Vanessa Menjivar

Entertainer Vanessa Menjivar joined me for a Coffee Break to chat about her current show The Songs of Alan Menkin presented by Flourish Productions.

You’ll be performing in “The Songs of Alan Menken” at Southbank Theatre in Melbourne on 24 June.  How did you become involved in the show? 
I auditioned for Flourish my first year out of BAPA (Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts) back in 2015. I was buzzing with so much energy and so excited to finally work with people outside of university and we’ve been done this show a few times since.

Who else will be performing in The Songs of Alan Menken?
Emily Paddon-Brown, Zuleika Khan, Jeff van de Zandt, Seth Drury, Liam J O’Byrne, Josh Ellwood and myself.


What songs will be performed in The Songs of Alan Menken?
We perform songs written by Alan Menken from classics like Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, Hercules and The Little Mermaid to musicals including Little Shop of Horrors and Sister Act.

Do you have a favourite song which you like to perform from the show?
Zero to Hero is probably my favourite just because it is so much fun and the choreography is so damm sassy.

Are you a fan of Alan Menken?
YES! I grew up listening to so many of his songs in all my favourite Disney movies they were all such cult classics.

This show is produced by Flourish Productions.  Are you able to tell me a bit more about this company?
Flourish was created by Catherine Langley back in 2015 to help support and develop a lot of the new artists in Melbourne from Musical Theatre grads to up and coming musicians. It’s been a great way to create contacts and network and gain some exposure by performing in the shows. The Songs of Alan Menken was the second show by Flourish – in total Flourish has now created 5 unique shows and performed 8 seasons of those shows in the past 2 years at venues including the Hayes Theatre, Chapel off Chapel and now at the Melbourne Theatre Company.


Who were your musical influences growing up?
Aretha Franklin was my biggest musical influence, I was not just mesmerised by her voice and the way she communicated her lyrics.

Do you have any hobbies?
Love to bake and play some competitive badminton.

What is your favourite food?
Can never go past a good sushi.

Do you have a favourite movie?
Just going to shamelessly plug Menken and say ALADDIN.

Vanessa01What is your idea of a good holiday?
Somewhere with lots of sun.

What is the last album you listened to?
Frank Ocean.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what items would you take with you?
My dogs.

Is there anything which you don’t you leave home without?
My beats go with me everywhere. Always listening to music when I have the chance to.

What’s next for Vanessa Menjivar?
I get to tour around New Zealand soon playing Mayor Goodway in Paw Patrols Race to the Rescue Concert.

Vanessa Menjivar will be performing in The Songs of Alan Menkin at the Southbank Theatre on 24 June. For further information about Flourish Productions, visit the website here.

Images supplied. Photos by James Terry.

Brent Trotter

Entertainer Brett Trotter joined me for a Coffee Break to chat about his current role in Stage Art’s production of Spring Awakening, growing up in Ballarat and his career to date.

You’re currently performing in Spring Awakening which is being at Chapel off Chapel until  10 June. Are you able to tell me more about the show?
Spring Awakening is a musical that is based on a play by Franz Wedekind that was originally banned when first shown in the 19th century it’s a show that mainly focuses on the consequences of sexual repression which can be confronting at times but there is also a lot of beauty in the piece.

What role do you play and can tell me a bit about your character?
I play Moritz Steifel, Moritz is a teen who is struggling to deal with the effects that puberty is having on his body and his mind, this in turn with the pressures put on him by his father send him in a downward spiral.

Has the show bought you any challenges as an actor?
The show brings a lot of challenges for an actor, the character is somewhat on the spectrum so I must portray that with care and the same time he is consumed by sadness, having to put myself through that mindset every performance is utterly exhausting but it is one of the most rewarding roles I have ever played.

Brent02Who else is in the cast of Spring Awakening?
There is a cast of about 17 in Spring Awakening, with people ranging from all ages from as young as 17 to near 60, the whole cast is an amazing bunch and probably one of the most cohesive and caring casts I’ve ever worked with.

Brent, you have links to Ballarat, are you able to tell me more about this?
I guess you could call them links haha actually I was born and grew up in Ballarat, where I grew my passion for the theatre, my first show being the 2001 BLOC production of Oliver! Ever since that production I’ve never looked back. Ballarat has always a massive encouragement for young people in theatre, in fact many of Ballarat Theatre’s alumni are currently working all throughout the entertainment field from stage all the way to the big screen.

