It’ll be two years next month since the wildly successful Broadway musical Wicked opened in Australia. Starting with a 13-month stint in Melbourne, the Broadway hit has now been playing in Sydney for over six months, with the cast performing in a gruelling eight shows per week.
It’s a punishing schedule for even the most disciplined actor and, inevitably, cast members come and go. Anthony Callea decided to hang up his munchkin boots and retire from the role of Boq early last year. Now, Robert Mills is bowing out, having played the role of Prince Fiyero since the very first show.
In an odd reminder of just how small the Australian entertainment industry is, Mills’ role is being filled by Callea’s partner, Tim Campbell.
“I did feel nervous about being the new kid on the block, but I think they all find it refreshing to have someone new to react to on stage,” Campbell told Sydney Star Observer when we met him backstage at the Capitol Theatre between rehearsals, ahead of his debut in the role on June 10.
“It’s a matter of slotting in with everyone else, because they already know the show.”
Is he disappointed he’s not performing in the show at the same time as Anthony?
“I don’t know how that would have been, not just for us but for the audience too — the Prince and Boq both lust after the same girl … I think us being in it together would’ve created a bit of a weird dynamic on stage,” he laughed.
Campbell’s candour when discussing his relationship with Callea is in sharp contrast to his initial guardedness when the pair announced their relationship some two and a half years ago. At the time, he publicly expressed concern about being pigeonholed as ‘that gay actor’.
Surely being cast as the romantic lead in Wicked shows that he’s managed to escape such typecasting?
“I hope so. I auditioned, and I got the gig, so it obviously didn’t matter at all. But I have heard whispers in the past that some other producers express concern about [hiring openly gay actors]. You just want to punch them in the head, really.
“I mean, I still get people on the street telling me they loved the relationship between Leah and [Campbell’s character] Dan on Home and Away.”
Rather, Campbell explained that his initial reserve was due to the fact that he and Callea’s relationship was only in its early days when the tabloid media spotlight shone on them.
“I personally came out when I was 20. The ‘public’ outing happened when there was some gossip around about me and Anthony, so to nip it in the bud, you just go, ‘Yeah, so?’
“At the time we thought, shit, we’ve only been together a few weeks, give us time to figure out if this feels right.
“But before that, my ex-partner used to come on set at Home and Away. Even when I was 22 doing my first TV gig on Big Sky, I never hid it. People just didn’t care.”
Until, of course, he found himself in one-half of what website Defamer affectionately dubbed ‘Australia’s first homo celebrity super-couple’.
Could he understand that, in a society with very few gay role models, two popular performers announcing they were in a loving same-sex relationship would be cause for interest or excitement?
“I understand the interest, but that’s not why we got together; we got together because we fell in love. We didn’t then go, OK — we’ve got to be the big visible gay couple.
“But at the same time, we don’t want to shy away at all. I’m proud to walk down a red carpet with him. If those who aren’t used to having gay people around them, who find it a bit foreign and weird, can see us having a stable, public relationship, then that’s great. That’s my ‘flag waving’. ”
And the pair haven’t been shy about appearing together in public. They even collaborated in a one-off Melbourne concert in early 2009 — Callea was the headliner, with Campbell under him on the bill (perves amongst you, feel free to make your own assumptions about their bedroom habits based on this information).
Any plans to work together again?
“Who knows. To be honest, I get scared every time I have to sing on stage with him because he’s so good and I’m nowhere near. I keep telling him that when he does his next tour I want to be one of the back-up singers. He hates the idea, but I’d love to!”
For now, though, the focus is on spending whatever time they can together. Campbell cut short a stint doing the audition rounds in LA to perform in Wicked, while Callea remains based at their shared home in suburban Melbourne.
All this time apart would put a strain on any relationship.
“Anthony just left [Sydney] today actually, then he’ll be back up next week for my first show. And I have a couple of days off each week — Bert and I can fly back to see our respective Pattis down in Melbourne,” he grinned.
“But we have a great relationship. After two and a half years together, it feels like it’s a ‘forever’ thing.”
info: Wicked plays from Tuesday to Sunday at the Capitol Theatre. Visit www.wickedthemusical.com.au