Christine Anu is an iconic voice in the Australian music scene. Originating from Queensland, she’s known for everything from her classic hits “My Island Home” and “Party” to her extensive time on the national stage. Most recently, she took to the stage for the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and this month she returns to the stage in Brisbane as part of Grease: The Arena Experience. Recently Michael James sat down with Christine to chat about her life, her relationship with the LGBTIQ community and just what to expect from her role as “Teen Angel” in the this upcoming production.
It’s been almost two years since we saw her take to the stage in Brisbane as part of Hairspray at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and Christine is now a shadow of her former self, she’s slim, glowing, energetic and beaming with happiness as she chats about what is just so special about this production.
“There is a lot of onus on the principal cast and I’m here promoting my role as ‘Teen Angel’, but really it’s about the kids. Can you imagine the sound of 900 kids on stage at once?” she said.
The show itself is a massive-scale production that involves over 900 school children all performing impressive choreography alongside the talented principal cast and it’s something she clearly loves.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of it. It’s wonderful that I get to play the Teen Angel role and I get to work with these wonderful gorgeous children, some of whom are experiencing theatre for the first time,” she explained.
“There’s nothing as gorgeous as those little faces enjoying themselves and for some of them, this is a life changing experience and to be there and be part of that is amazing.
“It’s kind of like an opening ceremony happening around this bigger-than-life musical. At the same time it’s amplified because there’s all this amplified acting going out directly to the crowd as well.”
But Anu’s role in this production is less than typical, “Teen Angel” was originally played by a man, but in Australia has recently had some more diverse talent replacing the male role instead. The role was first played by the talented Dami Im and most recently the gender bending international drag superstar, Courtney Act.
“The reason I’m doing the role is because Courtney had to cancel to go to the UK to do Big Brother, so I kind of got the role by default,” Anu said.
With a short time frame, stepping in she needed some creative inspiration to get herself started.
“We’ve all just watched the royal wedding, and who stole the show? Reverend Michael Curry. So there’s a bit of channeling of Reverend Curry that’s going to be happening with my version of Teen Angel.”
The challenge was quick, but a joyful creative experience for her.
“It was wonderful, I probably had 48 hours to come up with whatever that was going to be and you’re thinking on your feet and you just conjure up all of your creative ideas that you possibly can and you just throw them out there,” she said.
“It’s really wonderful because Callum the director was fantastic, he loved it and he said, ‘It’s great you should do that.’ It’s encouraging because there’s nothing worse when you come up with all these great ideas and the director says nope, that’s shit!”
As she prepares to take to the stage Christine has another single being released with a special relationship to both her theatrical history in Australia and the LGBTIQ Community. The single is “Without You” taken from the musical Rent which Anu starred in 20 years prior.
“I played MiMi in the original production of rent when it came out in 1997 and 1998 and one of the songs that MiMi sings is ‘Without You’. It’s a duet it with Roger, MiMi’s love interest and this song happens right when she’s about to die – sorry, was that a spoiler?
“So it’s a hats off to 20 years since Rent began in Australia and we also lost a dear cast member last year and I really wanted to record this song to honour his memory.
“It’s also it’s a wonderful opportunity to give to a HIV/AIDS charity and I had an opportunity to continue the dialogue, or start it up again, about how far we’ve come. It’s not the gay cancer that it once was stigmatised as and there is a lot more that we know about it now and it just sparks up that conversation.”
When speaking about her family life, the LGBTIQ community is front and centre for Christine, from the earliest start in her career to now, they are and always have been a part of her family.
“I finished high school in Rockhampton in 1987, the first time I would leave home and that shelter. I had quite a sheltered upbringing by my parents and I left my family to embark on an education surrounding dance and hopefully singing which is what happened.
“Suddenly I’m surrounded by a lot of Indigenous LGBTIQ members of the community. That was my immediate family away from home. They raised me. These are my friends and my family.
“My best friend is my daughter’s godfather and she calls him ‘Aunty Sidney’ and a lot of my family members are gay as well. I guess it’s who I’ve been brought up around and who my family are and I guess who my community are as well and it means a lot to me to be connected to them in some way shape or form.”
When the marriage equality postal survey took place in 2017 it was an important issue in the Anu household and the result, a time for celebration and reflection.
“My daughter filled it out and she can’t even vote! But that’s how into it all of us were. Because I’m really busy, that’s not to say that I wasn’t going to get around to it, but she was like, ‘Mum! I’ll fill it in for you!’
“And she did and that’s how it important it was to be included, but to walk into work at the ABC the day that it was passed was such a thrill, the elation, the mood at work, it was just wonderful to be a part of that.
“It’s one of those things you can mark in your life where you’ll know where you were and what you were doing on that day.
“I mean it’s a long time coming, but I’m glad that Australia supported it. I can tell you that a lot of my friends who work in the events industry they tell me that it started going off the richter with weddings that they were having to organise, everything from Florists to Cake makers, it’s all happening.”
You can see Christine Anu as Teen Angel in the Brisbane production of Grease: The Arena Experience on Saturday July 14 at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. For tickets visit the website. “Without You” is available on iTunes now. Follow Christine on Twitter @anuchristine.
(Photo by Karen Watson)