Behind the Scenes with Summer Bowen
Zahrat al Kulub / Sarah Doran of Chu Chin Chow
Tell me about your character in Chu Chin Chow. What do you think of her?
Zahrat al Kulub fascinates me because she is a genuine free spirit who rejects city life, the day-to-day pursuit of wealth, and the social graces and niceties that some would call ‘civilised’. Instead she lives a nomadic life in the desert, sleeps under the stars and values passion over gold. It is revealed at the beginning of the show that she has been sold into slavery, and Abu Hasan is blackmailing her to spy in Kasim Baba’s house or her lover Omar will be murdered. Zahrat is fierce, sensual, intelligent and practical, so there is literally nothing she wouldn’t do to win her freedom and save her man. It’s a great role written with the actress Lily Brayton in mind, who was a shrewd personality herself, and I have enjoyed learning about both Lily and Zahrat for the show.
How is this show different from others you’ve appeared in?
This is my first operetta, and I am finding that the tone and style of Chu Chin Chow in particular is larger than life, like a pantomime for adults. The previous plays and operas I have done were generally more serious or even tragic in nature.
What has been your biggest challenge about taking on this role?
The brand new libretto we are performing presents the larger than life impresario Oscar Asche pitching Chu Chin Chow for Melbourne investors in the 1920s, and as a result I am playing the role of an Australian actress named Sarah Doran who is playing the role of Zahrat al Kulub. Sarah’s relationship with Oscar Asche is very different to Zahrat’s with Abu Hasan, so I have found the lust-hate dynamic quite challenging.
What celebrity would you like to see tackle this character? Extra props for an Aussie connection!
Cate Blanchett can do anything, can’t she?
Which is your favourite song from Chu Chin Chow, and why do you think the audience will like it?
For sheer musical beauty, Nur al Huda’s serenade “Corraline” is a highlight of the show. On the other hand, Alcolom’s aria “I Long for the Sun”, sung by Jessica Harris, is extremely special.
Do you have a favourite line of dialogue from this production? If so, share it with us!
At a climactic moment, Zahrat threatens – “Yet fate, which never lies, has written in the sand that I shall be your death.”
I learned how to overcome my nerves, to listen and take cues on time, and to feel comfortable with other actors
Tell us about your first stage show and what you learned from the experience?
My first role was Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof with Noosa Arts Theatre on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I learned how to overcome my nerves, to listen and take cues on time, and to feel comfortable with other actors (especially the young man who was playing my love Motel).
Do you have a favourite play or musical, and if so, why do you love it?
I think my favourite play is A Streetcar Named Desire by Tenessee Williams because Blanche is a brilliant and complex character, and one of my favourite operas is Andre Previn’s adaptation which premiered in San Francisco with Renee Fleming. I found both the play and the opera electric.
What role would you love to play that you haven’t had a chance to as yet?
I would love to play Belle in the stage adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I grew up with the film and it has a very special place in my heart.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Cheese and wine with my boyfriend Andrew and best friend Christine would be lovely.
Is there someone you look up to professionally (as an actor/director/etc.) or personally?
I look up to my singing teacher Carrie Barr, who is encouraging but firm and extremely versatile in her own performing career, and also Liane Keegan, who is passionate about giving performance opportunities for developing opera singers and sharing her own experience.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Book your Tickets to Chu Chin Chow
Watch Summer Bowen bring the dual roles of Zahrat al Kulub & Sarah Doran to the stage in GSOV’s Chu Chin Chow at Malvern Theatre from 26 – 27 November.
This project is supported by City of Greater Geelong through its Community Arts Grants Program.
Chu Chin Chow
Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Victoria presents Chu Chin Chow, based on the smash hit that ran for 2238 performances on London's West End.
Enter the exotic extravaganza of Chu Chin Chow, a grand Arabian Nights adventure from the rich imagination of Geelong-born impresario Oscar Asche – Victoria’s very own musical theatre superstar!