Fresh from her stint on Dancing With The Stars, Australia's acclaimed country star Melinda Schneider, performs a tribute to Hollywood legend – Doris Day.

In the lead up to opening night, Melinda Schneider spoke to Australian Stage's Amy Jenkins.

Melinda SchneiderYou were one of the creators of this show and are also performing, which is a huge commitment. What was it that drew you so intimately to this personality and her story and where did the concept originate?
Well, I’ve always loved Doris. Ever since I first set eyes on Calamity Jane as a child. I loved ‘Calamity’ the character, but the more I watched Doris’ films, the more I loved Doris’ character. Doris exudes fun and joy and that’s why everyone loves her so much! She’s also an amazing actress, both dramatic and comedic. She’s one of those rare triple threats…she can sing, dance and act. The concept came to me eight years ago when I performed for the Midsummer Festival at the Myer Music Bowl, the reaction to the Doris tribute show was so huge and I felt right singing those Calamity Jane songs, that I thought, ‘one day I’m going to have to do Doris’. Plus my mum wouldn’t stop nagging me about it!

Has this been a show you have been thinking about creating for a long time? Was there something specific that prompted you to do it now? I believe you had support from friends and colleagues...
I’d been approached by different record labels about doing a concept album and was always too busy with my original music career. It was never the right time, but during my appearance as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars, I realised it was the perfect time to do something different. Suddenly I was a singer AND a dancer, so my album ‘Melinda Does Doris’ was born. The DORIS show was just a natural progression. Also, David Campbell was very supportive…he’d been at me for a couple of years to go down this path.

In creating a cohesive production, was there a particular structure you looked to or a method you used to select the numbers for the show? With Doris Day’s sizable catalogue, it must have been a challenging task.
When I first sat down with my co-writer David Mitchell, I had a list of songs that had to be in the show. Her biggest hits and most loved songs. Then we filled in the rest with songs that lyrically went with the story line of Doris’ life. There are two songs I wrote that are in the show, ‘Your Eyes Could Never Lie’, which I sing to my dogs, Rosie and Daisy and ‘Wish You Were Here’, which I wrote after my dad died….which works beautifully to reflect the loss Doris went through losing her good pal Rock Hudson and her son Terry to cancer in 2004.

Like your idol, you have a wonderful array of talents. In terms of performance, was there any particular training that you sought or skills you had to master for this character/show?
Well, I’m not playing ‘Doris’ as such. I’m myself in the show. I’m the narrator and tell her story, as well as bits of my own through the dialog and music. I’ve learned a lot about timing with this show and the subtleties of delivering lines thanks to my wonderful director Tom Healey. The main thing I’ve had to do for this show is get fit. Andrew Hallsworth, my choreographer, has been so incredible to work with. He’s made it easy for me. Singing, dancing and acting, 8 shows a week is no mean feat!

Doris Day’s real life isn’t as peachy as many of her on screen roles, are there many surprising things that you have uncovered during your preparation?
The main thing I’ve discovered about Doris is how strong she is. I admire that. She’s survived four turbulent marriages, a husband who squandered all her money and left her broke and the loss of her son Terry to cancer in 2004 all whilst maintaining her dignity and keeping a positive, philosophical and joyous outlook on life. Pretty inspirational!

Concerning characterisation is there a particular approach you have used to prepare for this role and does this differ from the methods you have employed previously?
Not being in character makes it easier and more difficult. On one hand I don’t have to worry about impersonating or being compared to Doris, on the other it’s very exposing going out on stage and telling your own stories as well as Doris’. I am often close to tears during the show. It’s very emotional at times and I have to be careful about not feeling too much. I’m very passionate about the journey Doris has taken as a woman, as I relate so strongly to it.

Doris Day is such a well known personality, does playing this role come with any added elements for you to consider?
Doris was such an amazing singer and entertainer, so when you undertake singing songs that were done so well, there’s always pressure. I just want to be the best that I can be. That means plenty of sleep, heaps of water and no alcohol.  

Whilst a large focus of live theatre is entertainment, there is usually something you carry away with you as an audience member. What would you like the audience to take away from this show?
As well as learning a lot more about Doris’ story, I would like the audience to leave the Her Majesty’s feeling uplifted and full of joy. When I go out to sign after the show, people tell me how many happy memories were brought back for them.  Many people have told me that they’ve cried a few times during the show, so if I can make ‘em laugh and make ‘em cry…my work here is done.

And finally, what does this show mean to you personally?
I’m loving this show. It’s great for me to be able to turn my hand to something new and different to what I’ve done in the past. I guess people are seeing me in a new light, which is wonderful. It makes life interesting. They say career success is about good ideas, hard work, a little bit of luck and timing ….but ultimately it’s Que Sera Sera.

Bold Jack & Mike Walsh present
Doris – So Much More Than the Girl Next Door

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre – 219 Exhibition St, Melbourne
Dates: Tuesday 23rd August – Sunday 4th September 2011

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