After being 'discovered' on a TV talent show in her native Australia, actress and singer Alison Jiear made her British stage debut in the West End with The Fabulous Singlettes, which was later filmed for Channel 4.
Her subsequent British musical theatre credits have included Honk!, Hot Mikado, Grease, Smokey Joe's Café and Black Goes With Everything.
A highly regarded cabaret artist, Jiear has also performed in many concerts - including her own Alison Jiear in Cabaret in New York and as part of London's Jermyn Street Jewels cabaret season this past summer - and has released two albums, Simply Alison Jiear and Forgiveness' Embrace.
Now returned to musical theatre, Jiear stars as Shawntel, the wannabe pole dancer, in Jerry Springer - The Opera, the high art meets low life hit based on the television chat show. Following its extended sell-out season at the NT Lyttelton, the production has now transferred to the West End's Cambridge Theatre, where it officially reopens on 10 November 2003.
Date & place of birth
Born 6 May 1965 in Brisbane, Australia.
Lives now in...
I wanted a better standard of living and London was getting too expensive, so I moved to St Alban's six years ago.
First big break
I was discovered on Safeway New Faces, an Australian TV talent show. I was 18, and I sang one of my own compositions called "Falling Out of Love", and I had the worst frock on ever! But I won it, Olivia Newton-John saw me perform, and an Australian singer called Simon Gallaher invited me to tour Australia as his backing vocalist and support act.
Career highlights to date
Coming to London to do The Fabulous Singlettes. We came here first in 1987 and had a season at the Piccadilly Theatre. That was followed by seasons at the Comedy and Duke of York's. One of the best gigs I ever did was singing the Australian national anthem for the Rugby Final between Australia and England at Wembley. Doing my cabaret show in New York for the first time at a club called Eighty Eights was another highlight. I'd always dreamt of performing in New York, and I did it!
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
The musical Nine in Australia, because that's where I met my best friend Sally Bourne, who I am currently doing Jerry Springer - The Opera with now! Hot Mikado, because I got to sing like "me" and I developed a wonderful relationship with the adaptor/composer Rob Bowman, which continues to this day. Smokey Joe's Café, because to be asked to sing the BJ Crosby role was an honour. Jerry Springer - The Opera, because I've never worked with such a talented company before in my life. Every night I go on stage I am surrounded by the most incredible voices and I love it.
Drew Jaymson, who played Roger to my Jan in Grease at the Dominion, because he sings like a motherf**ker! Michael Brandon in Jerry Springer - The Opera, because he takes the time to remind me of why I'm there and what I have to contribute. Marcus Cunningham, because he's the perfect trailer-trash husband to me, and he looks great even in a mullet!
I don't really have any favourite directors. I've been lucky to work with some great people, but I adore Craig Revel Horwood, even though he hasn't directed any of the West End shows I've done. I've worked with him on numerous projects, and he's honest and brings out the best in me.
Favourite musical writers
David Freedman, a New York cabaret writer, who has continuously given me great material for years - he fills my repertoire pot for my cabarets. Stephen Schwartz, because he's a genius - his "Forgiveness' Embrace" is the title song of my second solo album.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Effie White in Dreamgirls - but dream on, Ali! Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray is another great role - I'd kill to do it when it comes here! I've loved the movie since I saw it in the 1980s, and have dreamt about doing it since! I've seen the show on Broadway twice!
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
I saw Hairspray, Nine with Antonio Banderas and Gypsy with Bernadette Peters, all on Broadway. But the thing I most enjoyed was Elaine Stritch - At Liberty, which I saw in Chicago, when my friend Rob Bowman from Hot Mikado was MD'ing. Stritch is so honest and so raw, yet never self-indulgent. It completely comes from the heart.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
It would be great if we had teachers who would encourage students to be who they are and to be individual. So often, English performers apologise for being good and they're seen to be narcissistic if they're overly confident. We need to take a leaf out of what Americans do, which is to be proud of what they have to offer.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Frank Sinatra - I want to sing with his band and hang out with the boys.
Favourite holiday destinations
New York - I love the madness of it and I love Central Park in the snow. Paris - because of the cakes!
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, because he's a philosophical genius; and Down Under by Bill Bryson, because he sums Australia up perfectly!
If you hadn't become an entertainer, what would you have done professionally?
A nursery teacher, probably, because that's what I was training to do before my family relocated to Brisbane.
Why did you want to accept your part in Jerry Springer - The Opera?
I didn't. I thought it was rude, but my agent thought it would be a good career move! I realised on the first day of rehearsals that I'd made the right decision.
Are you a fan of the television show?
I used to watch the show religiously with my ex-boyfriend. I had a morbid fascination with people who are more f**ked up than I am! I like it when the wigs come off, which mine actually did on stage one night, too!
What's your favourite number &/or lyric from Jerry Springer?
"It Ain't Easy Being Me" is my favourite number, sung by Benjamin Lake who plays God, because he has a voice like velvet! But also, not for narcissistic reasons, I adore the song I get to do every night, "I Just Wanna Dance", because when the ensemble comes in, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and it inspires me to sing my tits off!
My favourite lyric is: "Billions of voices making all the wrong choices, then turning around and blaming me", which is sung by God, because I believe that we should all take responsibility for our decisions and the consequences they have.
How difficult was learning to pole dance?
Strangely enough, it came quite naturally to me, but then my therapist thinks I was a whore in a past life! It's not the best form of exercise, though - sex is much more fun!
What's the oddest thing that happened during Jerry Springer's run at the National?
Kirsten Dunst, who was in the Spider Man movie, was watching the show with her other half, and they were snogging, whispering and giggling throughout. Three minutes after I made my entrance, they left. I didn't take it personally. I figured the sight of me in black leather split to the thigh was clearly too much for both of them to bear. I hope they had a nice evening! We've had lots of stars in who've lasted the course. I got to kiss Billy Zane the other night. Phwoar!
My son Michael, who is seven, saw the last 15 minutes of the first half, and he commented that I looked very pretty and he liked my hair, but said, "I'm not very happy with the way you're behaving up there!" Unfortunately, three months later, I got a note in his homework diary that he was using inappropriate language in the schoolyard, so I asked him what he'd said and he sheepishly pointed to his backside. I said, "What does that mean?" He replied, "I told Matthew to talk to the ass!"
What are your plans for the future?
I'm contracted with Jerry Springer to the middle of next year. I've enjoyed the show every night I've gone out to do it, so I'm not in a hurry to go anywhere.
- Alison Jiear was speaking to Mark Shenton
Jerry Springer is currently in previews at the West End's Cambridge Theatre where it opens on 10 November 2003 and is currently booking through to March 2004.