INTERVIEW: 7 Questions with Brendan Hanson for Clinton: The Musical

Matt Dyktynski as Bill Clinton in Clinton: The Musical, image by Robert Frith
Matt Dyktynski as Bill Clinton in Clinton The Musical, image by Robert Frith

It’s American presidential election time, and has been for what seems like years already. If you’ve been following the election coverage and still can’t get enough Clinton, Black Swan State Theatre presents the perfect opportunity for you to walk down memory lane and take an irreverent look at the first Clinton presidency. They’re bringing Clinton: The Musical to the Heath Ledger Theatre, and we spoke to actor Brendan Hanson, who plays Bill’s nemesis Kenneth Starr, about the show. 

Brendan Hanson as Kenneth Starr, image by Daniel James Grant
Brendan Hanson as Kenneth Starr, image by Daniel James Grant

How good was your memory of the events surrounding the Clinton scandal before you started working on the show? Was it a big deal in Australia too? (this was before my arrival on Australian shores)

I was studying at WAAPA and then touring during Clinton’s time in the White House. So my memory of the scandal is through a filter of learning Sondheim lyrics and four-show weekends. There’s no denying it was an event of global interest and as our Bill asks in the show “will this be my legacy?” As time goes by I think Bill Clinton’s achievements as a politician are eclipsing his indiscretions as a man.

With an Australian cast in an Australian show written by Australian writers, do you think you’ll get this American story right? Does the show benefit from having an “outsiders-looking-in” perspective?

I think embracing that this is a musical representation of the events of Bill Clinton’s time in the White House is the starting point. I don’t know whether an American writer would be able to approach it with the same irreverence and sense of irony.

So, you look nothing like the actual Kenneth Starr – is that an issue? Will there be prosthetics, padded suits and wigs involved for you?

No, no prosthetics or wigs. The Hodge brothers have turned Kenneth Starr into a Sado-masochist, obsessed with the Clintons. Our designer Bruce McKinven has created a wonderful image of Ken as a John Waters-esque Bond villain.

Image by Daniel James Grant
Image by Daniel James Grant

You’re often cast as the hero of the piece, or at the very least, someone with plenty of audience sympathy. How much of an antagonist is Kenneth Starr in the show, and is this a different type of role for you?

I’ve played my share of antagonistic villains, just not for a while. I am relishing this opportunity playing alongside Luke Hewitt, who is playing Newt Gingrich, to be the arch and malevolent counterpoint to the Clintons. Being the bad guy is way more fun.

What’s been your favourite role to date, or is that like choosing a favourite child? What’s been your most challenging role?

I have the same answer for both of these questions, because I find it’s who you get to play with, that is the most enjoyable and memorable experience of being an actor. I have had roles that have challenged me for many reasons, artistic and personal and always it was those other courageous souls I was playing with that got me through. My favourite productions have been Les Miserables, Lebensraum, Midsummer (a Play with songs), As You Like It and Next to Normal. No favourite child there.

How relevant and timely is the show with current events in America’s presidential election? Is there any kind of hint at Hillary Clinton’s political destiny within the pages of the script, or is that beyond the show’s scope?

I think Kate Cherry‘s timing in programming this piece now is perfect. While set in the time of Bill Clinton’s presidency the musical is very much a triple act between the two Bill’s (yes two!) and Hillary. Changes were made to the script to make it even more referential and relevant to Hillary’s campaign.

How much better or worse do you think a Trump presidency would be than the Clinton presidency was for musical theatre?

A Trump presidency would undoubtedly produce wonderful material for a musical, but it’s not a piece I’d want to see.


Clinton: The Musical is open now and runs until September 11th. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Black Swan website here.