Q: Who is Bloody Mary? What’s her story?
A: Bloody Mary is an immigrant from somewhere in Asia. She’s on an island somewhere in the Pacific, working as a plantation owner. When the war arrives, Bloody Mary turns herself into a businesswoman, a salesperson who sells trinkets and wares like grass skirts, boar teeth and shrunken heads. She sells to soldiers and sailors who find these souvenirs of the South Pacific fascinating. One of the sailors, Luther Billis of the Seabees, is her immediate rival in the trinket business.
But she’s more complicated than just a crone trying to make money. She’s trying to make a better life for herself and her daughter Liat, who is perhaps between the ages of 12 and 17. She finds herself in a circumstance of war, and tries to make a better situation for herself.
Q: Bloody Mary does one of the most confronting things in the show, offering her daughter up to an American soldier. How do you face that, as a performer?
A: I think Bloody Mary is capable of a lot of nasty things, but I don’t think that’s because she’s a nasty person, necessarily. She’s fending for herself. She’s a woman who is a mother, who would do anything for her child. And I think that woman would do anything she possibly could for her daughter. I also think she had Liat when she was quite young, so Mary is a young woman, even though she looks old and haggard. She is trying to make a better life for her daughter. Mary thinks the best way to do that is to encourage an American soldier, Lieutenant Cable to fall in love with her daughter, and she gives Liat to Cable as a possible bride. She thinks Cable will make her his wife and they’ll live happily ever after. But things are more complicated than that, as she finds out.
Q: You have to wear a pretty alarming costume in South Pacific. What do you do to transform into Bloody Mary?
A: I have to make quite a transformation! I think the most difficult thing is putting all of this hair that I have into a wig cap. I use so many pins! I don’t wear any makeup, but I try to weather my face a little bit, so it would seem as though I was an individual who had spend a lot of time under the harsh Pacific sun. I’ve got three enamel paints that I use on my teeth. One is called nicotine, which blanks out the white of my teeth. Another is black, which gives Mary the look of rotted teeth. And then there’s the red, which is the lovely bit, indicating she chews a lot of Betel nut, which Pacific islanders like to chew. Thank God she doesn’t have to spit all the time – people who chew Betel nut tend to spit a lot! They left that out of my character (although I do try to sneak it in when I get the chance!)
Q: Last time you performed in South Pacific, replacing Kate Ceberano, you had a very short rehearsal period. How is it different this time around?
A: There’s always an element of nerves, even when you’re coming back to a character. I missed out on the first read last time, because it was such a hustle to get it together in two weeks. There’s nothing like it, that first read. When everyone gets to hear what everyone else sounds like for the first time and what their character is. It’s nice to go from reading the script inside your head to all of a sudden hearing characters in their individual voices. This time around, I was more comfortable with who Mary was. It was really nice to come back and find some newness in the character again and see what other things I could find in her. This time, I had more time to do that.
Q: The show has quite strong themes of racial prejudice that were shocking to audiences when it first premièred. Do you think they are still relevant to a modern audience?
A: Racial prejudice is one of those things like death. It’s a subject that will always be around, for as long as people are different – for as long as we see people differently. It’ll always be a part of our social commentary, because as generations evolve, we never quite get our heads around it. I think it’s really important that in reviving this musical, we get to talk about it again. In talking about how people are different, we actually get to discover how similar we all are. That’s why it’s survived – it’s relevant now, and it always will be.
Q: You’re a pop singer and a TV host and an actor – what do you like about performing in musicals?
Having the opportunity to go off and do musical projects is fantastic, because it informs every job that I do. I’m refreshed to go and tackle my next project. The last one I was heading into, I just found there was so much about Bloody Mary that I could embody on stage, singing pop tunes. You just grow. You just grow and grow and grow!