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fame the musical

Kelley played the lead role of Carmen Diaz AND choreographed Fame - The Musical for Kevin Jacobsen Productions in 1999. In 2000 she was awarded the Mo Award for Female Dance/Choreographer Performer of the Year, and the Green Room Award for Best Original Choreography in a Musical for her work in this show.
In 2003 Kelley travelled to Johannesberg to stage her choreography for the South African production of Fame.

kelley says

I was originally asked to only choreograph Fame the Musical by Kevin Jacobsen. David Atkins was directing and I was so thrilled to be choreographing my first major dance musical and working with David in this capacity.

After auditioning 4000 people for this show we couldn't cast the lead character 'Carmen Diaz'. I had flown to New York to see the american version and knew what the role required. I decided to take a number and audition for the role.

Yes, I had to audition for the panel I had been sitting on for the last two weeks. Thank god I didn't have to audition for myself!

David and Kevin cast me in the role and I began on the incredible journey of performing the lead and choreographing my first major musical. It was a dream come true for me as I had never done my own choreography.

Fame had a successful run in Australia and later I got to restage the show for Kuala Lumpar, Singapore and Hong Kong. There was an amazing cast of brilliant dancers in this show and I got to experiment with many dance styles i.e classical ballet, lyrical jazz, breakdance and Flamenco.

I won 2 awards for best original choreography in a musical.

One of my favourite memories was sitting in the dressing room putting my make-up on for the show and listening to Thelma Houston warm up next door wailing some Gospel tunes.


fame the musical

fame the musical
Performing the role of Carmen Diaz (and her own choreography)


press

kelley abbey Kelley not unused to Fame

When the panel casting Fame: the Musical couldn't decide on someone to play the lead of Carmen Diaz in the local production, who else did they turn to but fellow panelist and veteran of the stage, Kelley Abbey.
The former E Streeter and star of Sweet Charity is enjoying her dual role of choreographer/dancer for the musical which opens at Star City tomorrow night.
"I stepped out from behind the panel after the auditions and danced in front of the people I had been judging with," Abbey laughed in between rehearsals this week.
"I guess it is quite unusual and kind of weird."
Starring alongside 70s disco diva Thelma Houston and under the direction of stage stalwart David Atkins, Abbey doesn't like to be typecast as an actress, singer or dancer.
"I have always loved everything and if I do one for too long I have to have a crack at the other - it's in my nature."
The Daily Telegraph - 28 July 1999

Kelley finds Fame

Performer Kelley Abbey, once best known as unruly bikie chick JoJo from the TV soap E Street, has forged a fabulous career out of making all the right moves.
As a dancer, choreographer and singer, Kelley's wowed audiences across the nation in musical productions such as Sweet Charity, Grease and West Side Story,
swinging, tapping and gliding her way through some of the best-known and best-loved routines in theatrical history.
But all of that will fade into the background when she takes on her latest role, that of Carmen Diaz, the fiercely ambitious dancer who plans to succeed at all costs, in Fame - the Musical. And, in keeping with the words from the hit musical's title song, it seems certain audiences will remember Kelley's name.
"This is the role I've been preparing for all my life," says Kelley, 33. "They could have written this with me in mind. Not that I'm overly ambitious, but this is the kind of role I've always dreamt about."
Indeed Kelley, who grew up in suburban Brisbane, used her enthusiasm for the Oscar-winning film version of Fame, starring Irene Cara, as inspiration for her own entertainment career.
"I must have watched that movie 15 times when I was growing up," admits the singer and dancer, who as well as starring in Fame - the Musical, will also choreograph the production. I absolutely loved it, even down to the early '80s fashions, which now seem fairly tragic. The story about these young people at a high school for performers was something that really grabbed me, even though there was nothing like that happening in Australia at the time. It really souped me up and kept me interested in establishing myself as a performer."
And just as well, or perhaps Australia would have missed one of the most consistent and dazzling dance talents this country has seen.
Last year, Kelley won the coveted Mo Award for Female Musical Theatre Performer of the Year, for her highly acclaimed lead role in Sweet Charity. "That musical was a real turning point in my life," Kelley says. "It was almost like starting my career again from that moment. From there I went to Grease, which in turn led to Fame. I've been really lucky."
But success has meant Kelley rarely has time for a private life, although she declares herself happily single. "For the past few years I've been running from one show to the next with my feet barely touching the ground, so I simply haven't had time for a relationship," she says. Maybe if I met someone I really clicked with it would be different, but for now I'm happy enough concentrating on my career."
This also means that the most important place in her life is her sanctuary away from the pressure of work, her harbourside apartment in Sydney, with its spectacular views of the city and the water. "I've lived close to the harbour for the past eight-and-a-half years," she says. "It's one of the most relaxing and wonderful things about living in Sydney.
I don't think I could survive if I didn't have this little space to retreat to every night."
It's here, in her two-bedroom apartment, that Kelley gets the chance to dabble in painting, mainly in watercolours, and indulge her passions for reading and meditation.
For now, though, she is preparing for her role in Fame.
Kelley's first major task as choreographer was to help audition more than 3500 young hopefuls for the 30 parts in the production. "That's a hell of a lot of sweaty bodies, I can tell you!" she laughs. "Seriously, though, it was a lot of hard work and very difficult, because there were so many talented people who put themselves forward.
"It's going to be the most challenging project I've ever been involved with, because it's the first time I've combined performance with the responsibilites of choreographer.
"I'm free to come up with my own vision of what should happen on stage, which is a fantastic opportunity. The only problem is I've been so busy worrying about what everybody else is doing that I've hardly had time to think about me yet."
For all that, Kelley will be raring to go when the production opens its doors to the public on July 29 at Sydney's Star City Casino.
"This is really a dream come true, because I'll get to perform by own steps, my own creation, on stage for the first time, and that's a real buzz," Kelley explains.
She's also looking forward to starring alongside American soul diva Thelma Houston, one of the idols from her youth. "She's such a wonderful performer, with such amazing energy," Kelley says. "Thelma's been here in rehearsal for several weeks, and she really inspires everyone on the set. "Working with her is such an incredible experience, and I'm sure everyone is going to love what she does on stage."
Woman's Day

