Preparing for the Aussie Pops Orchestra New Year’s Eve (& The Night Before) Gala Concerts with John Foreman, Marina Prior, Michael Cormick and Jemma Rix – Interview

The New Year’s Eve Gala has been around for a very long time. In fact, this year, it is celebrating its 40th anniversary!

But for me, it is my first time attending. With the performance only days away, I was invited behind the scenes to check out the rehearsal at the Allan Eaton Studios in St. Kilda. Here I got a taste of what to expect, plus an opportunity to discuss the illustrious event with musical director John Foreman and three incredibly talented performers: Marina Prior, Michael Cormick and Jemma Rix.

Now, I have attended many media calls in my time, but never anything like this. To step in behind the scenes and witness a full 60-piece orchestra deep in rehearsals was quite the unique experience. Upon entering the Allan Eaton Studio, the Aussie Pops Orchestra with John Foreman at the helm as conductor were about to dive into a run-thru of ‘Let it Go‘ from Disney’s Frozen. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without an incredible vocalist, and it was none other than Jemma Rix. The sound was absolutely incredible, so much so that Rix herself pointed out she was getting goosebumps. Other numbers included Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ and ‘Anything Goes’, with all three singers on duty. I even got to hear a run thru of ‘Defying Gravity’ that gave me chills.

Before we knew it, it was time to sit down with John Foreman, and the three incredible performers to discuss the Gala Concert. Being my first ever interview, I had no idea what to expect, but I was armed with some questions and eager to get into it. With only myself and one other outlet present, the conversation was free flowing and natural. It was an absolute pleasure to chat to all of them and here is what we discussed…

The other outlet opened the conversation with a question to John Foreman. The conversation that followed answered most of my question on what songs we are to expect.

“When did you first start planning the songs for this particular concert?”

John Foreman:
“Well, we’ve all been working on the songs for this concert for a few months. And really what they’re showcasing are these amazing artists and their incredible, illustrious careers. You know, you’ve got the dream team of music theatre right here. So, we’re showcasing their voices and also picking songs that we know the audience will know and love.”

“So, what are the must-have songs? What were the absolute must-include songs for you, John, in choosing these artists?”

John Foreman:
“Well, if you have Australia’s leading lady, Marina Prior, then we’ve got to do something that shows off her amazing voice and especially something from Phantom (Phantom of the Opera), of course. But also, an opportunity to show the sort of multi-textured layers of Marina as a personality and artist. So, there’s a bit of Celtic flavour in there.

There’s a bit of a fun, jazzy number, which people might, if they’ve only seen Marina on carols or in formal occasions, they might be surprised to hear her singing jazzy stuff, which is fabulous. With Mr Cormic here, you know, of course, with that big, beaming, beautiful baritone voice. We’ve got a bit of ‘This Is The Moment’, ‘Crying’, a bit of ‘Feeling Good’. And of course, with Jemma, star of Frozen and Wicked, we picked one from each of those, which is spectacular.”

Michael Cormic:
“One of my favourites, and I suppose I insisted on that, didn’t I? I went, ‘Can I please do that?’ Well, I didn’t insist, I asked nicely if I could please do that. And it’s such a beautiful arrangement with the strings. Marina and I did Phantom in two different countries, I was in London and you were here in Australia. So, we’ve never actually come together. So, for this occasion, we’re going to do the love duet of the young lovers of Phantom of the Opera.”

LILITHIA REVIEWS:
“For those that have never been to the gala before, what should they expect?”

John Foreman:
“Look, the New Year’s Eve Gala is a really fun fancy occasion where you get to see these fabulous artists letting their hair down with a 60-piece orchestra. There’s Broadway hits. Obviously, there’s popular classics like the Blue Danube Waltz and the Radetzky March. And it’s just a really fun, fabulous atmosphere and a great way to, you know, to lead up to New Year.”

Marina Prior:
“It’s such a lavish occasion. I mean, that’s an old-fashioned word, but it’s just with the huge orchestra, the sound is like a tidal wave and there’s such class to the evening.”

Being my first time at the Gala, I asked if there were any first timers within the performers.

Michael Cormic:
Yes. We’re both first-timers, aren’t we?” (gesturing towards Jemma Rix)

Jemma Rix:
Yes, absolutely. But I’ve watched every year, and I’m like, oh, I really would like that gig. Every year, I’m like, oh, I wish I could do that one day. And so, yeah, so when I got the call up, I was like, ‘Yay! I get to do it!‘ So, yeah, so I’m very excited.”

LILITHIA REVIEWS:
“Is there a song or performance that each of you are excited to perform?”

