PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: A Christmas Story, The Musical Star Caroline O'Connor
By Matthew Blank
December 10, 2013
Olivier Award nominee Caroline O'Connor stars as teacher Miss Shields in A Christmas Story, The Musical, which returns to New York Dec. 11-29 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. She fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.
Recent credits include Gypsy (Rose), Follies (Phyllis), Sweeney Todd (Mrs. Lovett), Assassins (Sarah Jane Moore) and Chicago (Velma). She has appeared in London's West End in Mack and Mabel (Mabel) (Olivier nomination), On The Town (Hildy), Street Scene, Matador, The Rink, Cabaret, Me and My Girl, Show Boat (RSC), Damn Yankees, Baby, Into the Woods and A Chorus Line.
Full given name:
Caroline Ann O’Connor
Where you were born/where you were raised:
I was born in Oldham, Lancashire in the UK,
but I was raised from the age of four in Australia. Firstly Adelaide, then Sydney.
What your parents did/do for a living:
Both my mother and father worked for Qantas Airlines for many years. Dad was in cargo and my mum was in the staff canteen. This allowed us to travel extensively.
One sister Terry, ten years older, and two brothers, Vincent and Kenneth, eight and nine years older. I was an accident.
Current Audition Song:
No particular song currently, but when I was young I always sang "Looking Through the Eyes of Love" from the movie "Ice Castles." Surprisingly, it got me a lot of work! I have some great monologues from a one-woman play that was written for me called "Bombshells."
I can sing in French. I can make a chicken out of a towel. That’s about it.
Something you're REALLY bad at:
Anything to do with computers. If I am not onstage, I have absolutely no sense of direction.
Did you have any particular mentors or inspirations when first starting out?
My dancing teachers Joy and Dawn Ransley were truly wonderful. We are still close. They taught me all the genres: classical ballet, tap, jazz and Irish dancing. They prepared me well for any opportunity that might come along.
First Broadway/West End show you ever saw:
Damn Yankees in New York and Oklahoma! in London. When Oklahoma! moved to Australia, I was in that production. My first musical!
If you could go back in time and catch any show, what would it be?
The original cast of Dreamgirls and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.
Current show other than your own you have been recommending to friends:
Favorite showtune(s) of all time:
Not possible to answer.
Some favorite modern musicals:
A Chorus Line, Chicago
Some favorite classic musicals:
West Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Mack & Mabel
Broadway or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with:
Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, Sammy Davis Jr… (why do you make me choose?)
Your personal vocal idols, living or dead:
Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Nat King Cole……(why, why?)
The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:
Liza Minnelli at the London Palladium. She was incredible.
Music that makes you cry, any genre:
Erik Satie’s "Gymnopedie No 1" and "Romeo and Juliet" by Prokofiev
MAC or PC?
Most played song on your iPod:
"All or Nothing at All" by Kurt Elling. I adore his voice.
Google. Playbill. carolineoconnor.com (hint hint)
Last book you read:
"Nutrition for Dummies." "Fifty Sheds of Grey" (Yes I said "Sheds")
Must-see TV show(s):
Not really into TV shows anymore. I can’t stand all the commercials.
Last good movie you saw:
"Every Little Step." Probably more of a documentary really. I played Cassie in the UK National tour of A Chorus Line back in 1987. It brought back back a lot of wonderful memories.
Some films you consider classics:
"Brief Encounter," "The Sound of Music," "Gone With the Wind," "Cabaret"
Performer you would drop everything to go see:
Pop culture guilty pleasure:
Three favorite cities:
New York, London and Paris. Too obvious right? But I love Sydney too of course!
First CD/Tape/LP you owned:
First LP was Gypsy. First tape was Chicago the musical. First CD was David Sanbourn (the sax player). My husband is a sax/woodwind player and we were dating at the time and crazy about him.
First stage kiss:
West Side Story. Perfect, right?
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager:
I used to do child roles with the Australian Ballet. Like Kitri in Don Quixote, a rat in Sleeping Beauty, an altar boy in Romeo and Juliet.
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:
When I first heard Ethel Merman in Gypsy. I was well and truly hooked.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal: (note where)
I normally stay in the theatre between shows and bring in some take out. Just something light. Maybe soup or salad. Lately it’s been sushi, which is unusual for me!
Favorite liquid refreshment:
Skim Café Latte
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:
A squat and a scream. I bless myself before I go on and sometimes I have a hot honey water (I call it talent juice) during the show.
Most challenging role you have ever played:
Mrs. Lovett at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris. I want to do it again.
What initially drew you to this project?
John Rando and Warren Carlyle. Stephanie Klapper the casting agent tracked me down in Milwaukee where I was doing Assassins. It sounded like a really fun role.
What has been the biggest challenge about this show, and what has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect?
The tap routine for sure, and dancing with kids who are 40 years younger than me! It is a joy to be surrounded by these young performers. They inspire me and remind me how much I love being in the theatre.
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
Some years I was meant to sing a duet with a friend at a charity concert and I forgot to come on. I had already sung one song and was headed back to the dressing room. He stood onstage terrified for the entire intro. When I heard the music I freaked and ran back to the stage. I was so out of breath I could barely sing a note.
Worst costume ever:
I was playing a stripper in a musical called Budgie. In one scene my “costume” was one set of pink feathers, a g-string, a microphone and two bandaids.
Worst job you ever had:
I was a roller skating sperm in a BBCTV special about Margaret Thatcher. No, I am not making this up.
Craziest audition story:
I auditioned for Woody Allen. Never imagined in my wildest dreams that would happen.
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about?
Every time I do, it doesn’t happen, so no!
Leading lady role you've been dying to play:
Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter.
Leading man role you'd like a shot at:
Billy Bigelow in Carousel.
Something about you that surprises people:
I have been with my husband for 27 years. I came in 3rd in the World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin when I was 15.
Something you are incredibly proud of:
That I have been nominated at the Laurence Olivier Awards for both Best Actress in a Play and Best Actress in a Musical.
Something you're embarrassed to admit:
I really like baked beans on toast. But they have to be Heinz.
Career you would want if not a performer:
Air stewardess. I love to travel.
Three things you can't live without:
My husband, my husband, my husband.
"I'll never understand why…"
… we are here!!
Words of advice for aspiring performers:
Work hard. Perseverance. Try to take criticism professionally and not personally. It’s not easy I know. Be prepared to have your heart broken. This is not a job, it’s a love affair.