You worked on a Disney Cruise Line in the USA. Can you share some of your experiences?
Disney Cruise Line was my first ever professional gig. At the ripe age of 19 I was flown to Canada to rehearse for a month and then spent 10 months sailing the Carribbean I was a MainStage performer and played roles such as Peter Pan, Aladdin and even as a giant puppet of Slinky Dog in Toy Story the musical. Working for a company as massive as Disney was a tremendous experience being such a young age and I hold the memories of that contract with great fondness.

Brent01Are you able to tell me about your involvement with Alexander Productions?
When I was about 16, I was offered a scholarship and flew to Sydney to do a Junior opera workshop which was run by Alexander Productions, the workshop was amazing, getting to work with Musical Directors of the Australian Opera and many famous singers, the week culminated with a performance at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

What was it like travelling to China with the Melbourne Piano Trio?
In 2014, I was lucky enough to be asked to travel China on a singing tour with three other singers. China was never on my “to travel” list so I was rather surprised how much I enjoyed my time there, we saw some amazing things and performed at some stunning theatres, we even appeared on a televised concert in front of a crowd of about 15000 people it was quite surreal.

What was like to work on Ned: A New Australian Musical?
Ned was a wonderful experience, one of my biggest dreams was to originate a role in a musical and that dream came true, and to top it off in an Australian musical. In Ned I played Steve Hart who was Dan (brother of Ned) Kelly’s best friend and also a noted member of the Kelly Gang, we were even lucky enough to wear armour designed by some Ned Kelly experts but it was only about a third of the weight luckily.

While undertaking my research I discovered you’ve got some circus skills. What are these skills? 
Someone is saying I have circus skills?! Ah wait I did learn to stilt walk while I was working at Sovereign Hill, it was for a School Holdiay Program based around Magic, a terrifying experience to say the least.

Do you have any hobbies?
Hobbies, this is a weird question for me because my hobby is actually my job, Acting/singing are my hobbies I’m just lucky enough to get paid to do them on occasion.

Brent04What is your favourite food?
I love all food, really I do. but you can’t go past a good pizza.

Do you have a favourite movie?
Favourite movie is a tough one, I have a lot of films that I love and more and more are added to that list all the time, but i can tell you that if I’m feeling a bit ill, I’ll probably chuck on Back to the Future to get me through it.

What is your idea of a good holiday?
A good holiday to me is somewhere I can relax, that could be a beach, a nice hotel or even having a cold beer at a bar in a new city a holiday is pointless if you take all your stress with you to another place.

What is the last album you listened to?
Last album I listened to was John Mayer’s latest but I don’t remember being blown away.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what items would you take with you?
A whole heap of food and water haha.


Is there anything which you don’t you leave home without?
My keys because if I lock myself out it’ll cost a fortune to get back in, believe me.

What’s next for Brent Trotter?
I am doing a one night only concert performance of Ned: A New Australian Musical reprising my role of Steve Hart but apart from that, I don’t really know but that’s the beauty of it all, if I knew then it wouldn’t be fun finding out.

Brent Trotter is currently performing in Stage Art’s production of Spring Awakening which is being staged at Chapel off Chapel until 10 June. For further information about StageArt Australia, visit the website here.

Images supplied. Photos by Belinda Strodder.

The Songs of Alan Menken

The Songs of Alan Menken is back by popular demand for two encore shows at Southbank Theatre in Melbourne on 24 June at 3.00pm and 8.00pm.

It’s third time The Songs of Alan Menken will be performed after successful seasons at The Toff in Town and Chapel off Chapel.

The Songs of Alan MenkenProduced by Flourish Productions. Alan Menken is best known for his work in film and on Broadway.  Some of his scores for Walt Disney Animation Studios include “The Little Mermaid“, “Beauty and the Beast“, “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas“.

Other works include “Newsies“, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame“, “Hercules“, “Enchanted“, “Tangled“, “Sausage Party” and among others. His stage work includes “Little Shop of Horrors“, “Sister Act“, “Weird Romance” and “Leap of Faith“.

With more than 40 years experience Alan’s career has been given him many accomplishments including eight Academy Awards, eleven Grammy Awards and five Tony Award nominations with one win.

Featuring a three piece band with the cast has expanded to seven including Seth Drury, Josh Ellwood, Zuleika Khan, Vanessa Menjivar, Liam J. O’Byrne, Emily Paddon-Brown and Jeff van de Zandt.

If you love the music from Disney; make sure you attend a performance during this limited season of The Songs of Alan Menken.

Click here if you would like to read my Coffee Break With Belinda interview with one of the performers Vanessa Menjivar.


