20 May 2024

Canberra's favourite Voice pays her dues and makes welcome return in hit musical Rent

| Sally Hopman
Thndo with Calista Nelmes in a scene from Rent

Thndo with Calista Nelmes in a scene from Rent, coming soon to the Canberra Theatre Centre. Photo: Pia Johnson Photography.

Few people will forget that heart-stopping moment on The Voice when Thndo was just about to sing I’m Every Woman when her young daughter, Charlie, cried out to her from the wings.

A true professional, Thndo managed to placate her daughter and belt out the song for the blind audition. It landed her a win from all four judges, including Keith Urban and her childhood heroine, Jess Mauboy. She later made the show’s grand final.

“Life delivers you situations like that sometimes,” Thndo said at the time, “but I always choose to be a mum first – I was so lucky that I also managed to deliver.”

Thndo vividly recalls that first night on The Voice in 2022. Although she idolised Mauboy, she chose Urban to be her coach.

“Keith is the most down-to-earth celebrity type you’ll ever meet,” Thndo said. “He was very connected and invested in all our mentoring and constantly pushed me to challenge myself.

“He intuitively knew I had more to offer than what I’d done in my career as a singer prior to coming on The Voice and was instrumental to my growth as the journey continued.”

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It kick-started a great career for the singer-songwriter who hails from Zimbabwe but made Canberra her home for about a decade when her mother transferred here for work in 2001. Thndo attended Macquarie Primary, Canberra High and Lake Ginninderra College.

“It was an interesting experience because for a long time I was the only dark-skinned black person at my school and for a lot of kids I was the first they’d met so it came with a lot of challenges,” she said.

But there were plenty of good times.

“I worked at Lido Cafe at Belconnen Mall. Shout out to Belinda and Nick, and I make a point to visit them every time I come back.

“My best friends and I used to love brunch at Gus’s Cafe but I was devastated to see that it’s closed down.”

Thndo will return to the nation’s capital next month, playing the coveted role of Joanne, the tough, headstrong Harvard-educated lawyer in the hit musical Rent at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

After a clutch of five-star reviews in Brisbane, Melbourne and Newcastle, Rent is scheduled to open in Canberra on 7 June.

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Written by Jonathan Larson, Rent premiered off Broadway in 1996 when, the day before the first preview, Larson died. The show has been described as a revolutionary piece of work, portraying characters from many minority groups, with songs that have stood the test of time including Seasons of Love and Take Me or Leave Me.

Rent is produced by Lauren Peters and Toby Francis, who also hail from Canberra.

“The incredible Leah Howard invited me to audition for the role of Joanne, and I was nervous doing so,” Thndo said. “I’ve never considered myself a strong actor but this role and the guidance I received from our director Shaun and choreographer Luca have helped me become an all-rounder.

“I can confidently say I am an actor since playing Joanne. I’m going to love Joanne, and really get to enjoy playing the most iconic queer icon in musical theatre history.”

Thndo, now considered one of the country’s leading singer-songwriters, can claim acting in her repertoire.

Her advice to young singers and actors coming up the ranks?

“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re difficult for expressing what you want,” she said. “Tell the sound engineer, your accompanists, manager, photographer, whoever you work with exactly what you want and don’t stop until they get it right. It’s your career at stake.”

Rent opens at the Canberra Theatre on 7 June and runs until 15 June with nightly performances from Tuesday to Saturday and matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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