Ainsley Melham is one of Australia’s entertainment success stories, with a Broadway tale that any tap dancing country kid from NSW with stars in his eyes would dream of.
His second musical gig ever was the title role of Aladdin on the Australian tour of the Disney musical, with a transfer to perform the role on Broadway in 2019 – along for the ride was his (now) fiancé Callum Francis, who was making HIS Broadway debut as Lola in Kinky Boots, at a different Broadway theatre at the same time!
Now Ainsley is ready and raring to hit the stage again with a starring role in Pippin – the first major musical being staged in Australia since COVID-19 came a calling. Melham spoke to Star Observer the same week he started back at rehearsals.
Ainsley is relaxed and friendly during our phone interview and I’m really keen to find out what life was like for a country kid from Bathurst who tap danced his way through his childhood and what his parent’s reaction was to him wanting to pursue this career.
“I was pretty much driven by my mother, she always tells the story about when I was young, whenever she would put on music, I would always be bopping around and moving around to music and I think that’s what inspired her to put me into dance lessons. She pointed out to my father that you know, we have to do something with this, there’s this energy and musicality and at first Dad was hesitant but Mum went out on a limb and just did it. Once both of them saw how much I enjoyed it and how quickly I took to it, from then they were on board and they’ve just been so supportive ever since.”
Once it was time for Ainsley to start building his professional career, he started very strong, graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in 2012 and soon after starting a three year stint with the children’s musical group Hi-5.
Three years of touring nationally and internationally with a small group like Hi-5 would be an excellent training ground for the rigours and grind of working on the same musical day in, day out and Ainsley says it was excellent training for the role that he didn’t yet know was coming – that of the title role in the Disney musical Aladdin!
“Upon reflection, it was the best sort of stepping stone for something like Aladdin because the three years I spent performing to children and learning how to establish that connection and then later stepping into a huge Disney musical, it was important to know how to connect to the young audience.”
What was that moment of validation for this crazy dream that most people wouldn’t understand, that moment when they realise their dreams are coming true and that they’re on their way to achieving what they set out to do, which may definitely include starring on Broadway!
“I remember the rehearsals before my opening night of Aladdin on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre and because I had done the show for so long in Australia, they only give you a handful of days to get familiar with the new building. Our wonderful director Casey Nicholaw was in the auditorium while we were rehearsing and he was like, ‘I’m just gonna stop for a minute, just stop!’ and he said, ‘Ainsley, just come here’ and he pulled me aside to the edge of the stage and he was like ‘this is a big deal! I can see that happening in your head, I can see that you’re nervous and I just wanted to tell you that I know that this is a big deal, you’re making your Broadway debut!’ He was like, ‘just breathe, just relax, you’re gonna be fine’ and then we continued with the rehearsal! And I was so glad that he did that and acknowledged all that nervous pent up energy that I had!”
When asked about what it’s been like to come back to work on this production of Pippin in Sydney amongst our new COVID normal existence, Ainsley is quick to point out that the production team are doing a wonderful job when it comes to making sure the performers all feel safe and secure with all the new protocols while also admitting it’s a bit of a challenging experience!
Pippin is a Tony Award winning musical which is full of amazing acrobats, incredible magical mysteries and many Broadway standards from the magician of music himself, Steven Schwartz.
Ainsley is joined on stage by Gabrielle McClinton, Simon Burke, Lucy Maunder and making her stage return after an award winning career in television, Kerri-Anne Kennerley as Pippin’s sassy grandmother Berthe.
From Nov 24. Sydney Lyric Theatre, 55 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont. $69.90-$199.90+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.pippinthemusical.com.au