This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 7 Questions with Delia Hannah

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 7 Questions with Delia Hannah

The first professional musical I ever saw was the New Zealand production of CHESS in 1992. The cast featured the two male stars of the original UK production, Tommy Korberg and Murray Head, along with a young New Zealand performer as the female lead, Florence Vassey. From the very first moments I was smitten. With the ambience of the theatre, with the stunning music of CHESS, and with my first ever leading lady, Delia Hannah.

Delia Hannah began her career with PIRATES OF PENZANCE and by the time I saw her in CHESS she was already a star on the rise, having played Eva Peron in EVITA and performed over 100 shows as Fantine in the Australian production of LES MISERABLES.

Her break-out performance (and still my favourite of all time) came as Rose Vibert in the 1993 Australian premiere of ASPECTS OF LOVE directed by Gale Edwards. Delia was awarded both the Variety and MO awards for her star turn, before being invited to open the UK touring production as Rose.

Delia went on to play Mrs Johnstone in the Australasian tour of BLOOD BROTHERS and won the Sydney Critics Circle award for her performance, in addition to recording the soundtrack with Stefan Dennis and David Soul. She also recorded her first solo album, Down Stage Centre, featuring many of the hit songs she had become known for.

She has since played Grizabella in various productions of CATS all over the world and in 2011 starred as a principal artist in the international tour of THE MUSIC OF Andrew Lloyd Webber, where she performed some of the composer's best-loved songs, including Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and Memory.

In October Delia will appear as The Bird Woman in the highly anticipated New Zealand season of the hit show MARY POPPINS, a role she also played in Perth and Brisbane. Just weeks from opening night in Auckland, my first ever leading lady has kindly shared a little of her brain on musical theatre ...

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre – 7 Questions with Delia Hannah

Is there a particular show and/or person that first made you feel like ‘this is what I want to do’?

I have to say it was a couple of movie sound tracks that may have first inspired me to contemplate the possibility of becoming a performer. I didn't shout it from the rooftops though. I was a slow-burner. It was many years later after I’d been to art school and had a short career as a teacher that I shocked everyone by running away for a life on the stage. Believe it or not, the first soundtrack that I listened to was Disney's MARY POPPINS. I was probably about five and then a few years later it was Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Can you remember the moment when you first understood that you could sing the way most others can’t?

I'd have to say it was people’s reaction to hearing my voice and my ability to mimic singers at a very young age. My voice apparently had a maturity well beyond my years. I was born into a family that sang at parties so it always felt like a normal way to express yourself. I didn't have formal singing training ... I learned everything I needed to know from listening and singing along with the good singers of the day.

Is there one night in your career that you would love to go back to and experience over again?

Actually it would be the night we opened Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects Of Love in Birmingham. I was the imported artist playing Rose Vibert. The show finished and we took our bows, left the stage - got as far as unzipping in the dressing room when I realized the audience hadn't stopped going nuts! The stage manager was telling me to get back into my costume, as quick as I could, and go out for another bow. It was incredible. I felt like I was in a dream. We had quite a few London press and even they gave the show amazing reviews. And we all know how tough they are.

This Is Your Brain On Musical Theatre - 7 Questions with Delia Hannah

Is there one role that belongs to the opposite gender or a different age group that you’d secretly love to perform?

Oh don't get me started ... I have been really blessed and I've played some amazing power roles but there are always other roles that I would kill to play - Elphaba in Wicked, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Hey it's an inconvenient truth but you can't play them all. If I were a man ... I wouldn't mind playing Javert in Les Miserables or Judas in JC Superstar.  Villains are cool to portray.

What book/TV show/movie is a musical just waiting to happen?

The Twilight saga - too long I hear you say? Probably wouldn't hit the cashed up demographic. How about Fifty Shades of Grey?

Do you still sing in the shower when you sing for a living?

Singing in the shower just can't be beat as a warm-up before work. I have a very loud voice and unfortunately I feel self-conscious. I hate the idea of people (neighbours, hotel guests and colleagues etc), listening to me in the shower! So yeah it’s a conundrum. I'm probably more likely to do a warm-down in the shower after the show and my voice is nice and agile - a good time to attempt some nice high notes which I rarely get to sing these days. 

and finally, borrowing from James Lipton via Bernard Pivot:

What sound or noise do you love?

At the risk of being cliché, the sound of the ocean and my daughter's laughter!


MARY POPPINS – The Civic, Auckland

Previews from 13 October 2012, Opens 18 October 2012



In Person Aotea Centre Box Office, Auckland or any Ticketmaster outlet

Groups 10+ Call 09 375 3200 or email

Images: Supplied.

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