With Fame: The Musical starting its Sydney run at the Capitol Theatre last week, Tony Award-winning performer Lillias White has garnered rave reviews for her role as the no-nonsense homeroom teacher Miss Sherman.

It’s a testament to her talent that White, who replaced Motown legend Darlene Love, only flew into the country in the last week of September, leaving her with little more than a fortnight to prepare for her starring role in the show.

Sydney Star Observer sat in on White’s first rehearsal the day after she landed and found her still battling the brain-bending effects of jet lag.

“Miss Sherman seems like an interesting character. She’s an acamedician,” the regal singer said during a break.

Say what now?

“Acamedician? Wait, that’s not right. She’s into academics. She’s supportive of the arts, but she’s very much intent that her students read and write properly.”

It’s been 30 years since Fame appeared in its original big-screen incarnation. Since then, the franchise has broadened to a TV show, a 2009 movie remake, and this big-budget stage musical. In 2010, the central premise — a group of aspiring young performers chasing stardom — seems as relevant as ever.

“The joys of auditioning — I remember that. The joys … and the horrors,” White laughed. “But there’s always hope at an audition, and the excitement of that hope is what keeps people coming back.”

Of course, nowadays auditions are offered up on the global stage via TV shows like Australian Idol and X Factor. White admitted she had little time for shows seeking to use the audition process as entertainment fodder.

“In a lot of cases it doesn’t do service to the person auditioning. I think people should have the opportunity to be trained before they get into a national or international arena,” she said.

“Shows like American Idol …it’s difficult for me to watch. These are people who have no business being on a stage, period.”

The 59-year-old White’s own career has encompassed theatre, film, television, several albums, and even a stint as a back-up vocalist for Madonna (she can be heard on Madge’s 1991 hit Rescue Me).

She’s been a frequent visitor to our shores, performing her one-woman cabaret show several times around the country in recent years. She’s also a committed supporter of gay rights, even performing on board Rosie O’Donnell’s Family Cruise in 2004.

“I love my gay and lesbian fan base. They come, they enjoy and they get me. That’s what I get on stage for — to reach people,” White said.

“No matter what your orientation is, you have a heart, you have a soul, you have feelings, and they’re ready to be moved by other people’s artistry.”

Want to see the fabulous Lillias White in action? We’ve got three double passes to the October 31 6pm performance of Fame: The Musical to give away. To enter, email your contact details to [email protected] with the word FAME in the subject line. Entries close 5pm Monday October 25 and winners will be notified.

info: Fame: The Musical is now playing at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets through Ticketmaster.

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