Home > Past Buzz > 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 sou ped 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 car eer."
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 tale nted 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 rehea rsal 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."
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