Lennon – Through A Glass Onion

Growing up I remember watching John Waters on television as a presenter on Play School and in the mini-series “All The Rivers Run”.  Since 1992, John has been celebrating the life of musician, John Lennon in his stage show Lennon – Through A Glass Onion.

After a 16 week season in New York, Lennon – Through A Glass Onion will be performed in Ballarat at the Wendouree Centre For Performing Arts on 17 June, 2017.

Having the support of Yoko Ono and the Lennon Estate, the show was created and performed by Australian actor/musician John Waters and singer/pianist Stewart D’Arrietta.

GlassThe theatrical event is a kaleidoscope of part biography and concert celebrating the life and talent of John Lennon who co-founded The Beatles in 1960. They are considered to be the world most iconic musical act of the modern era.  After they disbanded in 1970, Lennon embarked on a solo career. In 1975,  he disengaged from music to raise his son Sean.  In 1980, he released a new album Double Fantasy.  Three weeks after its release, he was assassinated on 8 December, 1980.

It’s quite fitting for John Waters to perform Lennon – Through A Glass Onion as he was born on 8 December in 1948.

Featuring 31 songs including Imagine, Strawberry Fields Forever, Revolution, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, All You Need Is Love, Come Together, Help, Working Class Hero and Glass Onion.

Lennon – Through A Glass Onion has been a success since its was conceived in the early nineties. For audiences it either a trip down memory lane or a wonderful introduction to want to experience the life of John Lennon.

Click here if you would like to read my Coffee Break With Belinda interview with John Waters. 


John Waters

Entertainer John Waters joined me for a Coffee Break to chat about his live show “Lennon – Through A Glass Onion”.

How did you come up with the idea of “Lennon – Through A Glass Onion”?
It was through the memories of John Lennon and my love for his music that I decided to personalise a show about him by channelling him in a way that means I didn’t have to dress as him but could present his music to other people.

Tell us a bit about the show “Lennon – Through A Glass Onion”?
The show takes a journey inside John’s head and gets you closer to knowing what sort of man he was and that was my objective with it.


How did the name come about of the show because there are so many great John Lennon songs?
Glass Onion is the name of a Lennon song which featured on the “White Album” and it describes Lennon’s tongue in cheek retrospective of the Beatles era and I thought it made a nice analogy for remembering things but not entirely clearly – a little distorted… who knows what the glass onion is, it doesn’t matter.

Has Yoko Ono seen “Lennon – Through A Glass Onion” if so, what were her reactions?
Yoko Ono knows the show very well from dvd’s and scripts and cd recordings etc but it has some very confronting images of the death of Lennon and I wouldn’t invite her to attend to be honest as I think it would put her through the worst memory of her life. She knows what we do and how strong the images are of John Lennon and feels we are doing story in the right way and that is why she is supporting us.

How many songs are performed in “Lennon – Through A Glass Onion”?
31 songs either in full or in part.

Do you have a favourite song from “Lennon – Through A Glass Onion”?
Yes, Strawberry Fields Forever – it’s a definitive John Lennon song for me.

Glass01As you’ve grown older has your view of John Lennon changed?
I would say I’ve learnt a bit more about John Lennon through other people’s reactions and the reactions of people who knew him personally and who have seen the show in the UK and New York City especially – their stories and anecdotes have really increased my knowledge about the guy.

The show has evoked strong emotions from some audience members. What sort of reactions have you seen?
I have seen people in tears after a show, literally in tears, and feel deeply moved by the show.

At one stage you had a five piece band, why did you decided for this tour to have yourself and Stewart on stage?
The show started in this format with myself and Stewart. I believe it’s most intimate and most powerful in getting the message across in this stripped down performance.

You performed the show in London and New York. Can you tell me about this experience?
It’s always fantastic to reach a big audience in the two main theatre cities in the world so I think it’s been incredibly fortunate that we’ve been able to play both those cities and hopefully we can go back.

Can people come and met you after the show?
Yes, Stewart and I sign merchandise at the end of the show and talk to our audience.

Glass03Music is your first love, but Australians know you also as actor. Can you tell me about some of your roles?
Well I first started out on the Australian children’s series Play School some 20 years ago… I’ve also appeared in other TV series such as All Saints, Offspring and most recently the ABC TV series Rake.

Do you have any hobbies?
Not really, just work.

What is your favourite food?
Italian food.

Do you have a favourite movie?
No not really… I don’t really play the favourites games… there’s things I like and things I don’t like but nothing that stands out as a favourite in particular.

What is your idea of a good holiday?
One where I don’t lose anything.

