The amateur musical phenomenon may have been brutally satirised in the film Waiting for Guffman, but certain reputable performers are still drawn to its unique charms.

It’s only a 15 minute-drive from the Sydney Opera House to the Willoughby Civic Centre, and it is a trip opera tenor Sean Andrews has been making regularly in recent months.

For Andrews, who is a part of the Australian Opera chorus and has appeared in over 30 productions with the country’s premier opera company, is also treading the boards in Willoughby Musical Society’s Australian premiere production of the hit Broadway show, Titanic -“ the Musical (yes, Titanic -“ The Musical, but it actually won six Tony Awards in 1997, including Best Musical).

This is not the first time Andrews has appeared in a show with an amateur theatre company -“ he also appeared in last year’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, another Australian premiere -“ and from the way he speaks, it is unlikely to be his last.

In Titanic, Sean Andrews plays the role of Thomas Andrews, the builder who designed the unsinkable ship Titanic and sailed on its doomed maiden voyage.

The Willoughby production opened on Tuesday night and runs until Saturday week.

In a break during final Titanic rehearsals and just days after completing Madame Butterfly at the Opera House, Andrews admits he has a career plan and it is tracking perfectly. He hopes that by keeping a foot in both the opera and musical theatre camps it will open future career doors for him to tackle all the roles he intends to play. For Andrews it’s a serious training ground.

The operatic voice takes an enormous amount of time to perfect, says the 31-year-old Andrews, who has been singing opera since graduating from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music 10 years ago. The repertoire I want to sing in opera will take time. My 20-year plan is to do musical theatre for 10 years and then switch over to opera. I don’t want to touch that stuff until I can do with it what I do with musical theatre -“ which is reach out and pull an audience into the world I am in.

Musical theatre is in a language that we all understand straight away and a lot of it is emotional music. It is written to charge the emotions.

I think far too many opera singers get on the stage and just yell at the audience -“ it may be beautiful yelling, but it is yelling. Then again, there are a lot of musical theatre people who know all about the text, but they can’t do the score justice. I think there could be a nice meeting place in the middle for both arts. My heart is in musical theatre, but the classical training of opera gives you the facilities to be able to sing anything.

In Titanic, Andrews opens the show with the optimistic song In Every Age and then finishes the show in the dramatic sinking scene with the tormented solo, Mr Andrews’ Vision.

For anyone wondering whether the tale of Titanic can really be told on stage -“ and in a musical no less -“ Andrews says the show does indeed work and it is largely thanks to the musical score.

If the music was not as good as it is, I don’t think this show would have worked, he says. The music carries the show and sets it up, driving the emotion through, particularly in the second act when the ship is sinking. In fact, I think this is bordering on light opera.

Titanic opened a year before the James Cameron movie and the musical’s plot bears no resemblance to the movie’s romantic saga of Jack and Rose. In fact, in the stage version, it is the power saga of architect Andrews, Captain Smith and the owner Mr Ismay which forms the central triangle of the complex plot.

Stepping into such a dramatic lead role, however, does come at a cost. With a laugh, Andrews admits he is more nervous stepping onto the amateur stage at Willoughby than he is at the Opera House.

There’s nowhere for me to hide here -“ it is just me in a character, not as part of a large chorus at the Opera House, he laughs. There have been times backstage when I have thought, -˜This seemed like such a good idea at the time -“ what am I doing here?’ I have dialogue to carry and the intention of the story, as well as the songs and music. But that is why I did this -“ for the challenge and the training. And this is what I am looking forward to more of in the future.

John Burfitt will appear with Sean Andrews in Titanic: The Musical.

Titanic: The Musical runs until 29 November at Willoughby Civic Centre, Victoria Avenue, Chatswood. Phone (02) 9449 3585 for bookings.

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