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flowerchildren (The Mamas and Papas Story) @ Comedy Theatre

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by Elizabeth Quinn (subscribe)
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The songs, the loves, the caftans-flowerchildren has it all
Laura Fitzpatrick began performing professionally alongside Chaim Topol as Chava in Fiddler on the Roof at the Regent Theatre, moved on to the role of Serena Katz in the Australasian tour of Fame – The Musical and from there took on the part of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at Melbourne's Comedy Theatre.

Laura is delighted to be reprising the role of Michelle Phillips in the return season of flowerchildren. It was first performed in 2011 in a sell-out season and now returning to the Comedy Theatre from 18 May to 23 June. Laura has a special connection to show which goes beyond her attachment to the character of Mama Michelle.

1. What is the history of flowerchildren?
flowerchildren had its first outing in 2008, as part of Magnormos' readings program. It was a one-night only workshop performance. Three of the original members of this cast - Matt Hetherington (John Phillips), Jessica Featherby (Jill Gibson) and me (Michelle Phillips) - have remained with the show in all its incarnations.

The next version of flowerchildren was a full production staged by Magnormos at Theatreworks in July 2011. All four current Mamas and Papas (Casey Donovan, Dan Humphris, Matt and me) were part of this production. We had a sell-out season and great reviews! It was a fantastic experience.

The current production has been in the pipeline ever since the success of the previous one. This production builds on the elements that worked so well for us back at Theatreworks, but everything is on a much bigger scale.

2. How difficult is it to reprise a role after a break of some years?
It really is like riding a bike. It's actually a wonderful experience - Michelle Phillips has popped up in my life so many times over the last several years that I feel like I know her very well now. It's a cliché, but slipping back into the role feels like catching up with an old friend. Of course, I keep getting older while the Michelle Phillips in the show stays the same age - I won't be able to play her forever, but hopefully I've got a few more outings in me yet!

3. Has the production evolved since the first time round?
The story is based pretty closely on what actually took place, so it hasn't changed really at all. I think the production has gone from strength to strength each time it has been performed. From the actors' point of view, we have the luxury this time of already knowing the characters and already having said the lines, so a bit of the usual preliminary work has been done. This gives us some more room to really go deeper into the characters and their interactions.

Other elements of the production have developed significantly. Largely because of a bigger budget, we have the freedom this time to do something a bit more visually spectacular. The show can stand alone on the script, the songs and the performances, but it's really exciting to have something new and exciting (fantastic set, great costumes, beautiful theatre, bigger band etc.) to bring to the audience.

4. How does your connection to the show's creator affect your relationship to the show?
I don't really mind people knowing that dad wrote the show. Of course, it will probably make some people think there was a bit of nepotism at play in the casting, but the casting was really up to Magnormos and the director, Aaron Joyner.

At the end of the day, I am incredibly proud of dad for what he's created, so I think that's something to celebrate. It is an incredibly moving show that I would feel a deep connection to regardless, but I think this family link makes that connection even more intense. It's a wonderful thing for me, as an adult, to be able to share something so exciting with my dad - it's an experience neither of us will ever forget.

5. What are the highlights from your point of view?
The music is incredible, and there are some stand-out singing performances from Matt, Casey and Dan. Casey's rendition of the Mama Cass favourites will bring the house down.

But I think the relationships between the characters are what make the show really special. I think everyone will feel like they know each of the Mamas and Papas intimately by the end, and will hopefully grow to care about the things that happen to them.

I guess the great thing about flowerchildren is how well these elements are brought together. John Phillips wrote most of the songs of the Mamas and Papas, and he wrote very autobiographically about what was happening to the group as it was happening. So when these songs appear in the story, they are actually describing what the group is going through; the music furthers the story rather than interrupting it.

6. Describe the complex relationships between the four members of the group.
Each of the four members has an incredibly strong relationship with each of the others. All the different connections are quite different, but each relationship represents a very interesting and powerful dynamic. There's a lot of love there - romantic and otherwise - but also a lot of resentment and anger.

I don't want to give too much away, but many people will be aware that there was a bit of a love triangle within the group during the height of their fame. Actually, it was really a love square. That makes for some pretty dramatic and moving scenes in the show.

In real life, I know that Michelle - the only one who is still alive of the four - looks back at these people like they're family, despite the fact that it all happened a very long time ago, and they did some terrible things to one another. Something very powerful occurred between those four people during the two or three years of the group's real fame.

7. Were you brought up with the music of the Mamas and Papas?
Amazingly - given my father's love for it - no! Like most people, I knew California Dreaming and Monday Monday, but not most of the rest of the songs. Now though, I'm a really big fan. It's actually incredible music - the 8-track harmonies are amazing, and the songs are very catchy and sometimes very beautiful. I often listen to it on my iPod these days!

8. Have you ever played the femme fatale before? Is it lots of fun?
I haven't really, actually! I often play the romantic roles, but they're usually sweeter characters. I did play Sally Bowles once in Cabaret, but that was a long time ago.

It is definitely lots of fun. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at first - the idea that you have to be seductive and able to make people fall for you. In the beginning I was a bit self-conscious about that stuff, but in the end you just have to go for it!

9. What do you think of the 60s fashions? (WeekendNotes ask all the HARD questions)
Ha! They're great - I love my costumes. Michelle Phillips actually wasn't much of a fashionista - at least not during the period I am portraying her. She was a bit of a tomboy really, so most of my outfits are jeans and boots. But there are a couple of really out there sixties outfits that I get to wear later in the show. They are a sight to behold!
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Why? Killer harmonies and free love - what else do you need?
When: May 18 to June 23
Where: Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Cost: $65 to $85
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