Gyton Grantley has been rehearsing for South Pacific in a most unusual fashion.
“I've got a friend who's renovating a house in Brisbane, so it's empty,” he said ahead of Thursday night's first preview. “I've been using the lounge room as my stage.”
Called into service less than two months ago to play the role of crafty sailor Luther Billis in the production's Brisbane season, the 32-year-old actor admits he isn't known for his singing ability.
“I've had a lot of help, my father's a singer and a couple of my friends are musicians, so I've been working on it, and am feeling very comfortable now.”
He says he's lucky that as the show's comic relief, he doesn't have the big solos of his co-stars, Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Instead, his big number is the ensemble favourite Nothing Like a Dame.
“Billis doesn't have to sing too much on his own, and to have all those great fellas behind me supporting me just makes it so much easier.”
It was a big morning for Gyton and fellow Queensland newcomer Christine Anu – they met the American director behind the revival, Bartlett Sher, for the first time.
“Meeting Bart, just two seconds before walking into the media call - like, thanks,” Anu laughed. “That was very scary.”
The 53-year-old had just flown into Brisbane from New York, but didn't let jet lag stop him from jumping up onstage after numbers to offer advice and pointers to the new cast members.
“Gyton and Christine were really lovely,” he said, adding that he would spend tomorrow working with them to bring out their best possible version of Billis and Bloody Mary.
“Since doing it in New York, the cast in Australia has by far been my favourite group of people to work with,” said Sher. “It was an incredible pleasure from beginning to end ... and one of the reasons I wanted to come back this time, to see it again.”
McCune said she was thrilled Sher had returned, as his experience was invaluable.
“He's got the ammunition, if you like, to push us in the right direction, and he's just been so joyful to work with.”
Based on James A Michener's book Tales of the South Pacific, the musical centres around American nurse Nellie Forbush (McCune), stationed at a US naval base in World War II. She falls in love with French plantation owner Emile (Tahu Rhodes), but struggles to accept his mixed-race children.
Sher said composers Rodgers and Hammerstein focused on issues like racism and the idea of “otherness”.
“How people from one culture encounter another one, and how different they are, and how much you used to get what you called 'Bali-Ha'id', transformed by this experience of going overseas.”
Anu said her character of sassy saleswoman Bloody Mary really started to emerge when she got into costume, including disgusting-looking rotten teeth.
“I have to paint them on every day, and take them off whenever I need to eat,” she said.
“I hope I haven't poisoned myself with teeth paint.”
The 42-year-old said she enjoyed the experience of getting out of her “pop headspace” and whipped into musical theatre shape to sing.
“At the first glimpse, [they] seem quite simple songs to sing, but then the technicality comes in,” said Anu. “So it's been a great learning curve for me and I've absolutely loved every moment of it.”
Grantley says he's thrilled to be performing the four-and-a-half-week season in his hometown, after enjoying Christmas with his family.
There's only one downside for the versatile Brisbane-born actor, best known for playing Carl Williams in the TV series Underbelly.
“All my friends left for Woodford today,” he said. “This is the first Woodford I've missed in 12 years.”
But he admits his current location is a pretty good substitute.
“[I've moved] from the hot and dusty or wet and muddy Woodford to the beautiful sandy beaches of the South Pacific.”