Rob McDougall

The stars of the Australian production of Les Misérables will reunite at the Seymour Centre to present EPIPHANIES, a charity concert supporting research into mental illness.   Rob McDougall, Kerrie Anne Greenland (Helpmann Award winner for her portrayal of Éponine in Les Misérables) and Daniel Belle (The Ten Tenors) will delight musical theatre lovers in a three-hour concert. McDougall, Greenland and Belle’s former Les Misérables co-stars Patrice Topoki, Naomi Livingston and Trevor Ashley will join them as they perform a dazzling array of pieces from some of the world’s most loved musicals.

We had the chance to catch up with Rob McDougall to talk about this gala event and the cause it supports.

SAG:   This should be a terrific night of musical theatre for a cause.  I’m wondering about the name … Epiphanies?  Why did you decide on this name?

ROB:  The name Epiphanies came about after weeks of trying to find a title that fit what we were aiming to do. We (myself, Daniel and Kerrie) had a decent set list, and we knew we wanted to raise money for mental health, so we searched for a title that was relevant to both theatre and mental health.

I’m performing the song ‘Epiphany‘ from Sweeney Todd, a pretty manic piece to be sure, and it felt appropriate to name our mental health research concert after that song. Many of the pieces we are performing involve the characters we are playing going through some mental anguish and coming out the other side with a new lease on life, so Epiphanies seemed to speak to our material as well.

SAG:       I think all of us in this high pressure Industry understand how mental illness can affect our colleagues and friends. What drew you to creating this event?

ROB:   As you are no doubt aware, the entertainment industry’s rates of mental illness are dramatic and horrifying. Our suicide and anxiety rates make those of the normal population look positively benign. We all know someone who has been affected by serious mental health issues, or indeed have been affected ourselves.

Coming off the Australian tour of Les Mis, Daniel, Kerrie and I spent a lot of time talking both about how much we loved working together, and about how mental illness has impacted all of our lives over the past few years.

I have a long relationship with Australian Rotary Health – in fact I’ve raised substantial money for this cause before – and I made the point that while there is a now a substantive conversation about mental health in our culture, we still know next to nothing about the root causes.

So together we decided we should do something practical, whilst also treating ourselves with a chance to work together again! It’s easy to work hard for something you really believe in, with your closest friends by your side.

SAG:    An organization you care about obviously but not all of us would associate a service organisation like Rotary with healthcare. Can you explain a bit about Australian Rotary Health and how it will use the funds raised?

ROB:    Well, it’s important to understand the difference between Rotary International itself and Australian Rotary Health.

Rotary International is the service organisation with all the local clubs that do charitable work around your community, whereas Australian Rotary Health is a specific health research charity set up by Rotary in Australia. ARH has had an almost laser like focus on providing grants for mental health research for over a decade now. They raise money through their connections with Rotary International and the local Rotary Clubs, and that money can then be applied for as a grant for post-doctoral research.

A concert I did in Tamworth nearly a decade ago ended up, through ARH, funding a study into how sleep disorders are often a reliable warning sign for the onset of chemically based bi-polar, anxiety and depression disorders. That study that was subsequently expanded by the federal government to the tune of $3,000,000.

This year’s Epiphanies concerts will be targeted at a grant to research how effective our current treatment regimes for anxiety and depression actually are, and how they can be improved. Rotary International is, of course, sponsor of the concert.

SAG:  It’s a big undertaking this show- in the Seymour Centre with a 18 piece orchestra and a wonderful array of stars. The show has already successfully raised funds in Tamworth as well. Can you tell us a little about the Tamworth event?

ROB:   The concerts in Tamworth last year had a number of goals. I’m from Tamworth and co-produced them with a mentor of mine named Di Hall, with the aim of raising money for this cause, and also of bringing a world class, professional orchestra with world class music theatre singers to my home town.

I also wanted to offer the opportunity to some younger students that I teach monthly in Tamworth to do some performance and vocal work with Daniel and Kerrie.  The shows were a roaring success, taking me somewhat by surprise, and we raised $20,000 for Australian Rotary Health in two concerts.

This year’s show in Sydney is twice the size, with a much more ambitious fundraising target, and nearly the entire orchestra and cast from the last show jumped back on board as soon as they heard we were doing it again.

SAG:   It is certainly shaping up to be one of the musical theatre events of the year. How does it feel to be reuniting with some of your Les Misérables co-stars?

So exciting! When you’re on tour for nearly three(!) years, you become family. Daniel, Kerrie and I have made a special effort to stay in contact, but the nature of our industry makes that impossible with all of your castmates.

Being able to see Naomi, Trevor and Patrice again is a huge treasure for me; I’ve missed them dearly. Each of them also bring stunning talent and something unique and exciting to the concert; Trevor Ashley in particular will knock your socks off in this show. It’s only once you’ve finished a tour that you properly realise how lucky you were to work with people of this calibre, and now I get to do it again!

SAG:   Can we expect duets and trios as well as solos?  How about a big ensemble number?  Any hints about what we will hear at the show?

ROB:  Yes solos, duets and trios, as well as a couple of big ensemble pieces.

We have pieces from Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, The Secret Garden, The Wild Party, Carousel, Sunset Boulevard and many others.  Of course there will be some Les Misérables

We have the professional dance troupe from Lee Academy of Dance adding a great visual element to what I’m told was already a high energy show.  

Our finale piece is a true knockout featuring the entire cast, and possibly some ring-ins, but I don’t want to give too much away on that just yet!

SAG:  We will look forward to that! Thank you so much for speaking with our readers.

ROB:  Thank you for speaking with me and for giving us some publicity for this very important cause.

EPIPHANIES will play two performances at the Seymour Centre on Saturday, 27th October at 2pm and 7:30pm