In his latest stage role, Mitchell Butel says he feels like he is standing on solid ground.

Having trod the boards in recent years in high heels and even higher camp roles in a succession of stage hits, Butel says he has packed the drag away to play an Aussie man of the land in the revival of the musical, Summer Rain.

Having played Marlene Dietrich in Piaf!, Pauline Hanson in Hair and the  Hispanic maid in The Republic Of Myopia, Butel says he was ready for a change of pace as Clarrie in Summer Rain.

It is nice to be playing someone solid for a change, Butel says before rehearsals at the Sydney Theatre Company wharf. Clarrie is nothing like the camp characters I have been busy with over the past few years.

He is a pretty transparent kind of bloke and there are no bells and whistles to him. He is what I am calling the -˜rustic charmer’ of the town, who is also a gambler.

In Summer Rain, which opens 5 August at the Sydney Theatre, Butel stars alongside such musical theatre talent as Nancye Hayes, Peter Carroll, Jodie Gillies, Terry Serio and Rachael Beck.

Written by Nick Enright and Terence Clark, the revival is directed by Robyn Nevin and marks the first time the musical has been staged in Sydney since its 1988 production.

Set in the months after the end of World War II, the story follows a travelling tent show of entertainers who arrive in a drought-stricken country town, but who are forced to confront the secrets from the troupe’s last visit many years before.

I am glad to be doing a Nick Enright piece, as he was my first ever acting teacher and such a big influence on me, Butel says of the writer, who died in 2003. I still miss him and would love for him to have seen this, but Robyn Nevin said she told him before he died that she was going to do this again, and he was pleased.

Next up for Butel, who has also been nominated for a Helpmann Award as Best Musical Actor for the Queensland season of The Venetian Twins, is Oklahoma! in Melbourne in September, before he commences rehearsals for the premiere production of Dusty, the musical about Dusty Springfield, due to open in Melbourne on New Year’s Eve.

Butel will play Rodney, Springfield’s gay hairdresser and confidante, with Tamsin Carroll in the role of the beehived diva.

Rodney is not a flowery character, more a working class gay from northern London. He is based on a few of her real life friends. It is a very different approach to a musical, but I think it is great and will work.

Summer Rain opens 5 August at the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay. Bookings: 9250 1777.

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