Simon Burke says he likes music which tells a story. That admission is no great surprise from a man who has spent much of his career in musical theatre, singing the songs of the various characters he has played.
But on his new variety TV series on Foxtel, Burke is discovering that music can also evoke the greatest stories from people.
On Studio A With Simon Burke, which begins in early August on the W channel, the theme of the show is the soundtrack of our lives, as Burke takes a musical journey with his various guests through the songs which have a special meaning for them.
Most people in this business can be quite guarded about what they will or won’t talk about, Burke says.
But some of the guests on my show will talk about a song they like and, when you ask why they like it, it brings out all kinds of interesting things. Music is such a touchstone for all of us.
Among the guests appearing on upcoming shows are Paul Capsis, Caroline O’Connor, Toby Allen, Kate Ceberano and Peter Garrett.
The 40-something Burke confesses there are songs that take him back to his younger years, including Fleetwood Mac to his school years in the 1970s, and Grace Jones to his dance party days of the 1980s.
I’ll never forget being at a New Year’s Eve party at the Hordern, waiting for Grace to come on stage. She was three hours late, but was worth it. He smiles at the memory.
But he also says the music of his new stage show, They’re Playing Our Song, which opens 8 July at the Ensemble Theatre, also takes him back to those heady days.
The Tony Award-winning 1979 musical, which co-stars Georgie Parker, tells of the romance between two songwriters, with a score that is very much of its time.
It certainly has a retro disco feel to it, and a bit of a retro daggy quality to it -“ especially when I dance, Burke laughs.
This doesn’t really resonate from my old disco days at all -“ it is a little too tame. But when I hear the music, it does take me back to those days.
They’re Playing Our Song, with a script by Neil Simon, is a romantic telling of the real-life love affair between Oscar and Grammy-winning songwriters Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. It was a huge hit 20 years ago in a national tour starring Jacki Weaver and John Waters.
The characters of the show are brought together to write songs for Barbra Streisand, but they really are like the odd couple as they are so different, he says. Love eventually triumphs, although the real life Marvin and Carole had actually broken up by the time the show opened.
It is very funny and a sweet piece, without being too sentimental. It is like finding the ridiculous in the everyday.
They’re Playing Our Song opens 6 July at the Ensemble Theatre. Bookings on 9929 0644. Studio A With Simon Burke premieres 5 August on the W Channel.