Rising Star in Musical Theatre Performing in Aladdin in Melbourne

Rising Star in Musical Theatre Performing in Aladdin in Melbourne

News Release
 

Graeme Isaako Purcell is currently onstage in Melbourne in the Australia Disney production of Aladdin, which is enjoying sold-out performances. Graeme is the understudy for Aladdin, Razoul, and Babkak, three of the main characters. When not playing one of these roles, he performs with the ensemble.

Now 28, Graeme has been singing, acting, and dancing professionally since he was 11, when he was accepted into the cast of Oliver, his first Broadway show. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and participates with the church congregation in the Melbourne CBD.

Mormonnewsroom caught up with Graeme after enjoying a performance of Aladdin in which Graeme played the lead role.

When did you first realise you wanted a career in the entertainment industry?

I didn't realise it at the time, but my professional training really began when I was three and started attending Primary. I loved singing Primary songs. That's where my passion for music started. I was quick to raise my hand to give a talk, hold a poster, say the prayer, whatever the teacher wanted. I had no stage fright. I loved being up in front. It was a wonderful beginning for a budding artist.

Tell us about your childhood.

I'm the youngest of three children and was raised by a single mum. Being the youngest comes with a lot of anxiety. I always wanted to make Mum proud, to make her life easier. So I tried to do my best and do the right thing for her. Then as I matured, I realised I had to do it for myself.

Mum made many sacrifices, seeing to it that I had piano, singing and dancing lessons—hip-hop, tap, jazz, ballet--starting when I was ten. I remember riding the bus with her to my lessons. I wouldn't be where I am today without her sacrifices and persistence. My journey has been incredibly blessed.

Tell us about your journey from Oliver to Aladdin.

During my teens I went to high school while continuing my training at the Janice Breen Dance Studio in Sydney. We toured Australia and went to America twice while I studied there. After graduating high school in 2006, I continued my training full time at the Sydney Urban Dance Centre, earning a Certificate in Performing Arts.

My first engagement after earning the certificate was a role in the TV show So You Think You Can Dance Australia. I finished as one of the top three male dancers and toured throughout Australia with the show. This was followed by the role of Nanki-poo in Mikado for the Australian tour. Then came a year performing throughout Australia in a one-man cabaret show, Shakespearean Idol—just me and the pianist. Various other gigs on TV and the stage followed.

You took a two-year break to serve a mission for the church. How did that work?

When I was 20, I decided I should go on a mission. I served in Wellington, NZ from 2010 to 2012. My post-mission life has been shaped by the structure and discipline I learned on my mission. Everything I do is made possible by the time-management skills, the planning and goal setting I developed on my mission.

The greatest thing I learned is to love and support others, to look outside myself and stop being self-centered. When you're the star, everyone is admiring and praising you. I've learned not to take it personally, to have humility. I know what my role is in this world.

How did you make the transition from mission life back to the stage again?

After I got back I felt I should not jump back into performing immediately. I took a year off and worked with youth in the schools--stop-smoking campaigns, helping youth re-engage with school, etc.

Then when I felt I was ready, (2013) I auditioned for Lion King and landed the role of understudy for Simba and toured with the show throughout Australia. In 2014-15 I worked as the backup dancer for Timomatic (and others). In October 2016 Aladdin opened in Sydney and then moved to Melbourne in April of 2017, which brings us up to the present. It will play in Melbourne through the end of 2017 and then move on to Brisbane and Perth in 2018.

You got married a couple of years ago. How does being married fit in with the demands of a career on the stage?

I'm so grateful for my wife Rea's support. I have to be away from home a lot, and her support is crucial—emotionally, physically and spiritually. I perform five days a week--twice a day three times a week. It's very demanding. She fixes my lunch and dinner, she listens to me when I need to talk, she lets me rest when I'm exhausted. I couldn't do it without her.

Also, there's a lot of networking, socialising after the show that is part of my profession. I rarely participate. Being married, I don't need reassurance within my industry to fit in. I love my job, but it doesn't take over my life. My real life is at home.

How does your career fit in with your Church life?

When you have the gospel, it really does motivate and shape your destiny. When we move to a new city, the first thing we do is go to church, and we're at home. My wife and I study the scriptures every day and text each other our thoughts and inspiration when we're finished. Prayer is another of those precious jewels. I feel connected to Heavenly Father through prayer. Even if you don't always get what you pray for, you're still in His reach.

How does being a member of the Church affect your stage performance?

The gospel is who we are. My role as a performer is to help people heal, to escape, to find happiness, to question life, to be involved in wonderment and to dream. I try to connect with audience members, mostly with my eyes. As I endeavor to break down walls and make that connection, I feel my spirit communicate with theirs. There is almost no greater feeling to me than this.  

How does your Polynesian heritage influence your career?

Such an added privilege it is for me to be of Polynesian descent. This opens a wider spectrum to my internal passion and external delivery.  Inside my heart, when I'm on stage, I always carry with me a Polynesian Pride. It's a sense of belonging and truth.  It's a stable feeling of who I am and where I came from that motivates my confidence.

Mormonnewsroom: “Making Mum proud” is one of the themes of Aladdin. We spoke with Graeme's mum, Jone Purcell, and asked her how she felt about her son's journey to where he is today.

I'm the proudest Mum in the world.  Growing up in the church he knew he should develop the talents he had been given.  Watching him grow in the gospel as the years went by as well as in his talents has been very rewarding.  I'm very proud of him and I know what he went through to get to where he is today.  I'm truly thankful to Heavenly Father for all these beautiful blessings we have received. 

Mormonnewsroom:  Graeme's mum has many reasons to be proud of her son, who we expect to be seeing on the stage for many years to come.  We wish him the best.  

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.