My Top 5 Showtunes: Caroline O'Connor

The actress tells us the musical numbers she couldn’t live without

Caroline O'Connor in rehearsals for The Rink
Caroline O'Connor in rehearsals for The Rink
© Darren Bell

Caroline O'Connor's British theatre credits include the original 1986 revival cast of Me and My Girl, as well as Show Boat for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1996 she was nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance as Mabel in Mack and Mabel.

In Australia she is a three-time Helpmann Award-winner for her performances in Anything Goes, End of the Rainbow and Piaf, and on screen she features as Nini Legs-in-the-Air in Baz Luhrmann's 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, and as Ethel Merman in the 2004 Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely.

She has now returned to London to star as Anna in Kander and Ebb's The Rink – having understudied the role of Angel in the show's 1988 West End premiere – which runs at Southwark Playhouse from 25 May to 23 June.

We caught up with Caroline and asked her: "If you were stranded on a desert island which five showtunes could you not live without?"

1. "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy

This has to be one of the greatest 11 o'clock numbers in musical theatre. 
The first time I heard it, I was 11 years-old. My parents had the LP and I was mesmerised by the power in Ethel Merman's voice and recorded myself singing along to her on my cassette player. She was and still is, an inspiration to me. I was lucky enough to play Rose in the UK and in Australia. I also played Merman herself in the Cole Porter biopic, De-Lovely, so this song and this show have very special places in my heart.

2. "Worst Pies in London" from Sweeney Todd

I played Mrs Lovett in the Châtelet Theatre production in Paris and it was an absolute dream. This is a brilliant, character-driven song full of comedy and pathos. Sondheim has an innate ability to tell a story through song. From the moment the first few bars begin, you are introduced to a loveable yet intimidating character. The song itself is complicated and challenging. Typical Sondheim!

3. "America" from West Side Story

America" is one of the great showstoppers of all time. The character Anita, epitomises the term triple-threat, as it requires all the elements. You have to be a great singer, dancer and actor to play her, and you also need to bring to life a plethora of emotions throughout the entire show. Many years ago, The Rink's choreographer Fabian Aloise and I performed together in West Side Story in Australia. Watching him work on our show now makes me feel like a proud mother!

4. "Anything Goes" from Anything Goes

I recently played Reno Sweeney in the Australian production at the Sydney Opera House. I hadn't had my tap shoes on since 1984 when I performed in Me and My Girl in the West End, so it was a joy to get to tap dance again after all those years. Nobody writes lyrics quite like Cole Porter. Musicals require a strong closing number at the end of Act One, and this song leaves the audience full of joy, elated and delighted.

5. "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" from The Rink

I am a huge fan of Kander and Ebb's work and they wrote a fabulous opening number for the character Anna, a role created by Chita Rivera. I'm currently in rehearsals for The Rink at Southwark Playhouse and this song is without a doubt my favourite in the show. I was an understudy to Angel in the original UK production in 1988. Now 30 years later, I'm playing Anna, so I've come full circle and have had the great pleasure of playing both roles in this very rare gem of a show.