Jemma Rix:
“For me, it would be ‘Defying Gravity’, just because I haven’t sung it for a very long time. So, it’s sort of like bringing back the memories of when I did it for a bazillion years, and just going, oh, ‘Do I remember it? And do I remember how to sing it?‘

When I was practicing, because I was doing Frozen, I was singing in a different kind of style. I sing in a certain way. And then when I went to sing ‘Defying Gravity‘, I was like, oh, that’s not working. How did I used to do it? And the weirdest thing was, as soon as I scrunched up my face, literally as ugly as you can make it, the placement popped forward. And I went, oh, there she is. There’s Elphaba. So, it’s really good to just sort of bring back old tricks and then mix it with the new that you’ve learned.”

The other outlet continued with a question about delivery of the performances.

“Is the focus much more on delivering the song because you’re not in character? Is it a different performance for you as musical theatre performers who are so used to telling stories when all you have to do is sing?”

Michael Cormick:
“When you be yourself there is always still a part of you that is going to tell that story because it is ingrained within us.”

Marina Prior:
“When you’re doing songs out of context from the show that they originate from, you just drop into that moment and you inhabit it, and then you drop out again. So, you’re not sort of standing apart. I think you do actually immerse into the story as soon as you start doing it.”

John Foreman:
“This is why I love working with musical theatre performers because they work in an environment where they do have to tell a story. So, we talked about ‘Crying’ before, we’ve all heard that song a million times. When you hear Michael sing it, you actually get the story behind it, the break-up, the heartbreak of seeing someone you haven’t seen for a while that you’re still in love with. And that, for a song you’ve heard a million times, to hear it again in a brand-new way is what these fabulous performers can do. And that’s what’s really special about them.”

LILITHIA REVIEWS:
“Most of the theatre shows that you’ve worked with don’t have an orchestra as large as this. So, what’s it like, and also with such a fantastic musical director as John Foreman here, what’s it like stepping into this space?”

Marina Prior:
“It’s a privilege, isn’t it? And genuinely, things that you’ve sung a million times, even when we were singing the duet from Phantom, hearing the lushness of the orchestra just gives you shivers.”

Michael Cormic:
“It’s completely transforming, transporting in a way. For us to come in, and again we were just saying before, to be able to walk in and be amongst an orchestra like this, of course under the baton of Mr Foreman, it literally is spine-chilling for us. And what a privilege like you said (referring to Marina Prior‘s previous comment), and I feel completely honoured to be a part of it.”

John Foreman:
“It’s such an interesting thing, because the orchestra is a concept that’s hundreds of years old, and it hasn’t really changed all that much. We’ve just added a rhythm section, a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist, so that we can cover the music theatre style. But with the Strauss waltzes and all the other things that the orchestra does, this incredible human invention of 60 people working seamlessly together is one of the most incredible things that humanity has come up with.”

Jemma Rix:
“Me too. You breathe together. That’s the thing that I figured out. I was like, ‘Why do I love this?‘ And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m breathing with everyone‘.”

LILITHIA REVIEWS:
“It’s a big symbiotic relationship that you have.”

Jemma Rix:
Yes! And it’s very powerful.”

Marina Prior:
“I think theatre people or performers tend to be collaborative people, and there is something quite wonderful about being part of something that is so much bigger than yourself. That’s what’s really thrilling, that we’re all these little individuals doing these little bits, and yet we create something so big.”

John Foreman:
“And each of these artists, obviously, are great performers in their own right. Each member of the orchestra also, like there are professors amongst them and teachers and doctors of music and so on. So, there’s so much brain trust around that group of musicians. It’s a very highly qualified group of people, so it’s a privilege for me to stand in front of them.”

LILITHIA REVIEWS:
“We’re extremely excited to see it on New Year’s Eve. It’s my first time going after so long.”

This final comment was met with excitement and enthusiasm with Foreman, Prior, Cormick and Rix. So, if the above conversation is not enough to convince you to grab your tickets, I am not sure what will!

John Foreman’s Aussie Pops Orchestra presents New Year’s Eve (& The Night Before) Gala Concerts will be on at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall on Saturday the 30th of December at 8pm and New Year’s Eve, the 31st of December with a matinee performance at 2pm, so you can still hit that NYE Party you have locked in, and a final performance at 8pm with the option to add-on exclusive balcony access after the show, complete with drinks, nibbles and one of the best views of Melbourne’s skyline for the fireworks.

Whatever you choose, don’t sleep on it and get your tickets now.

For more information on the Aussie Pops Orchestra and ticketing, visit:
https://apoconcerts.com
https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2023/seasons/apo/new-years-eve-gala

Photography from the rehearsal by Grant Alexander.

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