Abbey's road to Fame

Kelley Abbey has hit the big time in her dual role as a principal dancer and the choreographer of Fame The Musical.
On stage, actor, dancer and singer Kelley Abbey crackled with an energy that got the audience's heart jumping. As the Latina Carmen Diaz in Fame The Musical, Abbey's perfectly toned body glistened with sweat as she sizzled across the stage in a steamy salsa. Her black hair shone as she twirled under the intense lights and she hammed it up: "I respect ya Schlomo. Ya got da juice, I swear."
It's no surprise the role is tailored for the Queensland-born performer. She is, after all, the choreographer who gives the show the move and momentum which has made it a hit with Sydney audiences.
But away from the bright lights and the raked stage, sitting backstage in baggy pants and a hooded jacket, Kelley Abbey looked less the leading lady of the show which is set in New York's School of Performing Arts and more like one of the school's students.
Single and in her mid thirties, the one-time Club Buggery choreographer revelled in the pressure the two roles of lead and choreographer have created. "I must have been mad to take this on, but I'm enjoying the challenge."
While she meets such demands head-on, she viewed herself as shy and not particularly aggressive on and off the stage. "I never considered myself in a lead role. I was auditioning other people and choreographing but then I got excited by the audition and decided to have a go myself. With Fame I got into the final five and then landed the lead. It was pretty amazing," she said.
While she may be a little reserved out of the limelight, when she's on stage she pulls out all stops to breathe life into the character. "When I was in New York, I pretended to be a local when I ordered food. Taking on that kind of persona was the only way I'd ever be served," she said in her best New York accent, one she learnt from tapes she made on the city's streets.
Abbey is no stranger to the spotlight - and a leading role. Last year she was assistant choreographer on Grease - The Arena Spectacular when the understudy's dream came true. Dannii Minogue fell ill and Abbey went straight into the role of tough girl Rizzo with little notice.
But the defining point of her career was in 1997 when she made the leap from the chorus line to leading lady in Sweet Charity. Abbey delivered the goods with a verve that prompted a standing ovation on opening night. Her parents, Eric and Jill, had flown from Queensland to Melbourne to watch their daughter perform.
But within a couple of months Abbey was forced to draw on inner steel when her father died and she had to get through every performance with a smile. "It was incredibly daunting, getting up on stage and singing and dancing every night when I felt like crying on the couch," she said.
Life has had some twists for the consummate professional who pursued dancing as a silent form of expression only to switch to a more vocal one - acting.
After arriving in Sydney when she was 17 Abbey's future took a profitable turn when she rediscovered high profile dancer-turned-director David Atkins (director of Fame The Musical) who cast her in Dancin' Man. "In 1991, talent scouts saw me in Dancin' Man and offered me the character of JoJo in the television soapie E Street. I jumped at the chance even though I was worried about having a speaking role."
Any fears of acting she may have had soon evaporated when Abbey burst on to the small screen with a punch to the chiselled jaw of actor Marcus Graham. Hate mail and a stalker prompted her to ask the writers of E Street to soften the character from nasty to comic relief.
"David and I go back a long way. When I was 15, I did pre-match entertainment at the Winfield Cup and I fell in a hole and sprained my ankle. David carried me into the hospital and that's how our friendship started." Nearly 20 years later Abbey sat in her Star City dressing room popping jelly beans into her mouth. She eats a packet for every performance to keep her energised.
She presented a very different person from the brassy women she often portrays. In fact, she came across as being quite spiritual. Abbey meditates, has an image of buddha stuck on her mirror and reads books by Hollywood's favourite new-age guru Deepak Chopra.
She is writing her own musical and is considering a future in film but at the moment she only has the time, energy and imagination for Fame. "Before every performance, I get the entire cast in acircle holding hands and we all say a prayer or affirmation. We become one before going on stage."
Abbey has graduated to her role as lead and choreographer of Fame with high distinction. She knows she has snared the dancer's dream ticket of performing her own choreography.
On stage as the dazzling ambitious Carmen Diaz, Abbey has an in-your-face talent that will take her places. She's got all da juice she needs.
Sun Herald Tempo - 10 October 1999

