Bobby Fox and Michael Falzon are two rising mega stars in the Australian musical theatre scene. Both were individually hand-picked by music legends (Frankie Valli and Queen’s Brian May respectively) to star in Jersey Boys and We Will Rock You. Bobby played the role of Valli an incredible 850 times during the Australian tour, while Michael was brought back to the UK a second time for the Queen stage show, selling out massive arenas across the country.

In a one-off special event, Michael Falzon and Bobby Fox have joined forces to perform the legendary Costello and Bacharach album, Painted From Memory. Accompanied by a nine-piece orchestra along with a number of special guests, Falzon and Fox will showcase every nuance of the celebrated album.

In the lead up to the 24 September performance at Sydney's City Recital Hall, they spoke to Australian Stage's Simon Piening.



Bobby Fox and Michael FalzonBobby, you started your career in dance – in fact you were 4 times World Irish Dancing Champion. How/when did you get started in dance? Was yours a ‘theatrical’ family? When did you make the switch to musical theatre?
Bobby Fox: I grew up in a musical family in Ireland but we weren’t theatrical in the slightest. We were a more traditional music based. My sisters did Irish dancing as well when I was a baby and some of my earliest memories are of them practicing in the kitchen. So when I was 4 and started Irish dancing myself, I was already quite adept.

Musicals and the thought of performing in them never entered my head until I studied performing arts at ED5 International in 2002. I had never sung before that point so I didn’t really know that I could do it at a promising level. The following year I landed my first musical, Mamma Mia, and that has opened quite the door for me. 

You moved to Australia in 2002 – had you been to Australia prior to that? What prompted the move? Did you find any challenges breaking into the Australian theatre industry?
BF: I had toured Australia in 2001 with an Irish Dance show called To Dance On The Moon, and that gave me enough of a taste of the country and the people to know that I wanted to come back. I had a desire to learn other types of dance because I thought it would make my Irish dancing style quite unique and give me a base to develop something different. I loved that it was so far from Ireland but it never felt foreign. It gradually became the place that I needed to be and I applied for residency the following year. I had some amazing people helping and supporting me in obtaining residency (namely Elena and Mario De Cinque of ED5).

My challenges were the same as everyone else’s. Strong competition in an amazing industry. I had a great knack with auditions and luckily and thankfully landed Mamma Mia three weeks after Australia knocked on my door with residency papers.

You were hand picked by Frankie Valli to play him in the Australian production of The Jersey Boys – can you tell us how that came about? What advice did he give you? Did it add extra pressure when playing the role?
BF: It was just an incredible feeling when I got the news that I booked that role. It has absolutely changed my life completely. 

I didn’t actually receive any advice from Frankie for the role but I did from Bob Gaudio. We had roughly 5 days in at Legacy Studios in NYC at the beginning of ’09 and what he passed on to me has changed the way I sing and will sing for the rest of my life. He described and explained Frankie’s process and introduced a new mantra for me. “Sing the words, not the music”. 

Being in a recording studio with a Grammy Award Winning producer and being directed by him not only prepared me for such a challenging role such as Frankie, but gave me the experience and confidence required when recording my debut album – The Fantastic Mr Fox. I owe him so much.

Michael, you started your career in the iconic production of Pirates of Penzance by Simon Gallagher. What was the role? What are your memories of that experience?
Michael Falzon: I was "third pirate from the left"! It was my very first professional production and I have very fond memories of taking to the QPAC Lyric stage for the first time, returning ten years later in my first lead role in We Will Rock You. I didn't study as such, but learnt "on-the-job", so at the age of twenty I found myself working with people like Toni Lamond, and John English – an invaluable experience, both on and off the stage.

Your break through role was the lead in We Will Rock You, which you ultimately performed around the world. That sounds like every performers dream – was it as much fun as it sounds?
MF: In a word, yes. It was (probably still is) a dream role. Each time I came to it over the years – the last being 2010, too bloody old for Galileo, if you ask me – it became more and more fun as it was like putting on your favourite pair of jeans. Having said that, the role is vocally extremely demanding and the challenge and discipline associated with that is thrilling for a performer.

