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EXCLUSIVE: Tina Arena on turning 50, her new role in Evita and meeting Harvey Weinstein

Tina Arena has been performing since she was a six-year-old and has seen it all – Harvey Weinstein, loss, love and superstardom in Europe. She talks to Juliet Rieden about her most challenging role yet.

By Juliet Rieden
It feels entirely appropriate that Tina Arena, the tiny Italian-Australian with the vocal cords of an orchestra and a fiery Latinate passion would be cast as Eva Peron, the Argentinian pauper turned actress turned First Lady whose emotional speeches championing women's suffrage had some of her people in raptures and others baying for her blood.
Evita is probably Andrew Lloyd Webber's most powerful and demanding musical. The melodies lift and soar with a vocal range few can master. Madonna famously tried in the 1996 film version but her voice wasn't up to it.
Tina Arena however is a different proposition.
"Andrew is punishing as a writer, absolutely, for a vocalist, without doubt, and I say that as the greatest compliment. These songs are gruelling," explains Tina.
Over the years, Tina says she's been approached often, but felt the time wasn't right.
"I don't think I was ready in my 30s to play Eva Peron at all. I just didn't feel ready emotionally," she says. "I don't take jobs just because they come. I only do them if I feel I can bring something to it. Playing the role of Eva Peron now, at 50, is much more suited to the life experience that I've had and the journey that I've had so far. I don't think I was ready before."
"I'm better in my skin at 50", says Tina.
Tina's first public performance was at her cousin's wedding and she's never looked back. "I was probably about five or six. I was a flower girl and I remember it was at the Springvale town hall. I bugged my dad all night to sing and he finally talked the MC into it and off I went. I sang."
"I remember sobbing after that performance because I couldn't quite understand the reaction. I was so young. All the public were standing. There was an ovation, they were squealing their heads off and I got frightened. So I ran off stage to my cousin who picked me up, put me in his arms and consoled me and said it was all right, it's going to be fine."
"That's when the MC said to Dad, I think you'd better take your daughter here - because she's got something. He handed my father a business card and said, 'Go and see this singing teacher'. So I did, and within a couple of months of doing half-hour lessons once a week I was on Young Talent Time."
"Tiny Tina" as she was known was an instant hit and when you look back at those early performances on YouTube it's easy to see why. Tina's voice sounded European and different somehow. It had a sophistication and maturity way beyond her years and in no time she released her first album. She was just 10 years old.
Over the past 40 years, Tina has had her own fair share of facing the perils of being a woman in the entertainment industry. "I've been privy to some pretty disgraceful behaviour that still to this day exists and still to this day I scratch my head, going, 'How have we not evolved?'"
Tina recalls meeting Harvey Weinstein through her close girlfriend Bruna Papandrea who produced Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon. "I met him at her birthday years ago. I knew straight away what he was. I've met a few of those characters in my life and they have a particular air about them. [Harvey] is a man who's obviously got really serious issues, obviously serious mental issues, and a huge imbalance, and it's all about power again."
For Tina, like most women, it took a long time to feel confident about who she was and while facing the age of 50 this year she says wasn't a big deal, it is a landmark feeling.
"I think it's a bigger deal for everybody else and for our culture. It's just a number. But I honestly think I'm better in my skin at 50 than I have ever been before. I know who I am. I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses better than anybody."
Evita is playing in Sydney and in Melbourne from September 20. For details and to book tickets go to www.evitathemusical.com.au.
The full interview and exclusive photo shoot with Tina Arena is in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.

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