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Marcia Hines Velvet feature

Velvet: grooving on down to boogie town!

Heather Wallace

Not feeling well? Maybe you have a Night Fever?

Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, just blame it on the boogie!

Yeah that’s right Canberra, I’m in full disco mode right now thanks to a recent conversation with the glorious, magnificent, awesome Marcia Hines about Velvet, the disco circus she brings to the Canberra Theatre on 3 May.

Velvet is a seductive spectacle with muscle men, hula boys, acrobats, aerialists and singing sirens. Tying it all together is Marcia Hines, an honest to goodness legend of Australian music.

Born in Massachusetts, she came to Australia as a 16-year old in 1969 to perform in the local production of Hair. A starring role followed as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973 and her versions of “Fire and Rain”, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, and “Something’s Missing” were chart hits. After a career hiatus from the mid-80s to 90s she began recording and touring again and hasn’t stopped. She became a judge on Australian Idol in 2003 and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007.

Ever since our conversation I’ve been shimmying and shaking my groove thing all over town in anticipation. Talking to Marcia was an utter delight and as well as Velvet we chatted about disco’s counter-culture, the pitfalls of dating while wearing platform shoes, and how the Bee Gees rocked tight pants!

You’re known as The Queen of Pop, but you’re also the Empress Supreme of Countdown in my heart

That’s very sweet, Countdown was one of the greatest times of my life. I grew up with disco, it came at a really good time when society was changing. One of my favourite memories is the Bee Gees in their too tight white pants, I’ll never, ever forget hanging out with those boys, I adored them all.

You were very gutsy leaving home at 16 and heading to the other side of the world

Do you really think it’s gutsy? Travelling for a job is different to travelling the world, and I had a fantastic job opportunity. I was protected so there was nothing to be frightened of, the hardest thing was being away from my mum, and even then she was just a phone call away. And honestly what 16-year old doesn’t think they’re bullet proof?

How did Velvet come about?

It’s an idea my manager had for me for a few years, and eventually, the time was right. Director Craig Illot gathered a group of performers together and we went into a warehouse, no set, and gaffer tape on the floor to mark our performance space.

The performers were so exciting to watch and Velvet was created out of that energy. We thought we had something special on our hands and prepared to debut it at the 2015 Adelaide Fringe Festival. And then the set showed up, the costumes came out and the audience went wild for it!

Is Velvet a stage show around a story or is it something entirely different?

The performances are so diverse but there is a narrative weaved through it all. It’s based on Studio 54 and a young man (co-star Tom Oliver) walks in and encounters people he’s never had experience of before. Because of that, he becomes who he wants to be. I oversee it, a kind of Fairy Godmother…

More like a Fairy Glam-mother!

I love that, yes I’m very happy to be Fairy Glam-mother! I sing, I only have one spoken word of dialogue in the show, it’s something I say to Tom in the middle of a song…I’m not going to give too much away, you just have to come and see it.

Are the audience in the mood from the get-go?

There’s a fantastic disco mix playing as the audience walks in and it doesn’t take long for everyone to be grooving in their seat. At the end there’s a chance to get up and dance too.

For all its glitz and glamour disco was part of counter-culture where people could express themselves, dance with same-sex partners and look how they wanted to…

Absolutely and our cast are very aware of that. And you know the saying, everything old is new again. It’s a great opportunity to rediscover what made that era so exciting.

Does your experience touring as a teenager and later working with young performers on Australian Idol give you a different perspective?

Being on Idol really taught me to put up or shut up! The artists don’t need any help, I’m there if they want advice but it’s their journey too. They have to make their own mistakes. The cast is so talented. Tom has recently joined the production and he is a great fit. He’s only 24 and is a fine actor, I love working with him.

Disco is as much about fashion as music, do you have a favourite costume?

The costumes are spectacular! I don’t wear much—wait that sounds wrong-—I mean I don’t have many costumes in the show but our sirens have lots of sexy outfits. I do have one incredible outfit though, all gold.

I’m a big fan of vintage shopping and 70s clothes have such an aura, but everything seems so very long. Was everyone really tall back then?

We did look very, very tall! I’m quite tall normally and platforms added even more height. I remember being out with my girlfriends and sitting at a table in a club. Some guys came over and asked us to dance and I always think if someone has the courage to ask it is good manners to say yes. So I stood up and he only came up to my chest!

Ah, the magic of disco. And soon Canberra you too will be swept away by its beat!

the essentials

What: Velvet
Where: Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
When: 3-14 May
How much: $49-$69
Web: canberratheatrecentre.com.au/show/velvet

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Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author

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