenging moment in West Side Story for him is likely to be hitting the top note in the number, Maria, belting it out at every show and at the mercy of the elements. 

Bourchier is thrilled to be performing with rising First Nations soprano Nina Korbe, and believes that although West Side Story was first premiered on Broadway in 1957, the Romeo and Juliet story has, if anything, even more resonance than before. 

Besides which, he says, “bringing it to a unique setting on the harbour, it’s like a dream.” 

West Side Story, Sydney Harbour, March 22-April 21. 

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Helen Musa

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