As vocal coach to Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman in “Les Miserables,” Roberta Duchak of Burr Ridge helped make movie musical history. An accomplished performer on Broadway and in national tours, she now provides musical direction to a stage show with its own historic lineage.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical reinvention of “Sunset Boulevard,” based on the 1950 film by Billy Wilder, just opened at Drury Lane Theatre. The tale of faded glory and unfulfilled ambition centers on silent movie star Norma Desmond, who longs for a return to her glamorous heyday on the big screen, before talkies squeezed her out. When Norma meets struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis, she hopes it’s a way back.
Darien native Duchak reminisces about starting high school at Hinsdale South the year Pamn Baker joined the faculty as a theater director. “The Sound of Music” was Baker’s first show, and Duchak’s first lead as Maria. She says Baker will retire at the end of the school year.
Looking back at her first movie project with “Les Miserables” and her musical direction on “Sunset Boulevard,” Duchak talks Hollywood today and yesterday.
You coached Crowe for two weeks to prepare for his ‘Les Miz’ audition?
I worked with Russell Crowe in Chicago, while he was shooting ‘Superman.’ I went to the actual audition with him (for) the director. I was there when Tom Hooper said, ‘Let’s make the movie, mate.’ I thought (my) gig was over. Russell (later) called me personally, and asked if I would continue working with him. I was there for four months (in) England.
What was he like on the movie set?
He’s one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met. He takes every challenge on like it’s an Olympic event. It was a pleasure working with such a perfect student. Hugh Jackman is the same way. Whatever they decide to do — whether it’s changing body type or changing diet or perfecting their singing or dancing, in Hugh’s case — (they) do everything it takes to be the best at it.
Did you know you were creating a hit?
We all knew we were making history. A movie musical has never been sung completely live. It was exciting. Everyone who signed up to make this movie really wanted to be there. It was thrilling.
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