By JOHN DOOLEY

WHEN he was 16 years old, Mildura student Ross Chisari decided he would try his hand at singing and took some professional singing lessons and as they say ‘the rest is history’.

Today Ross is a successful actor-singer and dancer who has appeared in many theatre productions both in Australia and overseas. His latest role is in Shrek the Musical, which commences its Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Sunday.

Ross 27, was born and bred in Mildura and grew up on his parent’s table grape vineyard in South Mildura.
Ross has fond memories growing up on the block, where he worked alongside his parents Frank and Shirley and his two younger brothers, Jacob and Matthew, doing a variety of jobs to help out in the family’s business.
“In my younger years when I was at school, I used to work on the vineyard driving tractors, and picking and packing grapes – I was very hands-on,” he said.

Ross attended Sacred Heart Primary School and then St Joseph’s College where he undertook his secondary education before going to university.

University in Perth

“When I finished year 12, I went to University in Perth, at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts for three years, studying a Bachelor in Musical Theatre,” Ross said.

“Following my graduation, I moved to Sydney and my first show was a musical production called ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ and after that, my first big break came when I was accepted into the cast of ‘Ghost the Musical’, in 2016. Since then I have virtually been working non-stop, which is a very fortunate position to be in given the nature of this industry.”

Ross said his love of ‘treading the boards’ came at an early age when he was at school and he played Danny Zuko in Grease at St Joseph’s Mercy Theatre.

“We actually opened the Mercy Theatre with Grease the Musical − that was in 2010 − and I played Danny Zuko − the John Travolta character − and that’s where I really caught the performing bug!” he said.

“It was after doing that show that I realised I wanted to pursue this as a career. Leading up to Grease, it was just a hobby really − something fun to do on the side − but after playing Danny Zuko, that was the turning point that started me on a path into professional theatre and the world of show business.”

Billed as a lavish, fun-filled multi-million dollar musical comedy, Shrek the Musical opened it’s Australian season at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney on New Year’s Day. The show ran through until February 9, following which, the show’s company packed their bags for Melbourne where Shrek will run for almost three months, before moving on to Brisbane in early May.

Ross play’s one of the three little pigs in Shrek. 

“It’s quite funny, because I am actually playing the eldest ‘sibling’ and I have two younger pig brothers!” he said.

Ross is in fine company with colourful musical boasting a star studded celebrity cast including Ben Mingay as Shrek, Lucy Durack as Princess Fiona, Todd McKenney as Lord Farquaad, Nat Jobe as Donkey and Marcia Hines as the Dragon. 

Ross said that while Shrek is a musical comedy, the show has a bit of everything.

“First of all, it’s a show for all ages,” he said. 

“A lot of people think it’s just a kids show, but it’s not. It has a lot of underlying themes and relevant topics running through it that adults can relate to, and it’s without doubt one of the funniest shows in Australia at the moment.”

Ross said that Shrek also has a heart-felt side to it as well. 

Socially aware

“We talk about love and heartache, discrimination and racism, a wide range of social topics are alive in Shrek the Musical,” he said.

“It’s the same in the animated movie if you look a little deeper, it touches on these important issues that affect society − so it’s a contemporary musical for the current age.”

Ross said he loves to come home to Mildura when he can, but with his busy work schedule it seems to be harder. 

“I like to make it home for Christmas if I can. I really like to get home when I’m not working, but it’s been a bit non-stop lately − which is a blessing and a curse,” he said.

“I do however want to get back to Mildura after Shrek concludes – a week isn’t much, but if I can get home for a week and have some time with the family and catch some sun, that will be great – that’s hopefully the plan.”

Ross and his brothers are all two years apart and he is really close to both of them who he said love their AFL. 

“They are both into the AFL, so I am somewhat of a ‘black sheep’ in the family,” he said. “I’m the only singing and dancing creative one, and it’s like, ‘Where the heck does this come from?’”

Ross spoke about the single biggest element that attracts him to performing and keeps him going in the industry.

“It’s what we give to other people − our audience. We’re entertainers and we provide escapism for people,” Ross said. 

“If people are having a tough time in their lives, or a bad day or a bad week or month, whatever it may be. They can go to the theatre for a couple of hours and escape from it all. I think that’s what I love about my job, that I get to provide people with that relief and that escapism.”

Before Shrek commenced rehearsals in November, Ross returned to Australia after touring internationally and performing in the United Kingdom.

“I was over there for 14 months doing the Rocky Horror Show and I got the bug for the UK,” he said. “I think after Shrek I might be venturing back there for a little bit, which would be great.” 

Ross said he has other productions in the woodwork which he said were under wraps for the moment. 

“Hopefully people will be seeing my face in another show in the not too distant future,” he said.

Ross has a message for other budding performers who are growing up in Mildura and would one day like to have a career in show business. 

“Young people may ask themselves ‘Can I do it? We’re in a rural city and we don’t have so many opportunities’. 

“Well absolutely you do,” Ross said. “There are so many opportunities if you really want to do it − you just have to give it your all. I like to think of myself as a prime example of a kid growing up who wanted to pursue the arts industry and you totally can, as long as you set your mind to it − the sky’s the limit!”

Shrek the Musical will open at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on Sunday. 

Performance times: Wednesday to Saturday 7.30pm. Matinees: Wednesday 1pm, Saturday 2pm and Sunday 1pm and 6pm. Ticket prices from $49.90 (transaction fees apply) 

Bookings: ticketek.com.au or 132 849. Groups of 12 or more call 1300 364 001.