Pippa Grandison wasn’t interested in imitating Judith Durham, but in trying to find her spirit for Georgy Girl – The Seekers Musical
When Pippa Grandison’s agent asked her if she was interested in auditioning for the role of Judith Durham in Georgy Girl, the new musical about The Seekers, she did some quick research, not knowing a great deal about them.
“I’d been hiding up in Terrigul being a mum for a while and not coming out for anything that didn’t really interest me or that took me away for too long from my family,” says Grandison who has a seven-year old daughter.
“I had a (listen) and I thought ‘I really do like that style of music’. And I looked on YouTube and saw Judith and I talked to my husband (actor Steve Le Marquand) and we both thought ‘gosh, there was something there’ (a similar quality). So I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go, throw my hat into the ring,’” says Grandison.
Several auditions later, Grandison was one of four girls in final contention for the role and desperately wanted it.
“The third audition was in Melbourne. They flew me down and the other girls were so fantastic. We could all hear each other, which was disconcerting. I came home and thought I did well but that I wasn’t going to get it, maybe because I wanted it so much and I started grieving,” says Grandison.
When the call finally came to say that the part was hers, she couldn’t believe it.
“It was so exciting. For two days I was jumping around the house with my husband and child,” recalls Grandison. “On the third day I got up and went ‘oh my gosh! What have I done? I’ve got to do it now. This is huuuuuge!’”
Grandison’s many musical theatre credits include Elphaba in Wicked, Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick and We Will Rock You. She is currently on screen in the Channel Nine comedy series Here Come the Habibs! playing the well-heeled best friend of Olivia, the Habib’s appalling, antagonistic neighbour.
Georgy Girl premiered in Melbourne in December, and Grandison has received warm praise for her portrayal of the golden-voiced Durham.
Written by Durham’s brother-in-law Patrick Edgeworth, the show tells the story of The Seeker’s incredible rise to fame in the 1960s and Durham’s decision to leave the group just four years later as the US beckoned. It also covers her 25-marriage to pianist Ron Edgeworth and The Seeker’s sold-out 25th anniversary and 50th anniversary reunion tours.
Featuring their hit songs The Carnival is Over, I’ll Never Find Another You, A World of Our Own, Morningtown Ride, I am Australia and the Oscar-nominated Georgy Girl, the show arrives in Sydney in April.
Grandison got a chance to spent time with Durham on the publicity trail when the musical was first announced and soaked it all in.
“The first time I really started to get to know her was when we were being interviewed together and I just sat and watched and listened and learned so much about it. We do have some kind of a connection,” says Grandison.
“I can’t imagine the feeling of having someone play you. I wasn’t quite sure how she would respond to me but she’s very open, warm and encouraging. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn but I think she’s happy with my portrayal of her, and our portrayal of her story. She sent me a beautiful card and some flowers on opening night. It’s such an honour to be able to play her.”
Grandison says she wasn’t interested in doing an imitation of Durham – “and thankfully neither were the creative team. I think an imitation would be disrespectful to her and the fans really. Their memories are so precious and her voice has something so unique.
“I’ve obviously worked the voice so that I can get similar sounds but there will never be another Judith Durham so I just want to get the spirit of her.”
Grandison says that she and Phillip Lowe, Mike McLeish and Glaston Toft who play the other members of The Seekers worked really hard in rehearsals on getting their voices to blend and create a similar sound to the original band.
“We all really wanted to get that right: listening to each other and no-one singing over the top of each other. Once you get into the theatre it changed because you don’t hear each other like you do when you are just sitting around a room singing because you don’t get the fold back and in different spots it’s really hard to hear each other so you just have to hold on to that memory and listen to each other as much as you can.”
Watching her during the media interviews they did together, Grandison says she was struck by how calm Durham is.
“I noticed particularly how present she is. She has a stillness about her. It’s quite intense but it’s a soft, gentle energy. She’s very present and she listens intently and focuses you. She meets your gaze and she stays there.”
This is only the second time Grandison has originated a role in a brand new musical – in 1988 she took on the title role in David King and Nick Enright’s musical Mary Bryant at the Ensemble – and she says it is “a tremendous experience”.
“I think we are all really proud that it’s an Australian production, it’s an Australian story and it’s an Australian cast. It’s a dream come true. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the opportunity again. It is really special. Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” she says.
“I’ve never been in a show where the response has been so wonderful. You look out during the show and there are people singing along or laughing or crying or sharing memories together and at the end they are on their feet cheering. I think all of us at the end of the show come off going ‘wow!’ every time.”
Georgy Girl plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne until March 20. Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au or 132 849. State Theatre, Sydney, April 2 – June 5. Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100
A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on February 21