You’ve played in a range of venues from small independent theatres to arena spectaculars. Do you have a preference? How does it affect your performance?
MF: I find small venues particularly daunting. So intimate. Like singing in front of family and friends, one always gets a bit nervous. It may sound odd, but arenas are easy to play as there is a kind of detachment due to everyone being so far away! You've in-ear monitoring most of the time and you need to be aware of cameras, elements that can stop you from jumping around and having a good time. There is however a rush in feeling the wave of thousands of pair of hands clapping together – you can sometimes literally feel it.

Tell us about Painted from memory: The music of Bacharach and Costello. How did this project come about? What drew you to the project?
MF: I have loved the album for over a decade. Speaking with others that know it, we all share the feeling that each of the songs resonate differently through different parts of our lives. Certainly from a performance perspective each lyric carries such weight, supported melodically by beautiful writing, that it is a joy to sing. The fun thing with this concert is that we are also performing a "best of" section highlighting Bacharach and Costello tunes we all love.

Were you fans of the music before you signed on to this project?
MF: Very much so, though I have a new appreciation of each of these artists work since working on new arrangements – the songs are just so bloody good! Hearing Bobby and Laura sing them recently for the first time was beautiful. Studying the music further, when you hear four different interpretations of Bacharach's Alfie and they all work, or understand the origins of Costello's haunting Shipbuilding you have to thank the universe for bring them together to create God Give Me Strength, the impetus for their masterful collaboration on Painted From Memory.

BF: I had never heard of the album before Michael approached me to perform it with him. And now through studying and learning it I’m such a fan. The lyrics are so descriptive of a broken hearted man. Burt Bacharach is a living legend and his music is so recognisable.

Why do you think the music of Bacharach and Costello has endured?
MF: Bacharach in particular has a definite style that simply resonates with audiences of all ages – not many songs are introduced as the writer's, as opposed to the artist's – with hits like Close to You, Anyone Who Had a Heart, Walk on By... I could go on! On the other hand, Costello has changed so much over the years that his music is always surprising, from Veronica to Still (written for wife, Diana Krull), each has a great hook but are worlds (and a couple of decades) apart .

What can audiences expect from the performance?
MF: Aside from the excitement of exploring hits from both artists, audiences can expect something genuinely special in hearing the whole Painted From Memory album, an Australian first, with a nine-piece orchestra in the magnificent City Recital Hall. Musical Director, Isaac Hayward has created all-new arrangements for every song while the deft hand of our director, Jonathan Biggins, shall help navigate some of the emotional stories these songs tell. And hey, it's the first time Bobby and I have ever performed together – that's gotta be fun?!

What’s next for you both?
MF: I co-produced a swing concert a couple of months ago for Adelaide Cabaret Festival which basically allowed me to get up onstage with an 18-piece big band and smash out some tunes with Ben Mingay, Matt Lee, Luke Kennedy and Kate Ceberano. It was really well received so we're putting a tour together. Stay tuned.

BF: Whats next for me is a tour of NSW and then the rest of Australia. The show will be the very best of the music of Jersey Boys mixed with the music of my album The Fantastic Mr Fox. It will be the best of the best of both side of the Atlantic in the 1960’s. I can’t wait! 


PAINTED FROM MEMORY: The Music of Bacharach and Costello, starring Michael Falzon and Bobby Fox, plays at City Recital Hall on 24 September 2014. Details»

You can watch some behind the scenes footage at the City Recital Hall Facebook page»

The Fantastic Mr Fox by Bobby Fox is available on iTunes and popular music outlets through Warner Music. Visit fantasticmrfox.com for details.


Image credit:–
Top right – Bobby Fox and Michael Falzon. Photo – Kurt Sneddon.




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