From her home nestled in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, her cockatiel Harry chirping happily in the background, musical theatre stalwart Judi Connelli told Sydney Star Observer about her upcoming return to the Sydney cabaret stage after an absence of four years.

“I’d like to think people haven’t forgotten me,” said the humble singer.

“It’s going to be great to be back in Sydney, and at Mardi Gras time. It warms the cockles of my heart, because the gay community in Sydney have certainly taken me to their hearts.”

Connelli said her new cabaret show would take on a more reflective tone than previous efforts.

“I’m in the September of my years. I’m in my 60s, and I’m not singing about young love any more. I’m singing about life, what I’ve learned and what I remember. I’m selecting songs that are a bit more mature,” she said.

“We’re also doing a bit of a salute to Sondheim, because it’s Sondheim’s 80th birthday this year. That’s in amongst some other wonderful songs.”

Despite a stellar career that has seen her perform in massive productions like The Merry Widow and Chicago, Connelli said the small-scale nature of cabaret made it her favourite medium.

“You do [cabaret] to please yourself, really, and I just love what you can create in that intimate space. With cabaret, the numbers are smaller, the crowds are more intimate, so money’s never the main objective, which is refreshing.”

While many gay and lesbian performers, once ‘out’, still seem reticent to talk about their private lives, Connelli was effusive when conversation turned to her long-term partner (and occasional co-star), opera singer Suzanne Johnston.
“To be with someone in life and to have that amazing pool of experience we both have — she comes from opera, I’m from musical theatre — when you meet on the stage and sing, it’s so special. I just adore her voice, and she adores mine — it’s so mushy,” Connelli giggled.

“We’d like to do another CD, I’ll admit that, but if we don’t it doesn’t matter. We’re in heaven living in our place up here, and she’s just so funny and gorgeous, and we share the same birthday. Ten years apart, of course, and she looks forever young, with her youthful genes.

“Sometimes people assume I’m her mother, which can be tough… I don’t slap them though.”

It’s an admirable level of frankness, and one that has strengthened Connelli’s ties to her own gay and lesbian fan base since she came out in the early ’90s.

“I just got tired of the silly questions, and I just couldn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t,” she said of the decision.

“I also think that, in cabaret, it’s important to not have anything between you and the audience — you’ve got to wear your heart on your sleeve, otherwise what’s the point?”

info: Judi Connelli plays the Civic Hotel, February 25-26 and March 5-6. Tickets through Ticketek.

Judi Connelli will return to the Sydney stage for four performances.

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