Natalie Abbott was "singing before she could talk", according to her mother, and it shows.
The 23-year-old from a small town on the NSW south coast is bringing audiences to their feet at Sydney's Lyric Theatre as Muriel Heslop in Muriel's Wedding The Musical. Her leading role also happens to be her professional debut.
Muriel's Wedding The Musical is a theatrical version of PJ Hogan's iconic 1994 film, updated by the writer himself with music and lyrics by award-winning songwriters Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall.
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The musical had its world premiere in Sydney in November 2017. It has since won five Helpmann Awards, seven Sydney Theatre Awards, an Awgie Award, the 2018 David Williamson Prize and an ARIA Award nomination.
"I had grown up knowing that Muriel's Wedding was a movie and that it was iconic, and I knew the lines 'You're terrible Muriel' and 'What a coincidence'," Abbott tells Weekender. "But I didn't watch it until I watched the original musical - I loved it so much I went straight home and watched the movie.
"Prior to this role I did a university production and a co-op production so this was a massive leap for me. I used to audition and never get calls back. Getting the role of Muriel was unbelievable. Incredible. I'm still counting my lucky stars."
Luck had little to do with it. Abbott is outstanding as Muriel in this production. She captures the character's vulnerability, sweetness and self-doubt - all qualities that have resonated with so many people over the years, herself included.
"I was a small town girl and I had to move out to go to uni in Sydney to study musical theatre. I've lived here for the past five years," she says.
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"Muriel as a person, she resonates with men and women. She experiences bullying, body image issues, not knowing where she fits in the world. Everyone wants her to succeed even though she's been doing bad things.
"She is the first character where I have gone 'Oh my god that is so me'. I know what she's going through. I can definitely relate to her."
Abbott competed in singing eisteddfods and competitions throughout her high school years and in 2013 won the Bell Shakespeare regional performance scholarship with her monologue of Viola from the 12th Night. Five years ago she moved to Sydney to study a Bachelor of Music degree in Musical Theatre at the Australian Institute of Music, scoring roles in the AIM production of The Witches of Eastwick and Supply Evolutions' Bare: A Pop Opera.
Muriel's Wedding has been a huge learning curve.
"Even with something as simple as trying to preserve my voice, I've had to develop strategies," she says.
"I've actually been unwell and I've had to be really careful with my voice, like all singers do in big-time musicals. I have to be careful when I speak and how I speak, when I can and can't socialise, and to make sure I'm properly warmed up and warmed down."
And then there's the invaluable knowledge gleaned from performing with the likes of Stefanie Jones as Rhonda (Les Misérables, The Sound of Music, Dreamlover, Once The Musical), David James as Bill Heslop (The Boy From Oz, The Sound of Music), and Pippa Grandison as Betty Heslop (Mary Poppins, We Will Rock You). There are too many more, with too many acting credits to their name, to list here.
Of her on-stage parents, Abbott has the highest of praise.
"I actually call them mum and dad off stage," she says, laughing.
"David James is probably the person who he is least like his character in real life. I feel like telling people he's not like Bill Heslop at all in real life. As for Stefanie Jones as Rhonda, she really is amazing. You can feel when she comes on stage because the energy increases."
Abbott is three weeks into a 10-week run of Muriel's Wedding The Musical in Sydney. The show then travels to Brisbane. After that, she's open to offers.
"I have nothing else planned at this point but if I had my way I would never stop working," she says. "It's about finding the right fit for me, finding the right show. Fingers crossed this isn't the end."
Muriel's Wedding The Musical is now showing at Sydney's Lyric Theatre. Tickets at ticketmaster.com.au