The Divine Miss Bette at the Sydney Opera House
Ahead of her much anticipated cabaret at the Sydney Opera House later this month, Catherine Alcorn spoke to us about her career, her creation of this special show and the road that she has been on as The Divine Miss Bette. After a sell out season in the US, we cannot wait to see this show this August! Get your tickets today and read more below:
All photos supplied by The Divine Miss Bette production
This show has already been on quite a journey! Can you tell me where it all began for you and this show and then a bit about the road you have taken as Bette.
It sure has. The life this show has had continues to blow me away.
It’s first season was a the Wagga Wagga Country Club in 2009. I studied acting for the Screen and Stage in Wagga and worked closely with local producers, writers and musicians across my time down there, which is where, I believe, I learnt my craft.
It was also in 2009 that I saw a friend’s show at Slide Lounge on Oxford Street written by one of the Wagga writers, Peter Cox, who happened to also be there that evening.
As I watched my friend’s performance, I realised this is what I wanted to do and what I needed to launch back into the industry after years of being away, living in the UK, and falling into film and television production. So, after the show, I raced up to Coxy and said “this is what I need! I need a show!”. He said “Well, what or who do you want to do?”, and without pause I simply said “Bette Midler!”. Three weeks later I had a script.
After the out of town try-out in Wagga, I produced it in to Slide Lounge in Sydney at the end of 2010. I treated it like a showcase and invited every agent in town. None of them came. But the general public did, and they kept on coming, so I kept on with this gift of a show.
Eight years later, we’ve toured Australia, broken into the States and in two weeks time, we play the Sydney Opera House. It’s remarkable and I couldn’t be more grateful for what this show has given me.
Why Bette Midler? What attracted you to her and what process did you have to go on to discover Bette within yourself and find a balance between re-creating her work and putting your own flare on the performance?
It was almost beyond my control. Perhaps something I’ve been manifesting since first seeing her on the big screen. My personality has always been likened to her. I've always enjoyed entertaining others and making people laugh. I’ve always admired her as an artist. She’s my true definition of a triple threat. Singer. Actor. Producer. Her tenacity and approach to her material is second to none. Her treatment of the classics - The Andrews Sisters, Neil Young, George Akst, is to be admired. I’ve been told she studied and searched for her material meticulously, in record stores, libraries; searching for old torch songs she could reinvent.
I started out as a vocalist primarily. When I was studying, I was part of a vocal duo called Double Platinum with one of my classmates. She was the comedienne, the one who chatted to the audience, and I was the main harmonist. That was how our act worked.
So, in my first performance of Miss Bette, I was shitting myself. I’d never done a one woman show before that demanded improvisation. But, like everything, the more you do it, the more you learn, evolve and refine. I call what I do a ‘channeling’ as opposed to an ‘impersonation’. There is so much of me up there, that the line is well and truly blurred - and that’s great! The improv side of the show relies solely on me and my interaction with my audiences.
To experience a new audience every night is a gift. It pushes you, teaches you and expands your skills in a way no rehearsal room ever will. What I do relies so much on audience reaction, so getting out there in front of as many audiences as I can has been my training ground. Each night is a new thrill, and that’s what makes it so exciting.
You have been working with vocal coach, Steve Ostrow, the man who discovered Bette – how have his stories influenced your understanding of Bette and her work process? Do these insights inform your characterisation at all?
The stories Steve has shared with me about his time with Bette have been fascinating. I mean, this is true showbiz folklore stuff, people! My favourite story Steve told me was about the way she used to rehearse with her band in the baths.
Bette and the band would rehearse a few nights in a row leading up to the performance. She’d get them exactly where she wanted them, then on Friday night she’d come in and do it ALL DIFFERENTLY!
Isn’t that fabulous!
What is something that you have learnt from ‘being Bette’ each day?
The harder you push ‘em, the more they love it!
How has taking on The Divine Miss Bette been similar or different from other cabarets that you have performed in the past?
The Divine Miss Bette is like marijuana. It’s my gateway show. This show has been the one that has introduced me to so many audiences who had never heard of me before.
What can audiences expect from this show? Why should they grab tickets today?
They can expect ME! backed by a killer 7 piece band, two staggering Harlettes, the bawdiness, the sass and all the classics including Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Stay With Me Baby, The Rose and so many more!
Grab your ticket today because there aren’t many left!
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS.
Favourite production you have ever seen?
It was LAST NIGHT at Hello, Dolly! Starring Bette Midler, on Broadway! I couldn’t see through the tears!
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
I’m actually getting on a plane in 45 minutes! back to Sydney to my baby boy, which is exactly where I want to be.
Dream role in any show to perform?
All the Mamas! Mama Rose. Mama Morton. Mama Cath (currently starring).
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Making my son laugh. It’s the best sound in the world.
What’s next for you after this show?
I’m currently writing a new show with Phil Scott. I say ‘writing’. We largely just sit around and giggle the entire time. We have such a wonderful time together. We’ll be launching it in 2019.
The Divine Miss Bette plays the Opera House August 23rd-26th. Get tickets here today to ensure that you don't miss out!