We need power ballads more than ever – and Casey Donovan is going to provide

Caey Donovan. Photo: supplied.

The Sentinel chats with homegrown diva Casey Donovan about her upcoming Sydney Festival concert and the power of song in 2020. By Richie Black.

Casey Donovan is a self-described “loose cannon”. It’s a pretty effective quality in any entertainer, especially someone with the phenomenal pipes she has. 

She’s currently putting together a solo show for the Sydney Festival, where she’ll be (potentially) covering songs from a musical gamut that includes Beyoncé, Eva Cassidy and Mama Cass. 

There might be some standup comedy too. But she doesn’t quite know yet. Hey, the lady is a loose cannon – right? 

The festival approached her to put on the show – and she’ll be doing so in cahoots with music director Daniel Edmonds. 

“It’s such an amazing opportunity to be asked to do my own solo show,” she says, speaking to the Sentinel from Perth, where she’s currently playing the role of ‘Killer Queen’ in a crazy little Queen musical called We Will Rock You

“It gives me free rein to create a show that I want to do and something that I’d be very, very proud of doing.”

They’re yet to flesh out the finer details – but, I’m curious, what’s the theme? 

“I absolutely love a power ballad,” she responds. And who doesn’t? 

“I love to emote and I love to empathise with the lyrics and tell stories, and that’s my main job as a story-teller and a singer: to portray stories and to give people some music.” 

Casey Donovan performing Cher’s power ballad If I Could Turn Back Time at the Party of the Decades concert, New Year’s Eve 2019. Video: ABC TV & iview/YouTube.

Okay, yes, the power ballad became unfashionable at some point in the 1990s (we were complacent and happily miserable back then). 

But in dire 2020, it’s probably a good time to get over ourselves. 

“I think we need music more than ever right now,” Casey agrees. “And we need the arts more than ever.

“It’s about bringing people together and unplugging for two and half hours – enjoying yourself and taking yourself out of the everyday.” 

But there’s also more to the power ballad than meets the ear. For Donovan, these songs are about transportation. And taking the audience with her. 

“Music has always been an escape, from a very, very young age. Moments where I can just get lost in the song, get lost in the melody and that is for me the most beautiful thing, and to feel an audience breathe with you.”

Connection seems important – especially in a year of social distancing.

“I guess it’s a sense of euphoria,” she says of singing. “And having a roomful of people connecting with your soul through song. It’s very much an out of body experience. Music does things to people … I always think of it as breathing as one.”

Casey Donovan performing at this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Party. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

It’s a project she’s obviously looking forward to. Especially, it must be said, since another Sydney Festival gig, that of Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been postponed amidst not a little controversy (a subject she, understandably, doesn’t want to be drawn on). 

Nevertheless, she’s still doing a solo show at the festival, so things aren’t all bad. 

“I can’t wait to sit down with Dan and chat through how we’re going to come at it,” she says.

“He’s such an amazing musician and [musical director] that I feel very safe working alongside him.”

She also hints at some original songs being thrown into the mix, having found some creative spark in the midst of lockdown. 

“You can’t force it – it just sort of happens,” she explains. “I like it to be a little bit more organic. I think the last song that I started writing, I was making a cup of tea in the kitchen and started singing words, so I just chucked my phone on record. And then I thought, ‘Oh, I could play with that.’ So I took it upstairs and got the guitar out.

“Sometimes it’s almost like spirit writing – like you’re given a message and you think, ‘Okay, cool – I’ll just write that down for you and I’ll turn it into music.’”

Casey Donovan. Photo: supplied.

Transportation – the out-of-body experience – it seems, is key to her art. But let’s not forget that, these days, Donovan is also a seasoned pro and has come a long way from Australian Idol (which she won, remember, in 2004) notably spreading her wings into musical theatre (such as The Sapphires, We Will Rock You and Chicago). 

Yes, she’ll be able to get swept up in the moment – but at the end of the day, she’s an entertainer. And entertainment has a lot of merit in these dark times.

Her entertainer persona she describes as her “thicker skin” – something she manages carefully. 

“You monitor how you’re feeling and what you’re going through, and you’ve got to check in with yourself always.

“And if you cry on stage, you cry on stage. And that sense of vulnerability to an audience – they’re let into something special because that doesn’t happen everyday.”

And power ballads seem like a great place to cry – the best of them expressing vulnerability while climbing the proverbial stairway to heaven.  

“I feel like people want that, they want originality and authenticity of someone’s soul … instead of trying to cover everything up all the time. 

“Honesty on stage is the best thing.”

Casey Donovan in Concert, presented by City Recital Hall and part of the 2021 Sydney Festival, will be held at the City Recital Hall, 2 Angel Place, Sydney at 7.30pm Friday, 19 March, 2021. Tickets ($71.10 – $99 plus booking fee) are available from https://www.cityrecitalhall.com/casey-donovan.

* Note: this story was amended on 3 February, 2021 with updated concert details, after the original concert date (Monday, 18 January) was cancelled due to Covid-19-related state border closures.

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