Falling in Love Again at Riverside, Glen Street Theatre and on tour

This week Carly had the supreme privilege of sending questions 'across the pond' to New Zealand to speak with NZ's legendary, Jennifer Ward-Lealand. A star in her native New Zealand for over 35 years, Jennifer’s award-winning career spans film, television and stage as an actor, singer, director and industry pioneer. The current president of Equity New Zealand, Jennifer is a respected patron to a number of arts organisations including The Auckland Performing Arts Centre.

Jennifer is coming over to Australia to tour with an exciting show that she has devised in collaboration with musical director and pianist Grant Winterburn, Falling in Love Again - a tribute to legendary screen icon Marlene Dietrich.

Through doing this interview, I learnt so much more about both Marlene Dietrich and, importantly, Jennifer Ward-Lealand's bodies of works - this one definitely seems like a show not to miss!! Have a read of my interview with Jennifer below:

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in Falling in Love Again

Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to talk with us...Well, firstly, welcome to Australia!

Thanks!

I want to start with a bit of history of this production – what attracted you Marlene Dietrich initially and how did the process of collaborating with musical director and pianist Grant Winterbum begin?

I was asked to play the role in a play called Marlene by Pam Gems. It took me quite a while to agree to take it on as I knew it would be a long research job. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and once I started learning about this extraordinary woman, I was sold. After that play (in which I sang 6 songs) finished I just couldn’t let her go, so Grant Winterburn and I started work on Falling in Love Again.

In bringing Marlene to life, what has been your process in gaining insight into her life?

I read and watched everything I could get my hands on -  her movies, interviews and documentaries. I would record pieces of her talking and singing and walk around listening to them so I could get her tone of voice just right.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in Falling in Love Again

Throughout the journey, what has been the greatest challenge and the greatest moment of joy thus far?

The greatest joy is easy – it’s performing the songs and feeling the audience respond. Many of these songs evoke strong memories for people and I often get told that a particular song has special meaning for someone. The challenge was making sure that I got every nuance in the delivery of the songs. I don’t want to just be a carbon copy because mimicry is a little soulless so I paid special attention to the emotional content that she gave to each number.

What is it about this work that has encouraged you to bring it to Australia? What about this piece makes it perfect for today’s audiences?

I think it’s a timeless piece of theatre. When Marlene performed you saw the icon in action. I like to think that we achieve that too - a tribute to a unique performer. '

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in Falling in Love Again

You are working with a great collection of songs – do you have a favourite to perform and what about it speaks to you?

I love them all but am particularly fond of the songs she sang about WW2 – Lilli Marlene and White Grass

Marlene has a huge body of work from 1923 through to the 1980s in both silent and sound feature films. How have the songs you selected for your show tracked the ups and downs of her life?

We’ve based our show on a concert she gave in the early 60s so it covers a lot of the material she sang  in her various films and then up to and including her performances for the allies in WW2, and from her Vegas years onwards. Burt Bacharach worked very closely with her and crafted arrangements that suited her voice so much better than in the early years and with her shows and recordings from 1953 onwards being far superior.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in Falling in Love Again

In preparing for this interview I found out more about her anti-Nazi stance and her decision to turn down appeals from Hitler to return to Germany to be a star there, even going so far as to instead tour to entertain allied troupes in support of her new home, America. The strength of character shown in this decision really intrigued me and made me realize there is much more to know about Marlene – What about Marlene most excites you as you take to the stage in this role each night?

She called her years performing for the soldiers the best work she ever did. I have huge admiration for her sheer courage in going to places that no other performer would have dreamed to have gone – right to the front. She knew that those boys needed cheering and managed to twist various generals’ arms to get to them  - even if it meant bunking down in a crappy tent in the mud. I love the way that she had a whole other career as a singer once the movies started drying up – and was still going at 75. What a woman.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in Falling in Love Again

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS.

Favourite production you have ever seen?

My husband, Michael Hurst, playing Hamlet. He has an extraordinary ability to make every speech seem like it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it.

 

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

Switzerland to see my parents and then I’d like to visit some Scandinavian countries.

Dream role in any show to perform?

I feel lucky to have already played in August; Osage County and The Goat. I would happily do either of those roles again.

Plays or musicals?

I’d love to do A Little Night Music before I’m too old!  One of my favourite types of plays is black comedy – because you get to play everything.

 

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I sing in a gospel choir, play the ukulele and am a keen student of te reo Māori (the Māori language)

 

What’s next for you after this show?

I’m teaching at a Music Theatre NZ weekend workshop for young people; working on a short film; heading to Tokyo in September for a FIA (International Federation of Actors) meeting in my capacity as President of Equity New Zealand;  re-directing a show then performing in a production of Here Lies Love for Silo Theatre.

Seeing all that Jennifer has coming up (wow!!) it is no wonder that tour presenter, Andrew McKinnon took a break in her very busy schedule to introduce Jennifer to Australian audiences. “Through my frequent trips to New Zealand, I became aware of Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s immense talent. She truly is a world-class performer, and I believe would be much better known in Australia if the huge demand for her at home didn’t prevent her touring more”, Andrew said, “Presenting her acclaimed concert tribute to Marlene Dietrich, with minute attention to every detail, including one of Dietrich’s dazzling gowns, provides the perfect opportunity for Australian audiences to see her on stage”.

Dates and ticket links are available below - Melbourne, Frankston, Bendigo, Orange and Sydney, get ready for an incredible night of entertainment!!

TOUR DETAILS

Wednesday 1st August

Melbourne Recital Centre

https://www.melbournerecital.com.au/events/2018/falling-in-love-again

Thursday 2nd August

Frankston Arts Centre

http://artscentre.frankston.vic.gov.au/Whats_On_-_Buy_Tickets/Falling_In_Love_Again

Friday 3rd August

Bendigo Ulumbarra Theatre

http://www.thecapital.com.au/Whats_On/Falling_In_Love_Again

Sunday 5th August

Sydney - Riverside Theatres

https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/falling-in-love-again/

Tuesday 7th August

Orange Civic Theatre

http://www.orange.nsw.gov.au/site/index.cfm?pagemode=indiv&module=GIG_GUIDE_OCC&page_id=683886&leca=618

Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th August

Sydney - Glen Street Theatre

https://glenstreet.com.au/whats-on/falling-love-again

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