Aussie stage diva Caroline O’Connor looks very much at home in her dressing room at New York’s Broadhurst Theater, where she is starring in the new musical Anastasia.
And that’s probably a good thing as Anastasia is a big hit. O’Connor is contracted for the run of the show in her role of Countess Lily, and she intends to make the stages of Broadway her home for the foreseeable future.
“I have such a strong feeling this is where I am meant to be right now,” O’Connor admits, just an hour before the matinee performance.
O'Connor has worked all over the world, with a career spanning three decades
“I have worked in New York before, in Chicago and A Christmas Story, but neither time felt like this. There is just something telling me to stay around a bit longer this time and see what happens. It’s a great feeling, and this is a very special show to be a part of.”
Anastasia is a musical stage imagination of the life of Russia’s Grand Duchess Anastasia if she escaped the execution of the Royal family in 1918. It follows her journey of self-discovery as she attempts to be reunited with her grandmother in Paris.
O’Connor stops the show as the fun-loving Lily, the lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Empress. Her performance has earned her an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Best Featured Actress and a Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance.
Broadway is a long way from the Sydney suburb of Rockdale where O’Connor grew up and first started fostering dreams of becoming a star on the musical stage.
She literally danced her way to success, first in the ensemble before stepping into lead roles and delivering star turns in such shows as Chicago, West Side Story, Anything Goes and Piaf. She also danced up a storm on the movie screen in Moulin Rouge.
At this point of her career, O’Connor finds herself in demand in New York, London and a headliner on the Australian stage. Finally achieving this level of recognition after a three-decade career is not something she takes lightly.
“Every day I walk through the stage door here, I want to pinch myself to make sure it’s real that I am in a Broadway show, and that I made this dream come true,” she says. “I’m never, ever blasé about it and will never be.
O'Connor singing and tap dancing on stage for 'De-Lovely'
“I worked so hard for this and waited until I was 33 for my big break in Mack and Mabel in London, and that was after years and years of working and understudying just about everybody. The dream took a long time to come true.”
Along the way, she also married musician Barrie Shaw and the couple recently celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary. They now travel the world together performing – O’Connor on stage and Shaw usually in the pit with the orchestra.
“Persistence is my favourite word and one that I’ve always lived by. I knew when I was a kid in Rockdale that I wanted to go for it and make it happen. And I still feel that way today – I still want to make things happen.”
A chat with O’Connor is full of anecdotes about backstage life, the great characters she has worked with and the fun she has had along the way.
However, she also talks seriously about always being prepared to learn from all the other talents around her.
She believes it’s essential for remaining relevant in the ever-changing landscape of showbusiness.
One of O'Connor's earlier roles in 'Piaf'
“There is something about being at my age now when some people feel they have had enough and just settle themselves in, but I have never felt that way,” says O’Connor, now in her early 50s.
“I want to keep exploring, keep testing myself and seeing what else I can do. I want to step out of the box and keep achieving alongside the people who are the best in our business.”
“I am sometimes on stage and look at the people around me and marvel at what they can do – and I’m talking the young kids as well as the older cast members – and just want to learn from all of them,” she says.
As for where this success in Anastasia might take her next, O’Connor shrugs as she responds, “Who knows, but I’m so curious to find out, and to have a great time getting there. As long as I keep pushing myself forward, then it should work out fine.”
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