She’s one half of Australia’s most popular comedy duo but Kath and Kim’s Gina Riley is taking a break from the world of television and putting on her dancing shoes for the role of matron Mama Morton in the hit musical Chicago.
There’ll be no self-absorbed Kim Craig in this show, and forget the comforts of Fountain Lakes. Riley will be confined to a corrupt cellblock. While on tour in Brisbane, she took time out to speak to Sydney Star Observer about the musical and the all-important future plans for that popular television show.
Brisbane is treating me beautifully and turning on the nice weather. I’ve been by the pool this morning -” aren’t I lucky? Riley said in that famous Kath and Kim voice.
I wondered if she knew she was speaking like that. Is it something that just comes naturally?
That’s right, sadly, she laughed. When I struck on speaking like that I couldn’t stop and haven’t in ten years. It feels funny to speak like that and I was inspired by all sorts of people.
She first made an impression on the comedy scene during the 1990s thanks to sketch shows like Fast Forward, Full Frontal, Big Girl’s Blouse and Something Stupid. It’s unlikely we’ll see Riley return to sketch comedy as she said, It’s more of a young person’s game but never say never.
She confessed she loves it when the gay community imitates Kath and Kim.
We love it when people imitate us and we see a lot of things on the internet, such as drag shows. We find it so hilarious because they [Kath and Kim] are practically drag queens themselves, she said.
It’s impossible to fit this Australian icon into a box. Known mainly as a comedian and writer, this lady of many talents is also an incredibly gifted singer. Riley sang Kath and Kim’s theme song, The Joker.
I say if you’ve got your own show, sing the opening titles -” that’s my theory in life, she said.
It’s certainly not the career path I expected. Originally I wanted to be Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman all rolled into one, which I think I am actually.
The best comedy comes out of real life. So you’ve got to live your life and see what happens. I’m enjoying being an actor. It’s not a burning ambition of mine to be a serious actor -” I love doing funny stuff.
Riley admits Chicago is one of her all-time favourite musicals. It’s quite a surprise seeing her on the stage especially after she has turned down many offers in the past. Before Kath and Kim, she starred in The Rocky Horror Show but now she said it’s a perfect time to take a break and enjoy the stage again.
It’s a great change and it’s like a holiday. Not having to drive the bus, I suppose. It’s great to turn up and do your bit, Riley said.
The reason I wanted to do it is because I love the show, and also Mama Morton gets to sing fantastic songs -” it can be played all different sorts of ways.
I’m bigger than everyone else in the cast. I’m taller and fatter than everybody else. She has been played by big, huge, enormous women but I play it differently. There’s no Sharon in my Mama Morton I’m afraid.
Unfortunately Kim wasn’t much of a singer, so I guessed it must have been a strain getting the vocal pipes back in tune.
They are very strict about keeping the score original and it’s a very low show, she said.
The high notes are fine for me. The low notes are like a muffle in your body. You just have to train the voice again. It took a few weeks and my throat was sore for a few weeks. Kim didn’t sing and I don’t think she could.
The original Broadway production opened in 1975 and ran for 936 performances. But it was Chicago’s 1996 Broadway revival which holds the record for the longest-running musical revival on Broadway and is the seventh longest-running show of all time.
It’s a universal tale of fame and fortune. With six Tony awards, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy under its belt, it’s one of the most popular musicals ever written.
The Australian cast of Chicago features musical theatre legend Caroline O’Connor, Sharon Millerchip and Craig McLachlan.
Its amazing to see all that talent and energy close up. It’s been just a fabulous experience. You can bring your own personality to it, which is fantastic, Riley said.
It’s a minimalist show. I found that very comforting at the beginning. It’s very simple because it’s all about the performance.
The lighting is already plotted so you’re told to stand there and do that. I’ve never done a show like that but it turns out fine. Within the script we could do whatever we liked.
I have to do an American accent and I thought it was going to to be all so hard. Our director is from Britain and he become obsessed with Kath and Kim and started to speak like them all the time and I said -˜Nigel you cannot speak like that now because I have to forget about that and do my American accent’.
There is no word yet on whether there will be another season of Kath and Kim but when Riley comes to Sydney, she said she’ll catch up with series co-star Jane Turner to discuss different ideas. Just like French and Saunders, there’s even an idea to do a live show.
We have talked about that for years. We really wanted to do a live show and that still might happen. Nothing is in the pipeline at the moment, she said.
We don’t know if there will be a sixth season. We will brainstorm and see if we can come up with some ideas for something when we meet. It might be Kath and Kim or it might be something else.
info: Chicago opens at the Lyric Theatre at Star City on Thursday 14 May. Tickets start at $79.90. For bookings call 1300 795 267 or visit ticketmaster.com.au.