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21 Apr 2019 22:09
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  •   Home > News > International

    Eddie Perfect gets his big break with Beetlejuice on Broadway

    Australian comedian and composer Eddie Perfect has written the score for the stage version of Beetlejuice, which is about to premiere in New York.

    Eddie Perfect has arrived.

    Having first written the songs for the stage show of King Kong, which originated in Australia, the singer, songwriter and comedian has written the score for Beetlejuice, which is about to open on Broadway.

    It is a huge achievement for the actor, who is probably best known for his role in the TV series, Offspring.

    Although in New York, no-one knows who he is.

    "Do people recognise you here?" I ask him as we enter the stage door of the Winter Garden Theatre.

    Beetlejuice is in its final days of previews before officially opening on April 25.

    "No, I just walk out and people are like, is this someone?" he said, laughing.

    He finds the anonymity liberating.

    "I'm no-one. It's good. I like it," he said.

    "No-one knows that I did television, or had any other career.

    "There's nothing in the way between people liking or hating the work on its own terms, which is a really great thing."

    Perfect's status as a rising star might just be cemented with Beetlejuice after moving to New York to finish the job last year. Or not.

    He is well aware that most Broadway shows do not make a profit.

    Bold leaps on the path to Broadway

    Perfect's big break came in 2007 with his star turn as Alexander Downer in Keating: The Musical, which toured Australia, receiving rave reviews.

    In 2008, he wrote and starred in Shane Warne: The Musical, a satire based on the exploits of the legendary spin bowler.

    After writing some songs for the stage version of Strictly Ballroom in 2014, he realised that composing for musical theatre was his first love, inspired by childhood road trips with parents who embraced books and music.

    "I can trace my enthusiasm and passion for musical theatre back to when my father recorded onto a cassette the 1984 production of Sweeney Todd with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury and played it in the Kombi van when we went on camping trips," he said.

    "I remember being blown away by the combination of music and storytelling."

    Though he found local success as a comedian, actor and singer in Australia, he needed a bigger stage to make life as a composer work, at least for now.

    It was at his wife Lucy's urging that he bought a one-way ticket to New York.

    "I felt [like I was] in a vacuum. I had to get out and write with other people," he said. "For me, working here has changed the way I write for the better. It's made me a better writer, a more resilient person."

    With a resume of heavily Australian works, Perfect needed some help to get doors to open on Broadway.

    A few phone calls and his friend and fellow artist Tim Minchin set him up with a prominent US agent.

    Minchin, who broke into the Broadway scene after writing the score for Matilda, said he was offered quite a few projects he was not able to take on.

    "Every time I had to say 'no' to something, I would say, 'But you should get Eddie Perfect!'" Minchin said.

    "Getting them to believe me took a bit of work. I eventually got his Shane Warne album into the hands of John Buzzetti, my Broadway agent and although he didn't have a clue what the thing was about, he could hear the extraordinary songwriting ability."

    Perfect got the job writing the music for Beetlejuice after he wrote two songs on spec — a bold move in the Broadway universe — in his Melbourne backyard and sent them to the producers.

    The song that nearly killed him

    In Beetlejuice, based on the 1988 cult film, Perfect found both a compelling character and one of his greatest writing challenges to date.

    "The Beetlejuice song nearly killed me," he said.

    "He has so many sharp turns and cul-de-sacs. His mind works incredibly fast. At one moment he's seducing, then he's controlling, then he's terrifying.

    "He's panicking or he's full of joy. He's a child with multiple demons running through him, which is really clear in the script."

    He drew on his zig-zagging career for inspiration. The score, which drips with dark wit, spans an array of musical genres.

    "All that stuff goes in the bag and that's your bag. No-one else has that bag," he said.

    "I really enjoy, like a bowerbird, being able to pull different things from my past and put them into the score."

    It took him four years to write the music for the show.

    Writing laughs comes with risks

    As audiences take their seats in the theatre this month, Perfect will be in a weird position as he gauges the response.

    "It's quite creepy how at this stage of the game we're so focused on eliciting a specific emotion or reaction from an audience," he said.

    Writing musical comedy is not exactly a science, he said. But he knows how to tell if he has written a dead spot. Too much coughing is a bad sign. Even worse is seeing someone pull out their phone to check the time.

    And then there is the risk of offending your audience, which in the current political climate, is always a possibility, he said.

    "I think that we are living in times that are much more fraught now. The conversation about sex and power and gender is the lens through which an audience views everything," Perfect said.

    "Audiences are much more conservative and scared, not so sure what to laugh at.

    "Comedy operates on surprise. You receive the information, it surprises you, you laugh.

    "When there's a thing in between, you go: is this safe to laugh at? Who is this joke directed at? Is there a victim in this joke? What is the power dynamic of this joke? Is it coming from someone with power and punching down the powerless, is it punching up?

    "It's a scary kind of process that everyone has in their brains now, and it affects the way you can laugh at stuff.

    "That's not good or bad; that's just the way it is."

    Fear and loathing in New York City

    New York holds a special resonance for Perfect.

    It is the city that brought him the very music that inspired him to pursue theatrical storytelling in the first place.

    But along with all the magic of innovation, the city has a darkly competitive side.

    As Minchin explained: "Broadway is brutally commercial, and New York producers and press and investors don't actually want outsiders to succeed. In fact, many will work very hard to try to hurt your work.

    "There is a level of ruthlessness that is grotesque to me and is utterly in opposition to the work I want to make and the manner in which I want to make it.

    "But it's Broadway baby, you gotta have a crack."

    For now, Perfect is just trying to get the most out of being here.

    "My main objective here is to write Beetlejuice well enough that I get asked back," he said.

    "I'd like to stay. I'd like to write more things. Honouring the faith that people put into you is really important and so this being successful would be the greatest way of thanking people for having my back."

    And then?

    "I don't see myself becoming an American anytime soon. I miss Australia like crazy and I miss my life, the life we had for our kids. The healthcare system, the education system. The list goes on," he said.

    But as for the next project?

    After four years of writing deadlines and 3:00am international calls, he has no plans.

    "I think I'll have a little break, and then I'll panic at the end of that break," Perfect said.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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