Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Dream role in killer opera for rising Kiwi star

Joel Granger comes home to New Zealand to play Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Joel Granger comes home to New Zealand to play Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

It's his first year out of theatre school and Joel Granger is having the kind of time young performers hope for, but are warned is unlikely to happen.

Born in Palmerston North but raised in Orewa, Granger comes "home" for his first professional role in New Zealand. He plays Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd, the young boy who discovers the special ingredient the Demon Barber of Fleet Street provides Mrs Lovett with for her famous pies.

"This is my first time working for an opera company, which is very exciting because, although I trained classically growing up, I haven't nearly immersed myself in the opera world as much as I would like," he says.

But he's no stranger to the role of Tobias, saying it's been a dream role for a long time because he used to perform Tobias' signature number Not While I'm Around as a boy soprano. He says it was his "go to song", performed it for many a singing competition and concert.

How does he sum up the production?

"It achieves the almost impossible of both terrifying you and making you laugh in a live theatre situation; remaining one of the most intelligently written pieces in the music theatre catalogue."

Straight out of Kristin School, Granger moved to Perth for three years to study musical theatre at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). After graduating at the end of 2015, he moved to Melbourne and the work has flooded in.

He was Bernstein in the Victorian premiere of the musical Dogfight then went straight onto the Australian premiere of the London Revival version of Titanic the Musical. There have also been concerts showcasing upcoming and celebrated Australian composers and writers plus an appearance for Theatre People, alongside some of Australia's most established musical theatre performers.

If that's not enough, Granger has also recently finished filming a supporting lead role in the fourth season of the Emmy Award nominated TV Show Please Like Me. He says that's particularly exciting because he wants to work on stage and screen.

"I really wish I had more of a life outside of performing, but, alas, I'm a little bit boring. Saying that, coming from a music theatre background, I'd say I have an equal passion for acting, singing and dancing, and am often singing at concerts around Melbourne or taking dance classes."

Granger is especially looking forward to working with Teddy Tahu Rhodes, saying he's inspired by how Rhodes works in music theatre and opera on an international scale.

What: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Where & when: The Civic, 17-24 September 17 - 24; St James Theatre, Wellington, September 30 - October; Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, October 12 - 15

- NZ Herald

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