Director is good to go live with his live theatre Friday night

By Ivy Jensen

FOUR years ago, Luke Westley was not sure whether life was worth living.

Despite having opened a professional production of Avenue Q in Sydney, the executive producer was in the depths of despair.

‘‘I was in a dark place and considered ending it all on a few occasions,’’ he said.

Fast forward three years and he was starring as Raoul in Echuca-Moama Theatre Company’s smash hit The Phantom of the Opera.

He had recently moved to town, was working as a chef at the Black Pudding, and in a loving relationship with his now fiance Ryan Bowden.

It’s amazing what a few years and good people can do.

‘‘I met some awesome people in Echuca-Moama, like John and Rob from the Black Pudding who are more like family and EMTC made me feel like I was back home during Phantom,’’ he said.

‘‘People like (former president) John Wright accepted me for me and made me happy to be in my own skin again.’’

But there was more to come.

The 36-year-old is now looking forward to staging his greatest production to date — The Addams Family — which opens at the Paramount on Friday.

The theatre has always been a second home to Westley; having done more than 30 shows in Adelaide, Sydney and now Echuca, in the past 30 years.

But Addams has been his favourite show ‘‘hands down’’.

‘‘Because I’ve assembled the team I want with no questions asked,’’ he said.

‘‘This is the best of the best we could find from this region. This is exactly who I wanted and it’s been a dream.’’

Funnily enough, Westley had every reason not to do the show.

‘‘I fell asleep in the professional production. In the past, I’ve hated the show and only ever seen the TV series once and I never saw the movies in the ‘90s,’’ he said.

‘‘But for me, it’s every reason why you should do it, because you can make it better and you can make it yours and that’s what I’ve done since day one.

‘‘Every part of this vision I’ve had in my head since July 1 last year. It’s only now people are seeing it in real life.’’

And while he has made changes to the show — including completely changing his mind on several characters — Westley knew what this show would ‘‘look like, sound like, move like from day one’’.

No stranger to the stage, Westley’s first role was Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the age of seven.

Ironically, the musical follows the journey of a dreamer and ultimately it’s a story about transformation.

Something Luke has been able to do time and time again in his eventful life; which has seen him once married to a woman, work at organisations including Channel Seven, Port Adelaide Football Club and Austereo, become a chef and even contest the seat of Adelaide for the Liberal Party at the 2010 federal election.

‘‘It was always my motto and it sounds cliche — ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day of your life’,’’ he said.

‘‘Because of that, I always did what I loved and when I stopped loving it, I stopped doing it.

‘‘When I moved to Sydney, I stopped doing that. I got greedy, I got materialistic and I focussed on prestige, profile and money rather just doing what I enjoyed.

‘‘And I paid the price for that and I have done a complete about-face and now I do what I love. If I don’t enjoy it, I give it away.

‘‘I gave up a job to do this show.’’

It’s not the only sacrifice Westley has made for Addams — driving the two-hour round trip from Bendigo, where he now lives with Ryan, three times a week for rehearsals over the past few months.

‘‘That’s part of doing it but I do it for them,’’ he said.

And he couldn’t be happier with his 25-strong cast, as well as those behind-the-scenes who had all worked tirelessly to bring the show to life.

‘‘It’s been exciting watching other people experience the vision as it’s evolved,’’ he said.

‘‘I like to support people and push people to be the best they can possibly be. This is what I like about the show.

‘‘We’ve got a group of people who have trusted in the vision and bringing that to life and delivered some of the best work I think they’ve ever done.’’

And a lot of that has come from Westley’s commitment and passion to the craft.

‘‘I value honesty, I value bluntness and I value work ethic and respect more than anything,’’ he said.

‘‘And the people who deliver those things are the ones who I like the most and I get on with the most and I will support the most.

‘‘I’m a very big believer of you do it for yourself and I will support you.’’

Westley said the show, based on Charles Addams’ original single panel newspaper comics, is the story of a night when Wednesday’s new ‘‘normal’’ boyfriend comes to dinner, along with his parents.

‘‘I hope audiences get a sense of nostalgia. I hope they see The Addams Family they know and love and I hope they get a bloody good laugh out of it and I hope they see a group of people that has stopped aspiring to mediocrity,’’ he said.

He said the cast had become his family and while the old saying claims ‘you can’t choose your family’, Westley would disagree.

‘‘Family is where you find comfort. Find love. Find acceptance. And can be true to you,’’ he said.

And while musical theatre is his true calling, Westley doesn’t consider himself the typical musical theatre cliche.

‘‘I can’t sing, I can’t dance and I can’t act,’’ he said, (although most people would disagree).

‘‘I’m none of those things.

‘‘I’m not a football player, I never have been. I’m unco-ordinated on the footy field. My dad was a state footy coach, so I started playing rugby because I could use my strengths.

‘‘What I love about bringing a group of people together is I can let them use their strengths. That’s what I love about it. Not everyone’s a footy player and that’s okay, not everyone’s a maths genius and that’s okay.

‘‘I love being able to give people a space so they can explore a different part of themselves.

‘‘Every person here has a job outside of here, has a life outside of here. They may not want these worlds to collide but that’s okay. They get to be here.’’

And so does Westley.

And while he will not receive the adoration from the crowd when the cast takes its final bow, he said it didn’t matter. Because he preferred to be behind the scenes.

‘‘My psychiatrist once said to me ‘I’m narcissistic but an odd sort of narcissistic’,’’ he said.

‘‘Because I want to build a pillar to put everyone else on top of and hold it up, where a normal narcissist would just want to build a pillar and make it theirs.’’

Well, it seems Westley has built his pillar.

And it’s called The Addams Family.

‘‘I want to build a family where everyone shines,’’ he said.

‘‘And I want to be responsible for creating that but it’s actually never about me. It’s about them.’’