Toni Lamond

Toni Lamond is one of Australia’s theatrical icons, and has been awarded the Green Room Lifetime Achievement Award. Although there are few theatres where Toni hasn’t performed, it was at The Maj where her career took off. HMT asked her about it.

Toni Lamond: My first appearance at HMT in 1957 in The Pajama Game marked my entry into the “really big time.” Up to then my goal was to appear at the Tivoli, a variety chain of theatres at the time, but much lower down on the “cultural” food chain. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would play a lead in musical theatre, or make theatre history, because at that time the leads of new Broadway and West End musicals were imported from overseas, with Australians consigned to the supporting cast. JC Williamson took a daring gamble and for a 3 month fill in cast the whole show was Australian. The public discovered us (Bill Newman, Tikki Taylor, Keith Petersen, Jill Perryman and me) and we ran for 2 1/2 years, paving the way for future Australian theatre stars. Later I played Nancy in Oliver in 1966 and later still Gypsy and Pirates of Penzance, all at The Maj.

HMT: Pavarotti once said he ‘found his voice at Her Majesty’s Theatre’. In the same vein, what did you discover whilst working at HMT?

TL: Having done those shows throughout Australia, I found HMT one of the easiest theatres to work in. From the back stage to front of house, it was one of the happiest, most professional of atmospheres.

HMT: You are being further immortalised at HMT with a special caricature tribute. What do you think of the picture and how do you feel about joining other greats on our Wall of Fame?

TL: Well, you really know you’ve “made it” when they do a caricature of you. Look at Sardi’s. And we are long overdue for our own Wall of Fame. Good onya Mike!

HMT: Speaking of which, you and HMT owner Mike Walsh go back a long way. Is that a special relationship for you?

TL: Not only was Mike a good colleague, but a true friend in need. It was on his daytime show that I shocked Australia with the story of my prescribed drug addiction. Now, today it doesn’t mean a thing, but in 1975 journalists weren’t writing about personalities’ various addictions. But I chose to go public with it, before the journalists got hold of the story and sensationalised it. Mike invited me on his show to talk about it, and allowed me my dignity. I will always be grateful to him.

HMT: How do you feel about winning this year’s Green Room Awards Lifetime Achievement gong? When you win such an award does it cause you to reflect on your life in show business?

TL: I’m still coming to terms with the Lifetime Achievement Award. It is doubly thrilling, because it is in Melbourne where it all began.

HMT: What do you consider the highlights?

TL: The Pajama Game, Gypsy, and giving Tony Sheldon to the world!

HMT: You are a pioneer of Australian Television, live theatre, cabaret, of Aussies working in America. Do these descriptions sit well with you?

TL: I am not a pioneer of Australians working in USA. Um… Errol Flynn, anyone?

HMT: What, if any label are you happy with?

TL: I don’t like labels…too confining.

HMT: How important was it for you to work and have a career in the USA?

TL: Very. After all, I used to dance in the back stalls of the Capitol Theatre (where I was ushering) to Betty Grable movies, and dream of Hollywood. And you know when I finally got there, I worked with quite a few people I had seen up there on the screen. And it took up till 2000 to make it to Broadway in the Cabaret Convention. AND I got a standing ovation. It’s never too late!

HMT: What has been the impact of having close family members, Helen Reddy and son Tony Sheldon follow you into show business?

TL: Well, it was the family business, I followed my Mum and Dad.

HMT: With your parents and stepfather also in showbusiness, to some extent, do you feel like you’re part of a dynasty?

TL: Well yes we are. I believe, we have ancestors going back to entertaining on the goldfields!

TL: I’m an Aries, we thrive on challenge. I will be touring my show Times of My Life until the end of 2008, I’m writing 2 new books, and… that’s all I can think of for now.

HMT: What is the best advice you were ever given about being in showbiz?

TL: Learn how to take rejection….you’ll get a lot of it.

April 2008