On the Couch with David Whitney

David Whitney AAR On the CouchWho is David Whitney?
I am an Australian actor and singer. I was born and educated in Sydney, then studied acting at NIDA ( National Institute of Dramatic Art) graduating over 40 years ago. My first major job was a twelve-month contract with the Melbourne Theatre Company, rehearsing by day and performing at night in numerous productions, including the first production in the new Victorian Arts Centre! What an apprenticeship!

Since then I’ve been lucky enough to sustain a career as a professional actor, working on stage and screen. I’ve worked for all the major theatre companies (STC, Bell, Belvoir, Ensemble, Opera Australia) and in many major commercial musicals, such as The Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, Cabaret, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Spamalot, Rock of Ages, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz … the list goes on.

I did lots of TV in the 80s and 90s when there seemed to be a lot more local content than we are currently producing. My hope is to continue straddling the different worlds of classical theatre, musical theatre and screen.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
“Regrets? I’ve had a few. But then again…” Way too many to mention. So many things I would do differently. Over a forty-year career, there are so many sliding door moments where had things gone differently, or had I made a different choice, my career might have taken a different path. I don’t believe in dwelling on missteps or mistakes but there are many times where I look back and wish I had handled things more wisely. The biggest things I would do differently would be to care less and to network more!

Who inspires you and why?
Inspiration comes and goes, but I’m very happy to say that some of the people who inspired me as a young actor continue to be role models and people I admire deeply. On the world stage, the great classical knights and dames… Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi , Maggie Smith, Judi Dench.

Closer to home, I’m lucky enough to have worked with our own legends..John Bell, Peter Carroll, John Gaden, Tony Llewellyn Jones, Maggie Dence, Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon… the list goes on and there are so many others no longer with us.

I’m currently working with Drew Forsythe in The Wharf Revue. I first saw Drew when I was a teenager and he has continued to inspire me with his extraordinary abilities. These are my elders who showed me how to behave as a professional, and who remain an inspiration. Like them, I hope to keep working and remaining a vital and active part of our industry.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Such a difficult question. When the world in 2024 seems so hellbent on self destruction with increasing division socially and politically , not to mention the existential crisis of climate change, it is difficult to imagine that the actions of any one individual could make any difference at all.

A few years ago I toured Australia in a production of 1984 for the brilliant Brisbane-based company Shake & Stir, and it strikes me that the dystopian world imagined by George Orwell is becoming a reality with the passing of each year. What did Winston and Julia do in 1984 to make a difference? They rebelled, and in that they found some momentary happiness. It didn’t work out very well in the end but at least they had glimpses of the golden country.

So I guess I will continue to rebel. I will be kinder to those around me. I will behave ethically and hope that others will do the same. I will despair at atrocities and try not to become inured to the failings of mankind. I will enjoy the little things that I can control . I will laugh more, and try to make others laugh. The Wharf Revue seems like a good place to start!

Favourite holiday destination and why?
A toss up between two destinations at different ends of our country. Firstly Fitzroy Island off Cairns. A relatively unspoilt tropical island. Though the coral isn’t what it was, the marine life is still abundant and the waters warm and tranquil. The resort is small but still well appointed and the island is big enough that you can get away from others to enjoy the quiet. The other destination is Tasmania, particularly the east coast. Spectacular scenery, also relatively unspoilt. The world seems simpler and calmer in Tassie. If it was a bit warmer, we’d move there.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
That’s easy. The Wharf Revue! We are about to tour nationally to a town near you, so for an entertaining, intelligent satire on the world of politics and humanity with great songs and sketches, what could beat the hilarious writing and brilliant characters in our latest show, Pride in Prejudice?

What are you currently reading?
Humphrey Burton’s biography of Leonard Bernstein. It’s sat on my shelf for twenty years, but after seeing Bradley Cooper’s brilliant film Maestro, I finally got around to tackling it. I’ve been a fan of Bernstein music since I was a teenager (courtesy of a school production of West Side Story) and loved watching him conduct on film and television. In particular the concert version of Candide, conducted by Bernstein, remains one of the most joyous things I’ve seen.

What are you currently listening to?
I was recently given an old fashioned record player/ turntable. So I am working my way through all my old LPs that had sat in a box since the 90s. Lots of Beatles and Bowie of course, Elton John, Billy Joel as well as a fair amount of Aussie Rock… The Angels, Midnight Oil, Dragon, Men at Work, Aussie Crawl. Then there’s the jazz collection. Galapagos Duck features heavily. And of course the music theatre albums. Most notably the original Australian cast recordings of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. Those productions from the seventies remain hugely influential to me, so wonderful to revisit those extraordinary original performances.

Happiness is?
Spending time with my wife, my daughter and our cats. On the beach, walking through the bush or enjoying a simple meal with friends and family. I love working but am at my happiest in the quiet moments with my loved ones.

What does the future hold for you?
The immediate future is a national tour of The Wharf Revue: Pride In Prejudice. We’ve already had successful seasons in Sydney and Canberra, and now we hit the road to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide as well as numerous stops in regional Australia. It’s a hugely enjoyable show that our loyal audiences love. I get to sing, dance and play a dozen different characters – who could say NO to that? Well, possibly my favourite character, opposition leader Peter Dutton.

David stars in The Wharf Revue: Pride In Prejudice – which plays the Union Theatre, Melbourne University: 12-24 February, before playing at selected venues in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. For more information, visit: www.softtread.com.au for details.

Image: David Whitney (supplied)