The standard Tina Arena interview has two key items. The first is a reference to Tiny Tina, the nickname given to Arena when she began her singing career on Young Talent Time is the 80s. This is usually accompanied by something about how cute and adorable she was, but now she is a grown woman and has definitely come of age.

The second item is a response to the first question, which is Arena’s understandably snitty reply to being referred to as a child, once again.

So, sitting in a studio at NIDA with Tina Arena, who is in the middle of rehearsals for Cabaret, I avoid all mention of her juvenile beginnings. This is about Tina now, in the moment, doing a musical for the first time since she played the lead in Notre-Dame de Paris in London in 2000. I begin by wanting to learn more about what she gets out of performing in musicals, as opposed to recording albums.

I love it. It’s something that keeps your skills very honed, says Arena. She’s wearing rose- tinted sunglasses, which belie her forthright persona. So much of our work is about promotion -¦ Talking about yourself night and day is the most boring thing you can possibly do, seriously -¦ So it’s not fun. So it’s fun doing theatre because it keeps me on the money.

Uh-huh. So theatre is fun, interviews suck. I decide to take a different tack. Arena is playing a divinely decadent role, one tattooed on pop culture by Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film, now recently played in New York and London revivals by thespians as different as Natasha Richardson and Gina Gershon. Is it fun playing Sally Bowles?

Oh, it’s absolutely liberating playing Sally. They were far more liberated back then, than they are now, smiles Arena. The eyes light up behind the scarlet lenses. I wish I had been hanging around those days.

In case you’ve been hiding in an attic in Holland for the last 36 years, the 1966 Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret is set in 1929 Berlin, and follows the loves and tragedies of singer Sally Bowles and her landlady Fraulein Schneider (played in this production by Judi Connelli). The blackly comic songs of the cabaret where Bowles performs are juxtaposed against her increasingly desperate existence, under the watchful eye of a growing Nazism, and the creepy and outrageous MC (played here by our very own Toby Allen). Cabaret was one of the first musicals to feature chorus members of the same gender dancing close and embracing, depicting an era of unprecedented sexual liberation.

I can’t believe how progressive they were, I almost feel like we’ve retracted, in the 21st century, we’re going back, says Arena. Of course it rings bells, and basically the bells that it rings is, oh, Christ, I wish I could have been born in that frickin’ era because I’m bloody bored in this one.

This is more like it. There’s a brashness about Arena, which emerges on her appearances on The Panel, on which she tells me, Honey, I’ve got into so much trouble, let’s not even fucking go there please.

Arena also told Black+White that she’s just a girl from Moonee Ponds. Her comment accompanied that photo shoot, in which she bared almost all in arty and erotic monochrome. For Arena, it was about celebrating what she felt was a normal body. Normal? She looks fantastic -¦

Yeah, but you don’t always think that, you know? says Arena, sitting forward and suddenly very serious. I’m not a terribly vain person. I think that shows -¦ I have insecurities -¦ I’m like, -˜I’m fat, or my boobs are too big, or I’m getting old.’

A little insecurity and a dash of sassy. Sounds like the perfect mix for Sally Bowles.

 

Cabaret runs at the State Theatre from 15 August. Tickets range from $88 to $43 and may be booked on Ticketmaster7 on 1300 136 166 or at ticketmaster7.com. For more information, visit www.cabaret.com.au.

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