Sydney-born musical theatre performer Adam Rennie has now spent almost five years living in New York and working across the US, most notably starring as Nick in the North American tour of Flashdance the musical.
“The size of the musical theatre industry in America is obviously what draws people there,” Rennie says. “You can audition five times a day there, and you could audition five times in six months here. The scope of the industry is huge.”
But when he was back in Australia earlier this year, visiting family, an unexpected opportunity popped up: the chance to play Will Bloom in the Hayes Theatre’s new production of the musical version of Big Fish.
“The reason that I went to America was to be able to tell stories like this,” he says. “When I left, the Hayes didn’t exist and the landscape of musical theatre was very different.”
The Hayes Theatre was established in 2014 and has substantially changed the face of musical theatre in Australia since then, offering an intimate alternative to the big budget musicals that have dominated the space for decades.
“Of course, people in Australia know about the Hayes, but people know about it in New York too,” Rennie says. “The theatre community is definitely aware that there’s creative, great new productions and Australian work happening here.”
Rennie was looking for a reason to return and work at the theatre, and immediately jumped when he’d heard that director Tyran Parke was working on this new production of Big Fish, based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel and Tim Burton’s 2003 film of the same name.
It covers the relationship between Edward Bloom, a travelling salesman and teller of tall tales who lives his life through magical fantasies, and his adult son Will (played by Rennie), who wants to understand the truth behind his father’s stories.
The musical received mixed reviews when it opened on Broadway in 2013, but the Hayes production is of a significantly reworked, stripped back version of the show.
“I saw the show on Broadway and loved it, but I remember thinking how an intimate setting would really serve the piece,” Rennie says.
The original production featured a massive cast and a lavish design, but this new production will conjure up its magic in a less high-tech, but no less magical fashion.
“Some of my favourite theatrical moments are not the shows that literally spell everything out for you, but allow you to use your imagination and use the magic of theatre to create something that you couldn’t get to in a more literal world. This show is about imagination, and if we create a space for the audience to live in their imaginations, then they should join us.”
“If you strip away all the giants and mermaids and witches and the circus, it really is a very basic story about a father and son who don’t quite understand each other and see the world in very different ways. The show ends up being about those two men learning to connect.”
Featured image: Phillip Lowe, by Chris Pavlich Photography