What is the last album you listened to?
Actually it is an album I am on, it’s the Jon English double album called Paris – A Rock Odyssey and I am performing on this in Melbourne in mid-July so I am listening to it all over again. The album was originally released in 1990 and the show hasn’t properly been staged yet so we’re doing a show of four or five performances in Melbourne.


If you were stranded on a desert island, what items would you take with you?
My guitar.

Is there anything which you don’t you leave home without?
I’m a light traveller… I leave home with as little as possible.

What’s next for John Waters?
I am performing in The Paris concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre on July 13 – 15.

John Waters will be performing Lennon – Through A Glass Onion at Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts on 17 June.

Images kindly supplied by John Waters.

Elvis – The Wonder of You

It’s forty years since the death of Elvis Presley to commemorate his passing  RCM Touring in partnership with Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises are bringing Elvis to Australia on the big screen for “The Wonder of You” tour.  It will be staged in Melbourne at Margaret Court Arena from 8 to 10 June, 2017.

For the Australian tour The Wonder of You, Master of Ceremonies will be Jerry Schilling; a confidante of Elvis Presley. 

Jerry will share anedotes about Elvis since knowing him from the 1950’s.  He will reveal many experiences from being a friend, tour manger and an occasional body double in Elvis’ movies.

ElvisHaving sold one billion records worldwide, Elvis is the highest selling solo artist in history.  Known as ‘The King of Rock n’ Roll,  he’s one of the world’s most significant cultural icons.   He began his music career in 1954,  won numerous awards including three Grammys and starred in 33 successful films.  Elvis died at Graceland on 16 August, 1977 .

Elvis will appear on a huge state-of-the-art screen and will be backed by a live 40-piece orchestra with an eight piece band conducted by Chong Lim.

The Wonder of You will feature Elvis’ most well-known hits as you’ve never heard them before.

For more information on The Wonder of You, visit the website here.

Amity Dry

Entertainer Amity Dry joined me for a Coffee Break to chat about her career to date.  Amity will be performing her show “39 Forever” at Chapel off Chapel in Melbourne on 3 to 7 May.

Can you tell me about how you came up with the idea of “39 Forever”? What is the show about and how long did it take to develop?
The title of the show actually popped into my head when I was going to sleep one night! My 39th birthday was coming up and after the title came to me I started writing down lines about how I was feeling, being on the cusp of 40. I keep jotting down ideas and then trying to go back to sleep but after an hour of doing that I realised I had to get it all out so I sat up in bed and wrote til early morning. The next day I wrote for 18 hours straight (in between school drop off, pick up and making family dinner) and realised that night I had written an entire cabaret show! So I registered it for the Adelaide Fringe Festival and then continued to develop it over the next 5 months. In the end it was quite therapeutic for me. I feel like I’ve worked through all my angst about turning 40 and now I’m ok with it!

Are you looking forward to “39 Forever” having its Victorian debut at Chapel off Chapel in Melbourne?
Absolutely! I loved playing at Chapel off Chapel with my last show ‘Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life’ and I’m excited to bring this new show back. It’s a great venue.

What songs will be included in “39 Forever”?
There are lots of 80’s and 90’s flashbacks with some of my favourite childhood songs. There’s some Kylie, some big 90’s power ballads, Alanis Morissette numbers and even a Broadway tune. Plus, there’s two of my original songs, one which I think is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written (and the audience loved in Adelaide).

“39 Forever” first debuted at the 2017 Adelaide Fringe Festival. By popular demand more shows were added were you surprised how successful the show was?
Yes and no. When I was writing it I had a really good feeling about it so I was pretty sure audiences would love it and word of mouth would be strong. But we sold out our initial 12 shows a few weeks before we even opened! So that was a wonderful surprise. We then added 5 more shows in a much bigger venue and two of them sold out as well. So it was fantastic. And the audiences loved it even more than I’d hoped for! The response was wonderful and it was the most fun I’ve ever had on stage, every night.

“Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life” was first developed as a cabaret show, when did you decided to develop it into a full length musical?
After the first season of that show I could see how much women wanted to hear about the challenges of marriage and motherhood and how emotionally it impacted the women in the audience. So I googled musicals about motherhood to see what was already out there and to my shock there wasn’t a single show I could find. So I decided I would write one and I turned the initial idea from a cabaret to a musical that featured the experiences of four friends. By that point I was pregnant with my second child so I wrote most of it when she was a newborn. And in my wildest dreams I never imagined where that show would take me!

