Jesus Christ! Meet VCA Superstar Robert Tripolino

Image of Robert Tripolino
Image of Robert Tripolino

Robert Tripolino graduated in 2011 with the first ever cohort of Music Theatre students at the Victorian College of the Arts. Now Robert has landed the title role of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar, at the Barbican, on the West End in London. Here he discusses his serendipitous rise to fame.

By Mireille Stahle

So, what’s the story Robert? How did you end up in Music Theatre? 

Prior applying to the Victorian College of the Arts, I was mainly learning to become a dancer. Growing up doing ballet, tap and jazz, all I wanted to do was dance. I was really serious about ballet, working it into my high school studies to prepare for my audition for the Australian Ballet School. The sad truth is that I applied to the Ballet School three times over three years and they said no each time … so I guess ballet just wasn’t for me.

During Year 12 I applied for the VCA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Dance). When the audition date rolled around, I came down with glandular fever, and was too sick to audition. I wasn’t prepared to wait another year. The application date for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) was later in the year – it was another audition opportunity for me to dance but it meant I had to take on the acting and singing elements as well.

It was lucky for me that, as I was growing up, I’d been encouraged by my father to take up the guitar and then start singing. Through school I was always involved with playing in bands, drama classes and school musicals so I had a key skillset of a musical theatre performer without realising it would be my future. With that, my drama and music teachers were called to arms to prep me for what would be a successful audition into the first year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music theatre) in 2008.

What was the course like at the time? 

It was intense. Studying singing, acting and dancing, in addition to music theatre history and audition and performance skills. Truthfully, it was even harder for me because of my background. I was brought up almost solely with pop music, and with my dance training, I really had little appreciation for musical theatre as an art form. I don’t think I’d ever seen a performance outside of one or two amateur performances in Geelong, my hometown.

Lucky they were able to spot your talent, or you would have been out of luck. What were some highlights from the course?

The highlights were the people – and that’s something that I’ve continued to experience as my career progresses. There is nothing better in the world than meeting new peers, new mentors and hearing their stories. There is always something to be learned from people who practice the same craft as you – even if the experience isn’t positive.

Also, if it wasn’t for the course, I never would have had the opportunity to fall in love with music theatre as an art form. During my time in the course, there was also an opportunity to compose new work, which I feel very passionate about. I’m currently composing the score to a show here in London with a fellow grad, Sam Hooper, from the same year level.

That’s pretty remarkable that you and Sam are still collaborating – how was your experience of the VCA community?

Where else is there a university cafeteria where you get to mingle with every creative discipline? At the VCA, I got to make friends with actors, dancers, filmmakers, writers, opera singers … It was a really beautiful community to be a part of and often very inspiring. I take that with me everywhere and, of course, keep those friends and networks flowing strong both in Australia and abroad.

So it was school, then VCA, then world stage for you? 

Not at all! Everybody in performing arts knows that for every “yes” you get a million “nos” when it comes to auditions. I’ve done a few shows in Australia like Aladdin or The Addams Family and was feeling as if each job that I secured was a step up in achieving my career goals of being able to one day lead a show.

Moving to London felt like a scary leap of faith but I knew I wanted to go abroad to expand my tool belt as both an actor and composer. As an actor in Australia I had an idea of what kind of roles I was being cast as and what producers and casting directors would see me as (or not as) – but London gave me the opportunity to delete all preconceived ideas of who I was before I entered an audition room and allowed my work to speak for me.

When I was lucky enough to land an audition for the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre revival production of Jesus Christ Superstar, my agent told me I was asked to prepare my own song and bring in my guitar to play. There was nothing in the audition brief that even hinted I would be considered for Jesus!

After that audition, next thing I hear is they wanted to see me again but this time if possible to prepare the attached material for Jesus – they might consider me for an understudy. Then it was “same material in front of the director”, then a “work session” with the musical director Tom Deering. Then it was filming, and approval from the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

After a solid six auditions I had to pinch myself to actually be playing JC in Jesus Christ Superstar! I think my mentality of setting these goals from the moment I left Australia, a little bit of luck with timing, and my skills matching the role requirements were all key ingredients in securing this for me. I was completely over the moon when I found out.

Do you have any ecclesiastical advice you’d like to impart on our Music Theatre students? Aspiring students? Anyone at all?

If I was to release a “bible” (sorry…) of what I have learned so far and nut it out it would read like this:

Be kind to everybody at school and in the industry. No matter who they are in the production or at school.

Get into your head early that “auditions” are a nasty word … Call them meetings (even if you say it just in your mind!). It levels it the ground between you and the panel and lowers the stakes. Walk into a meeting knowing you’re talented enough, clever enough, skilled enough.

You can enjoy the opportunity to perform to an audience and practice overcoming your nerves (especially if you feel you buggered up your song or scene because of them). It doesn’t matter if you are unsuccessful if you feel you nailed it. If it’s not your door it’s not your door – another will open for you.

Don’t compare your path to others. We all have different paths. Some take a larger detour than others but you may just meet a friend or do a show you never thought you’d do along the way.

Take school as a time to practice practice. You heard me – practice practice! At school no one is going to ultimately judge you. You have earned your way into the VCA and most of you have probably paid a hefty fee that you are going to pay off – I say this to remind you that this is yourtime. So take your time.

There is no rush to accomplish or “perfect” anything at school. Just make sure you are always learning; always practicing. The learning will still happen well after you graduate! So just enjoy the fact you get to sing, dance and act most of the days while you’re there.

Graduating Music Theatre and Production students are presenting Kander and Ebb’s Flora, The Red Menace this week at Grant Street Theatre. Book your tickets online now.

You can follow Robert’s adventures on Instagram @roberttripolino and on his website.