BWW Interview: Joel Parnis
Coronavirus (Covid-19) has forced theatres around the world to dim their lights. With no reignition date in sight, it is important now, more than ever before that Australian audiences and theatre makers stay connected. Allowing audiences the opportunity to meet the people behind the magic is one way to ensure this continues.
On a Sunday afternoon I caught up, via zoom, with Australian performer Joel Parnis who now lives in Berlin.
We start by discussing how he got his start. "I got quite lucky, quite quickly ... my first music theatre job in Australia was The Producers with The Production Company, which was just the best first job ever! I got a lovely little feature... all the people that ran that company were just a joy to work with, so it was a beautiful, beautiful introduction to the industry."
Parnis continues elaborating on his work with The Production Company, which saw him cast in not only The Producers, but also Chess and The Pirates of Penzance. "It's really so sad that they're not going to be here anymore, I definitely think that they're going to be so missed... they gave so many people their start."
The Production Company's short seasons allowed Parnis to also perform in Magnormos's productions of Flower-Children: The Mamas and the Papas Story and Godspell. "The good thing about not being in a big long contract and instead, getting to do little ones, is that you do get to meet a lot of people very quickly. You get to meet lots of different production teams and you get the chance to work with a lot of different people."
His stunning tenor voice then saw him cast as a swing in the Australian revival of Les Misérables in 2014 and the International Tour that followed. "That sort of changed things and represents a big shift in my career. For so many music theatre people it's a dream show .. I was so so excited to do it."
In 2016 Parnis landed the role of a lifetime with Opera Australia and The Gordon Frost Organisation in the 60th anniversary revival production of My Fair Lady. He was originally cast as the understudy for Freddy Eynsford-Hill, but was invited to take over the role in the show's return Sydney season.
This production not only saw Parnis wow Sydney audiences with his rendition of "On The Street Where You Live", but also allowed him to work with the iconic Dame Julie Andrews, who was directing the show.
"I flew overnight to be at my first rehearsal... because the contract finished for Les Mis on a Sunday and My Fair Lady started rehearsals the very next day on the Monday. I just didn't want to miss the first day of rehearsal, because it was such a special job. So I took the red eye overnight from Singapore and landed in Sydney at 8am. Rehearsals started at 10am! I went straight to the rehearsal room with my big suitcase... I had to be there, it was Dame Julie Andrews directing! I was like, I am not missing the first day, there is no way. She is legitimately a living legend!"
We discuss what it was like to work with one of the greats of stage and screen, Parnis says "She had time for everyone, she had kindness, she had patience, she had respect, she was just the most devine person and I thought if she has time for everyone, then no one else has any excuse to be anything less. She was a class act and I have never been more inspired by someone"
Indeed when he relocated to London, after My Fair Lady, Parnis received a special message in the post. "My first piece of mail in London was from Dame Julie Andrews, I had only been in London for two weeks. She sent me the most beautiful letter thanking me for my contribution to the show and she sent me a copy of Alan Jay Lerner's book.... she is just so thoughtful... she is just incredible...she's magic."
Shortly after arriving in London, Parnis landed the role of Frederick Fleet in the 2018 UK/Ireland Tour of Maury Yeston's Titanic, which saw him open the musical in Southampton! Parnis also joined this production on it's International Tour in 2019.
With a busy schedule planned for 2020, from his base now in Berlin, Parnis' commitments have been frozen, like so many others due to the current pandemic. When the stages of the world do light up again, we can be sure to see Parnis' name back up in lights!