After an extended stay in Melbourne to star in the play Bombshells and the musical Man Of La Mancha, Caroline O’Connor is happy to be home in Sydney. She’s rediscovered the ice-crusher and coffee maker in the kitchen and the DVD in the living room and says she’s now settling into her home territory.

She is also about to settle back into familiar territory on the stage of the Capitol Theatre, the scene of such earlier personal triumphs as Anita in West Side Story and Velma in Chicago. She has the dual roles of Aldonza and Dulcinea in Man Of La Mancha, which opens its Sydney run tonight.

Having already played the role for three months in Melbourne to great acclaim, O’Connor appears to be lacking any last-minute jitters about her performance in the days before the opening, but she does confess opening a show in Sydney is never an easy ordeal.

This is my home town and I am always so nervous about how it is going to go before a home-town crowd, O’Connor admits. I am the girl from Rockdale and I still think of myself as a Rockdale chick, so I do care what people think of what I do.

I remember when I opened in Chicago, I was excited, but I wanted to make sure people always saw me in diverse roles. And this role in Man Of La Mancha is so contrasting to what I did in Chicago -“ they are terribly far apart.

I know all the lines and the moves and what to do, but there will still be a moment just before I go on stage on opening night when I will think, -˜I hope this all goes okay,’ she adds with a laugh. Sydney audiences can be quite demanding and they are tough about what they want.

Anthony Warlow plays the title role of Don Quixote in the legendary musical, which won Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Musical in 1966. Peter Carroll, Tony Taylor and Geoff Morrell also star, but it is O’Connor who plays the lead female dual role of the whore Aldonza, whom Quixote romantically imagines as the gentle lady Dulcinea.

I really feel like I have one of the most interesting parts in the show as she goes through such a huge change in the two and half hours, says O’Connor. I am also getting used to dressing in rags, having mud on my face and wearing a long wig! It’s a very different look for me and very dramatic.

There are lots of tears for me as well. I am usually known for doing lots of gags, but I am in tears a lot with this one. I also get raped, but that happened to me in West Side Story, so I have been through that before.

In a career which has spanned such a range as Fanny in Funny Girl, Mabel in Mack And Mabel, Edith Piaf in Piaf as well as Nini Legs-in-the-Air in Moulin Rouge, O’Connor says the Aldonza/Dulcinea character fits into the more dramatic end of her repertoire. This is good for me, she says. I was thrilled to be asked to do something so dramatic. I actually thought that might be selfish as audiences might want to see me in big production routines and belting out big numbers. But I guess I am doing that, though in a much different, more dramatic way. I hope people come along and are surprised by this.

O’Connor has been on something of a lucky streak since she returned home five years ago with her musician husband Barrie after living in the UK for 14 years. It was the star role in the Australian production of Chicago which lured her home, but ever since, her career has been one hit star turn after another. However, she says working with Baz Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge has changed her life.

It has made a huge difference with the public. Like I now can’t go to Coles Express without people peering over to see what is in my basket at the checkout, she laughs. I haven’t become a film star, but it hasn’t done any harm either! I love musicals -“ I have been watching them all my life and now I have done one.

There is a wonderful saying, -˜Nothing is too wonderful to be true.’ You might meet someone and it will change your life -“ it might be someone you trip over or, in my case, it was Baz Luhrmann watching Chicago who came backstage to say hello. I am a big believer in fate.

O’Connor already has one wish beyond Man Of La Mancha to somehow be involved with Sydney’s Gay Games. Her one-woman show, Stage To Screen, which was a hit at the zoo over the past two summers, would seem the perfect vehicle to showcase her talents during the Games.

I would love to do something, anything during that time, she says excitedly. I have always wanted to be a part of Mardi Gras, but that is still yet to happen. See, I am a big believer in fate -“ let’s see what it does with this wish!

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