Breaking into the Australian live musical theatre scene is hard. In a climate where establishing a name is incredibly difficult, hundreds compete for the few available roles in Australian musicals every year. Despite the hardships, Wagga Wagga native and self-described country kid, Katrina Retallick, is one of Australia’s musical theatre rising stars.
Soon to star in the old but popular Broadway musical Ruthless! at the Seymour Centre in Sydney, Retallick has a long history of music in her life. She played the saxophone in her school bands as well as learning the piano and guitar, and spent “most Friday afternoons at a theatre workshop for kids”. But for Retallick, it was the experience outside of the school halls that taught her most. “I did some musicals with the Riverina Theatre Company such as West Side Story, Oklahoma and The Music Man. They were my first experiences of being on a big stage with a big company,” she says.
Opting for an arts degree at The University of Sydney, Retallick became heavily involved in the Sydney University Drama Society (SUDS). “I loved my time at Sydney University,” she says. “An arts degree was always going to be my thing – I love all of it: music, fine arts, literature, history, theatre. In SUDS we did Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Titus Andronicus, The Merchant Of Venice and some Tennessee Williams and some Peter Schaffer.” She even dabbled in directing, taking on Harold Pinter’s famous play The Lover, among others.
In love with the work of Shakespeare, Retallick travelled to London to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama. “It felt like the natural place for me to go,” she says. “The skills I learnt from the course were man and varied. Physical theatre, clown and neutral mask work, how to devise and develop your own work, how to work on new scripts with new directors and, of course, basic acting and voice training.”
This would prove to be a big stepping-stone for Retallick, who auditioned for Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O’Brien when he was casting for a cabaret to play at the Edinburg Festival. After overcoming an “intimidating” audition process against a crowd of “six foot tall hoofers”, she was eventually cast for the show. “I thought there was no chance in hell of me getting the job, but I did get it,” she says. “I was ‘Frockette’ in a pink tutu and Doc Marten boots and fishnets and it was such a fun job – nice to finally be paid and looked after well.”
After returning to Australia she soon became a cast member of comedy series Comedy Inc. “I learnt so much from our director David McDonald and our clever, funny cast mates,” she says. “You had to make bold choices very quickly in that environment and leave your pride at the door – anything to make comedy work. I really enjoyed the impersonations. I played Pink and both Kylie and Dannii Minogue in one of my favourite sketches.”
But it’s musical theatre where Retallick literally found her step, performing in dozens of shows over the years. With her first lead role as South Pacific’s Nellie Forbush, she has recently starred in the huge productions of The Addams Family at the Capitol Theatre and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Theatre Royal.
Ruthless! will be Retallick’s third show this year and one she says she has wanting to do a long time. “It’s such a great show and is the realisation of a long held dream to play the role of Judy/Ginger,” she says. “The company of women who we are working with are so completely perfect and are so much fun.”
Having featured a number of stars on its original Broadway run, this “extremely funny and clever” production of Ruthless! described by Retallick as “a black comedy but coated in a sugar candy kind of 1950s/60s American stylisation,” is sure to provide something new.
Unlikely to stop performing anytime soon, Retallick gave her advice to any budding thespians: “Make your own work. Have good self-awareness and know your strengths and weaknesses and jump into every project you feel you’re right for and then give it all you’ve got.”
Originally published on Hijacked, April 23, 2014.