Ana MarinaAs wide-eyed and winsome as her on-stage alter ego Christine Daae, but with none of her naivety, Ana Marina sits across the table from me fielding questions like the seasoned professional that she is. With an incredible 400 performances as Phantom Of The Opera’s resident ingénue already under her belt, despite her obvious youth, she is diplomatic to a fault - the fault being the (somewhat appropriate) difficulty of penetrating her smooth mask of good-natured professionalism. The questioning continues however, as I explore the whys and wherefores (as well as the wigs and witches) of Lloyd Webber’s latest leading lady.

Not every small girl who dreams of starring in musical theatre makes it much beyond the hairbrush-in-the-hand fantasy of their childhood bedroom, and Ana Marina credits her success to her parents’ support and unswerving encouragement. “My parents didn’t play any instruments”, she explains, “but they listened to a lot of classical music. Until I was about eleven years old I actually grew up without a TV, so I listened to all kinds of music - lots of opera and musicals, and even Shirley Temple! But it was actually when I went to see the movie version of Annie when I was eight years old that I decided that I wanted to be a singer. I think it was the music, because as soon as I saw the film I started singing ‘Tomorrow’. My parents bought me the sheet music for it and I must have sung that song over and over again; I’m sure my parents loved it! Looking back it was quite early to make that decision, but I was never discouraged.”

She continues: “My parents started taking me to singing and piano lessons, and when I was about eleven I started performing in amateur musicals. That was another thing that they encouraged me to do: they were the ones who phoned up the amateur musical society and took me to the auditions. I remember enjoying Bugsey Malone particularly, because we got to throw pies full of whipped cream in people’s faces!” Her parents’ support didn’t stop here however, as Ana Marina explains. “I was born in Auckland, and the reason we actually decided to move to Australia when I was thirteen was because there was going to be more opportunity for me as a singer.

So how does it feel going from childhood dreams of singing (via some rigorous classical training) to landing the iconic role of Christine in one of the most successful musicals of all time? “Asides from Annie,” Ana Marina says, “the other major influence on me growing-up was actually listening to the recording of Phantom with Sarah Brightman. When I was young I started copying her sound, which really did have a huge influence on me, and was partly responsible for persuading me to go in this direction.” In her professional life however Ana Marina is now comfortably stepping out of the shadow of her predecessor. “I haven’t listened to the recording for about eight years because I have my own interpretation of it; once you develop the character and get the story and motivations really clear, things change, and you find new ideas. I would never get bored of playing this role, I find new aspects to it every night.”

Despite her many different stints in the role of Christine at various stages during her career, Ana Marina feels a certain coherence to her portrayal of the character. “There is a definite core to her that I like to keep, and that’s really her naivety and innocence, as well as her vulnerability. Every night she goes through that same emotional journey: changing from a young girl to a complex woman during the course of the show, that’s an aspect I very much want to preserve.”

“Of the roles I’ve played, Christine is probably my favourite.’, Ana Marina admits. “It’s just such a dramatic role, and there’s so much in it. I haven’t played a role as large or as demanding both vocally, physically and emotionally as this one, and the fact that it is so demanding makes it interesting and rewarding. When I come out at the curtain call at the end it is an amazing feeling.”
{xtypo_quote_right}I haven’t played a role as large or as demanding both vocally, physically and emotionally as this one, and the fact that it is so demanding makes it interesting and rewarding{/xtypo_quote_right}
Phantom of The Opera
itself tells the tale of a particularly dramatic series of performances; in a back-catalogue of 400 shows, surely there must have been some especially memorable ones - for good, or (inevitably) bad reasons? Ana Marina laughs: “It’s always the bad ones you remember! There is a dressing-room scene where I run to the door to look for Raoul; on one occasion when I was playing the role in London my negligee got caught on the stool I was sitting on. I couldn’t shake it off, so I thought that maybe if I just ignored it it would come free, but the stool remained stuck and slammed down onto the floor with a huge crash. In the same show the Phantom got the button of his cuff caught in my wig, and we were sort of tugging back and forth with it! It’s live theatre; you can never predict what will happen.”

This theatrical element of the unexpected is just one of the reasons that Ana Marina urges people to switch of the television for an evening and make it out to the show, arguing: “There’s a risk factor to theatre that you certainly wouldn’t get watching a movie. Phantom has been running now for 22 years around the world, and that’s because it’s just a winning combination of music and story, with music was written specifically for the story and the characters, not like so many of the ‘jukebox musicals’. You go home singing the melodies and remembering the amazing set and costumes and’s just a real old-fashioned spectacle, and people are entranced by it.”

So what are you waiting for?

Join the swooning and operatic seduction at Star City’s Lyric Theatre from Thurs May 15 to Sun July 20.
Lyric Theatre, Star City, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont, Sydney 2009. (136 136 166 ) Adult $79-$109

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