Nancye Hayes is regarded as The First Lady of Australian Musical Theatre, as well as one of the greatest dancing talents ever to grace the stage.
So it is with some irony that Hayes has been cast as a woman in need of dancing lessons in the new play, Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, with former 42nd Street co-star Todd McKenney playing her teacher.
But Hayes says the casting is actually appropriate. Although she’s starred in such past stage hits as Chicago, Nine and Showboat, she says, I have never done any ballroom dancing in my life, and in this I am dancing with Todd, who was once rated sixth top ballroom dancer in the world.
So, I am learning a new skill with this. Just when you think you know it all, you realise you don’t at all. This is so lovely for us to be doing together.
In the play, currently in-season at the Opera House Playhouse, Nancye plays Lily, a recent retiree and widow who takes up dance lessons with loud-mouthed dance instructor Michael (McKenney).
The former wife of the Baptist minister and the former Broadway chorus dancer come into conflict, with their personalities clashing at every turn as they reveal details of their lives to each other.
One of the major issues Lily deals with is that Michael is gay. The religious and conservative Lily is confronted by the revelation and attempts to come to terms with his disclosure, as well as his defiantly out lifestyle.
Lily has never met anyone who is openly gay, Hayes says. Coming from a southern US redneck background, as well as being a Baptist, this is a whole new world for her.
Yet she is a woman who can accept things she has no knowledge of and just gets on with it. She sees Michael as a person first and foremost. He has a smart mouth and she has to try to understand what he is talking about as he enjoys trying to shock her every time.
John O’Connell, the choreographer of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge has created the dance sequences. John keeps telling me, -˜Don’t lead, Nancye!’ I have to curb that natural tendency, she quips.
Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks is on now at the Opera House Playhouse. Bookings on 9250 7777.