How was the experience of performing the concert version of “Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life” at New York’s hottest cabaret club, 54 Below?
It was of the best moments of my career. To perform my show in such an iconic New York venue and share the thrill with our original cast and creative team, who are like family to me, was just a magical.

Can you tell me about performing “Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life” at the United Nations?
That was another moment that was just so thrilling it was almost hard to take it in. I was doing a lot of pinching myself night. I mean, the United Nations?!

What was it like to perform “Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life” in Norway?
I didn’t actually perform in that version, I just went over to consult and watch it. It was all in Norwegian so it was a strange thing to watch when I knew everything they were saying but couldn’t understand a word! But that was also such a thrill. I loved the director and the version she did and they had a much bigger budget than I’ve ever had here, which was both wonderful and frustrating that I can’t achieve that in my own country! But it was also so great to see that it had the same impact on audiences on the other side of the world, because our experiences as wives and mothers are pretty universal.

Amity, people might remember you from your two appearances on the reality television show “The Block”. How did you enjoy the involvement on the show?
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but also the most fun and rewarding. The first series changed our lives. I had a top ten album with The Lighthouse after it and we were catapulted into ‘instant fame,’ so it was a crazy time. With the All Stars series we had two children so we just did it and pretty much went back to our normal lives, just with more kids wanting our autographs at school pick ups! But winning that series was completely unexpected and pretty fantastic and reignited a love for interior design that I still have now.

Your second musical “Famous” was presented for a panel of musical experts during 2016. Will be fans be able to see this show in the future?
I hope so! Famous is a much bigger show than Mother, Wife with a cast of nine so it’s a more expensive exercise getting it on stage. It’s just so hard developing new musicals in Australia so it takes time, but I will keep working on it.

You always had an interest in music and performing can you tell me about the two albums which you’ve recorded?
I have been writing songs since I was 14 and performing shows since I was 6 so it’s been my lifelong love. The reason I did the first Block was to help get a record deal and I was signed to Universal and released The Lighthouse album off the back of the publicity I got from the show. I wrote every song on that album and it made it to #6 on the Aria chart, with GOLD sales. So it was the culmination of every dream I had and at the time it was thrilling. Unfortunately, I found that my record company lost interest as soon as I was off the TV, which was pretty heartbreaking at the time. So I recorded and released my second album ‘True To Me’ independently, but it was nearly impossible to get it played on the radio without the support of a major label pushing it. But I am still so proud of that album and highly recommend people check it out on iTunes – it’s really good!

Can you tell me more about some of the cabaret shows you have performed?
I did The Block to Broadway in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival a few years ago and that was about my experiences of doing the first Block, having a top 10 album, feeling like my career was over and then having this amazing career resurgence that saw me taking my show to New York. So that was a fabulous show to do and felt very full circle.

What was it like to achieve your childhood dream performing at Carols by Candlelight?
AMAZING! I have watched those carols every year of my life and when I was a little girl I would tell my family that would be me up there one day. So when I was on stage I was so emotional, it really was a dreams come true moment. It was equally thrilling for my parents to see me do it as well, so it meant a lot.

How do you maintain your career with parenthood because you have two young children?
It’s a juggle, that’s for sure! Our life is very hectic, particularly when I have a show or tour on but my kids know that I love my job and that being a mum doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the job you love. And while it’s very busy when I have projects on at other times I work from home and I’m there for every pick up and drop off, so it’s peaks and troughs. But they come to rehearsals and shows and they’re surrounded by creativity and creative people so I think their childhoods are richer for it. On top of that their grandparents are very involved and have them when we’re away and their lives are certainly richer for that. We have such supportive family and friends and our kids are raised in that village atmosphere so I feel so lucky we can make it work.

Do you have any hobbies?
I think my job and hobby is the same thing! I don’t really have time for hobbies outside that right now, but I don’t mind that. I love reading though and listening to podcasts.

What’s your favourite food?
Asian food. Yum.

What’s your idea of a good holiday?
We went to Fiji last year and that was the first proper holiday we have had in about ten years that didn’t include any work. I just swam, ate, read books, had naps and played with the kids and it was HEAVEN.

What’s the last album you listened to?
The soundtrack for the new Broadway musical ‘Dear Evan Hanson.’ I am obsessed with it.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what items would you take with you?
A piano. Not very practical but at least I’d be happy!

Is there anything which you don’t leave home without?
My phone. Being without it would be like missing a limb. Sad, but true.

What’s next for Amity Dry?
We’re workshopping Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life in London this August, to present it to West End theatres. Which is so exciting I can barely believe it!

For more about Amity Dry, visit her official website, or you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.