Yes, dreams can still come true

As the sassy Carmen Diaz, Abbey is arresting and makes her presence felt whenever she appears.
Sydney Morning Herald - 2 August 1999

In the hot seat

Kelley Abbey is to star as Carmen in the musical Fame which begins its national tour in Sydney on July 29.
TV WEEK: You are choreographing your own moves in Fame. How does that feel?
KELLEY: It's a dream come true! I seem to have choreographed everybody except myself.
TVW: Did you watch Fame when it was on television years ago?
KELLEY: I watched the series only once, but I saw the film six times. In fact, it was a strong, motivating factor in me packing my bags and moving from Brisbane to Sydney to pursue my dream of being an actor.
TVW: You have come a long way since your days as JoJo on E Street. What has been the most rewarding project you've worked on?
KELLEY: I think it would have to be Sweet Charity. It was the most challenging thing I've ever done.
TVW: You were assistant to the choreographer of Grease and you ended up sharing the lead role with Dannii Minogue and Gina G. What was it like to share the stage with those two ladies?
KELLEY: Dannii and I are good friends. It never posed any problems - if anything, we were a great support for each other.
TVW: You're a singer, dancer, actress and choreographer. What secret talent do you have that we don't know about?
KELLEY: I love to put paint to paper and canvas! Painting is a great escape and a form of relaxation for me.
TV Week 1999

Sweat surrender

Although Fame - the Musical, is set in the mid-'80s, the wardrobe department is not getting into the whole legwarmer thing - possibly because of one of the leads, Kelley Abbey, said there was no way she was going to dress herself in all the 'retro naff' things she wore in her late teens.
Abbey is also choreographer for the show - her first major musical - and has about 20 'students' to work with. The principals have to be able to sing, dance, act and sometimes play an instrument, while the ensemble is the dance core. After auditioning more than 3,500 people, she is confident the show has some of the best all-rounders in the country.
Like the characters in the television show who have their hearts set on an entertainment career, the cast are the lucky few who have made it to the first rung. And talent is never the only criterion.
"There was heaps of talent," says Abbey. "Heaps. But because we're looking to make up a New York classroom, we were looking for all sorts of different colours and races, and people that matched up.
"As part of the creative team, you know more about why a person doesn't get picked, whereas that person just walks away thinking, 'I wasn't good enough.' But you have to go to an audition and know that it wasn't about your talent, it was about the fact that you didn't have blonde hair and weren't six foot that you weren't right for Sugar Babies (the musical)."
Sydney Morning Herald Metro - 16 July 1999

Abbey's fab Fame

This production is a particular triumph for Kelley Abbey.
We knew she could sing and dance - she gave stunning proof of that in the 1997 production of Sweet Charity, and then in West Side Story - and as Carmen in Fame she sizzles with non-stop energy that catches and keeps the eye wherever she is on stage.
But this production of Fame represents her debut as a choreographer, and the dance sequences are the show's outstanding strength.
They are tough, fast, cheeky and street-smart, reminding us of earlier shows like West Side Story, but putting a contemporary mark on line dances by borrowing from rap and rave self-expression.
The Age - 31 December 1999

Talent set

Choreographer Kelley Abbey placed herself centre stage to play the role of Carmen Diaz, her zealous and sparkling performance deserving every minute of limelight.
Wentworth Courier - 11 August 1999

Show's class

Kelley Abbey is a bold and sexy Carmen Diaz and combines her role with choreographic responsibility for the show.
Sunday Herald Sun - 2 January 2000