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Michaela’s wonderful world


Standing on stage at the Catholic Schools Music Festival belting out a spine-tingling rendition of Louis Armstrong’s 'What a Wonderful World', 12-year-old Michaela Lucas knew in her young mind that this was where she belonged and she was determined to pursue a life on the stage.

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Those in the crowd that night also felt they had witnessed a star in the making and their rousing response reinforced the belief that this Year 7 Loreto student would go far.

“I already knew before that this was what I wanted to do, but I still remember when I finished the song and had to walk behind the scrim… I could hear the audience cheering and I did a little jump in excitement because I could hear them screaming,” she recalled. “It just felt very right, it was a proud moment.”

Fast forward more than two decades and the diminutive 36 year old, who now performs under her married name of Burger, is set to hit the local stage again when her new show A Migrant’s Son premieres at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Featuring her original music, it portrays the struggles of first generation migrants and how their hard work and success has shaped the lives of the next generation. (Michaela’s father is of Greek heritage and her mother’s family are Italian.)

“It’s been amazing working on it and hearing my dad’s stories and putting it all together. It goes through the ups and downs of trying to fit into a country that is very different to where you have come from and the theme of making something out of nothing… the lineage of hard working, you can do anything attitude.”

As a performer, Michaela is no stranger to hard work and believes it is why she has managed to make a living from her craft. While those who saw her as a young performer at the 1994 music festival might have thought success would come easy, she has never taken her talent for granted.

“I don’t think it’s just talent that is needed – it’s very, very hard work and persistence. I just kept going and going and never gave up. So many talented people just get exhausted from it all and say they need a stable pay check.

“My best advice for young students is to keep an open mind, keep positive and don’t take auditions personally. And work…never think you’ve got it. Once you think you’ve got it you stop learning.

“I still have lessons, I still go to classes, I still study, I practise my technique every day. You can learn something from everyone.”

Growing up in Coober Pedy with her parents Helen and Luke (who ran a local supermarket) and older sisters Marika and Nikki, Michaela said it was her mum who first exposed her to the wonders of the arts.

“Mum is a massive musical theatre fan and a movie bug and loves the arts. She would drive us up and down from Coober Pedy for the big musicals – Cats, Starlight Express – so as little girls we had these incredible experiences despite living in the middle of nowhere. It’s definitely because of her that I developed a passion for it,” she said.

When the family moved to Adelaide, Michaela’s interest – and obvious talents – in acting and singing grew.

She recalls the “amazing” performing arts festivals run by Loreto College and over the years has returned to the school to conduct intensive workshops with students involved in cabaret.

She also remains in contact with Catholic Schools Music Festival director Denise Rothall, to whom she will always be grateful as “she saw something in me” and gave her the opportunity to perform as a soloist.

Post-school Michaela attended the Elder Conservatorium of Music studying classical voice under the tutelage of Rosalind Martin and during this time received a scholarship presented at the first Adelaide Cabaret Festival. That saw her taking part in the Sydney Cabaret Convention and from then she was “hooked” on cabaret.

Her most notable cabaret show is the award-winning Exposing Edith which she co-created with Greg Wain (guitar). It features the life and songs of great French singer Edith Piaf and has been widely acclaimed at festivals throughout Australia.

Michaela said she fell in love with Piaf’s songs when she spent three months in France as a 17-year-old. After completing her university studies she returned to France in 2003 for a year, then spent time studying and working in cabaret shows in London. She returned to Australia in 2010 with her South African husband Jonker Burger.

While every performance is memorable for some reason, Michaela said singing in the Closing Benefit Concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide in March really struck a chord with her, showing just how far she had come since that young school girl stepped onto the stage at the music festival.

“It was kind of a surreal moment because I was singing with Nancye Hayes who is the greatest musical theatre performer in Australia as well as Meow Meow, Robyn Archer, Rob Mills, Ali McGregor and Johanna Allen. It was one of those moments where I thought ‘wow, this is incredible’ because we had so much fun and these were amazingly, incredibly talented well-known performers.

“Backstage was the memorable part for me because these were beautiful, ordinary humans doing what they passionately love. The stage moments are always great, but it’s those moments when you connect with other artists and are blown away by what they do.”

For Michaela, it really is a wonderful world.

A Migrant’s Son will be performed at the Artspace Theatre, June 21-23.

The Catholic Schools Music Festival is being held at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, September 10 to 13.


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