Stage chaos to hit lounge rooms

Bert LaBonte

By Luke Voogt

Home-grown theatre prodigy Rob Tripolino and Geelong’s adopted thespian son Bert LaBonte will combine for a night of soulful classics and live-streaming “chaos” next Friday.

“We don’t have a set list – we’re grossly under-prepared,” LaBonte laughed.

“Stay in your living room and we’ll bring live theatre to you – who wouldn’t want to be part of that? It’s going to be as fun for us as it will be for people watching.”

LaBonte returned to Geelong, his home of 16 years, from Perth on March 16 just before airlines began grounding flights amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hamlyn Heights father-of-two had been performing in Cloud Street, a play based on a novel by Australian author Tim Winton.

His wife Amanda, who grew up in Geelong, had been performing in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne.

The recent atmosphere reminded him of September 11, 2001, when he and Amanda were performing in different parts of England.

“A lot of theatres went dark then,” he said.

“But I think this is much worse. A global pandemic where 200,000 people have died is terrible.”

Before performing in Perth, he played the lead role in a national tour of The Book of Mormon, even meeting the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

“They’ve been writing an episode of South Park each week for 25 or 26 years now. It’s crazy how much they’ve done,” he said.

“They’re funny guys and they work off each other but in a way they’re just dads, like me.”

Now the arts community was “hurting” with producers losing “truckloads of money” during the pandemic, Labonte said.

But people were turning to the arts to get through isolation, from Netflix series to recorded plays, he said.

“Everyone is utilising things we’ve done to get through it. Although a lot of people doing it a lot worse than us and a lot of countries are doing a hell of a lot worse.”

He was thrilled to provide a distraction in Bert and Rob’s Lovesongs and Dedications next Friday as part of Geelong Arts Centre’s new live streaming series.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” he said.

With a career including TV roles, Shakespearean plays and a UK tour of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2000, Labonte will turn his hand to acoustic hits alongside Tripolino.

Ironically, Tripolino played the lead role in a more recent production of Jesus Christ Superstar in London, before returning to Geelong late last year.

When the Independent last spoke to the central Geelong actor, he had just scored the role of Genie in a Melbourne production of Aladdin.

In August 2018 he travelled to England and landed a role in a “fringe” production, which became his “lucky break”.

“The right people were there watching the show – the people who were casting Jesus Christ Superstar,” he said.

He came home for Christmas and had looked forward to returning to England with his career just beginning to take off.

“Then all this happened,” he said.

But after celebrating his 30th birthday in isolation yesterday he was thrilled to play guitar and piano, tell stories and sing with LaBonte next Friday.

“It’s for the people who are going through tough times, be it the performers or the audience,” he said.

“Our purpose as performers has always been taking people’s minds off things, not just during a pandemic, but with everyday life.”

More information: geelongartscentre.org.au.

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