WAAPA’s Sweet Charity challenge

Director Shaun Rennie with Sweet Charity cast members Conor Neylon (Bedford), Jackson Peele (Bedford), Caitlin New (Bedford) and Luke Wilson (Como). Picture: Andrew Ritchie d495070
Director Shaun Rennie with Sweet Charity cast members Conor Neylon (Bedford), Jackson Peele (Bedford), Caitlin New (Bedford) and Luke Wilson (Como). Picture: Andrew Ritchie d495070

PERFORMER Shaun Rennie spent the best part of 20 years touring in music theatre productions before tragedy changed his focus to directing.

“My younger brother Matthew was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 21,” Rennie said.

“I was performing in shows and musicals, so co-creating Light the Night came about as me just trying to put my energy into something helpful.

“I started creating this event, which I did for 10 years. Sadly my brother passed away but Light the Night lived on and became this annual fundraiser.

“That’s essentially how my move from being an actor to a director happened.”

He has since passed the Light the Night directing torch over to others to continue assisting leukaemia research, turning his attention to directing credits including Rent, I Am My Own Wife and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice starring Caroline O’Connor.

It was while directing second year WAAPA students in 2017’s rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson that the Sydneysider was invited back to direct third year music theatre students in their production of Sweet Charity.

“WAAPA picks shows that lean into the strengths of the particular year group and this show really matched the skill set of this group,” Rennie said.

“Melbourne choreographer Michael Ralph was also invited to work on the show and we’ve always admired each other’s work.

“It’s our first time working together, so it’s a great opportunity to come across and do a big dance musical together.”

Both Rennie and Ralph’s creative engagement on Sweet Charity was made possible through funding by The Minderoo Foundation.

Sweet Charity cast members Jackson Peele (Bedford), Conor Neylon (Bedford), Caitlin New (Bedford) and Luke Wilson (Como). Picture: Andrew Ritchie d495070

The Tony Award-winning musical follows the misadventures in love of Charity Hope Valentine, who has a habit of falling for the wrong man and comes with a warning of suitability for audiences 15 years and older as it contains sexual and drug references.

With a book by Neil Simon and score by Cy Coleman, Sweet Charity features some of the best songs in music theatre, including Hey Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and The Rhythm of Life.

“It’s an iconic show but also at the heart of it is the story about a young girl who is learning about self love and self respect,” Rennie said.

“In a pretty gross, gritty world where the odds are stacked up against her, she remains defiant, optimistic, hopeful and open. I think that is a great story to be telling.

“Choreography is so integral to the actual storytelling on this show, more so than on any other show I’ve done.

“There are some really key music theatre moments here, which is why I’ve really enjoyed watching the dance numbers come together.”

Rennie may be enjoying this aspect but dance rehearsals are proving the biggest challenge for students to fit around their already intense workloads.

“At WAAPA they’re very busy doing a lot of other classes,” he said.

“Michael and I don’t have anything to do with that part of their day, so when they come in to the room with us we treat them as professionals and expect them to be on it.

“We don’t care if they’ve had four hours of dance class before they get to us.

“I think it’s pretty exhausting for them trying to get their head around the amount of choreography in a fairly condensed rehearsal time, but they’re doing a great job.”

THE ESSENTIALS

What: Sweet Charity

Where: Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA

When: August 24 to 31

Tickets: www.waapa.ecu.edu.au

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