I remember the morning Kerri-Anne Wright arrived at Channel Ten to sit in the co-host seat next to Gordon Elliott, year two of TV’s ground-breaking “Good Morning Australia”.
Original co-host Sue Kellaway had been poached by Packer’s rival channel 9 to start the “Today” Show. It had been a race between Rupert Murdoch (10) and James Packer (9) to go to air with the country’s first live breakfast TV show. Thanks to the brilliance of Producer Peter Brennan for content and ideas and the technical and creative savvy of producer Peter Sutton we raced on air where we flew by the seat of our pants for years and rated through the roof.
Brennan was a brilliant Aussie journalist and writer dragged back from running Murdoch’s news empire in the US. If a big story broke, the schedule was dropped as we ran live after the story. No mobile phones, drones, or internet then! This was a world new to Kerri-Anne who came from a TV and entertainment background, but as I have watched over the decades, Kerri-Anne is a fast learner. And fearless.
I was doing entertainment and “colour” stories, travelling round Australia and on the road to cover everything from the LA Olympics to the Academy Awards. When Kerri-Anne went on a break, I filled in for her. She married her adored John Kennerley and became KAK as everyone knows her. And we’ve remained good friends.
So I was not surprised that after surviving the vicissitudes of a television career, the sudden tragic loss of John, that retirement was not an option for her. She is now the “wonder woman” of the stage musical “Pippin “ playing in Sydney at the Lyric Theatre.
Full of extraordinary acrobatics, wondrous magical feats and soaring songs from Stephen Schwartz (the composer of WICKED and GODSPELL), PIPPIN has been lovingly crafted to become Broadway’s high-flying, death-defying musical. This unforgettable new production is the winner of four Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival. And there, in a heart stopping performance, is KAK, as Berthe, Pippin’s saucy grandmother. Heart stopping as Kerri-Anne in a unique harness “flies” across the stage above the audience!
I had to ask a few questions.
Did the offer come out of the blue or whose idea was this?
“I’ve never done theatre as my TV commitments didn’t allow. John Frost the producer was the first to call me and send a video of the song and routine of my character. It was a fun song but then I saw the trapeze and just laughed thinking he was crazy. A production like this would normally take 12 -18 months to get on stage but this was done in 4 months. John Frost had already bought the Broadway set and had it stored. It has been remarkable that the whole production has gotten to the stage in such a short time and especially with a complicated show. It has acrobats, illusions and dance with Bob Fosse moves.”
You steal the show when you take to the sky… your idea? How was that first time?
“The trapeze routine was choreographed in New York by a woman who worked with Circque du Soleil. It took five weeks of rehearsal to get the routine as smooth as possible. I started going back to the gym as well as daily work with trapeze experts and the guy on the trapeze. It was a slow build up to what we do now but every single performance is a workout. I hurt my shoulder through doing something incorrectly in the first few weeks and it took another two and half weeks to heal. Every night an hour and a half before the show we go through the routine on stage and then the acrobats go through their paces as a warm up. As do singers and dancers with our vocal and physical warm ups. The schedule is very rigid and thorough. I have gotten a lot stronger and fitter but the trapeze is very much about technique. I have to maintain a lot of focus. I sing half the song and then do the trapeze then sing the last part. It is physically demanding and I still need more cardio work!”
How different do you find the theatre culture and work as opposed to television? Must be nice to have that live instant applause. (None in TV as I recall!!! )
“I’ve adored the theatre culture. Working with these people is very different to TV. They have a group mentality and love to perform and all work together in sync. They genuinely want everyone to succeed. The people I work with are true athletes and it is a pleasure being with them. Having an audience with immediate feedback can be gratifying. That said I am concentrating so hard I hardly see or even hear the audience till I’m finished. I’m starting to get more relaxed now as I know what to do, when to do it and more of how to do it without the huge fear factor I had initially. I’m really starting to love it there now and getting more joy from it. TV is great but a more combative culture. Not necessarily within a show but within the network. A much more individual career and job.”
It’s a massive workload 8 shows a week.. how do you keep fit and maintain stamina?
“Yes, eight shows is massive and you have to manage your days. There isn’t a lot of time for anything else. My golf has suffered but it will come back!”
How is your voice holding up?
“I caught a cold six days before opening. I think just from the physical workload and I got run down. Then I got laryngitis. I couldn’t speak so took a few days off. My voice came back after being quiet for four days and all good again. I have been working out, singing, and physically work out for fitness, so I am learning a whole new skill set. It has been rigorous. Now the show has started properly I’m in a better rhythm.”
Do you feel this has opened a new door/career for you? What shows would you like to do if so?
“I have no idea but Pippin is such a unique production I don’t think I could repeat it. It was great timing to be involved because of Covid and not being able to travel. I needed to push myself so doing something so different really appealed.”
John would have been so proud of you… what might he have said about you sailing out over the audience heads… or would he expect that from you being the brave and fearless one you are!
“I just knew John would have wanted me to do this. He was always the one to nudge me along if I wasn’t sure. So he has been with me all the way along. So getting back to singing and getting fit on a big stage would have been his idea. I can honestly say I have never worked so hard to get up to speed. I believe anyone can do it if I can. It just takes persistence. We can do it.”
I hope you feel proud of yourself… you’re a big inspiration to women who are made to feel they’re superfluous to requirements when we’re really just hitting our straps!!
Pippin will be at The Lyric Theatre Sydney through January 31.