Australia's best-loved women of song take to the stage, writes Carolyn Webb.

Sharon Millerchip was flattered when asked to be part of the Australia's Leading Ladies music theatre classics.
    This is a singer who played Demeter in the original Melbourne production of Cats in 1985, and who has headlined locally in Chicago, Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera.
    But she's as excited as a kid in a lolly shop to sing alongside Rhonda Burchmore, Judi Connelli, Marina Prior, Geraldine Turner, Anne Wood and Nancye Hayes in Leading Ladies, which opens at Her Majesty's Theatre tonight.
    "It was pretty amazing to be included on the list, to be perfectly honest," Millerchip says.  "I was really chuffed to be there.  I was stoked.  I thought, was it a typo, or something?  Did they want someone else?  But no, they wanted me, so it was pretty exciting.  I didn't hesitate."
    The 2004 Brisbane Festival director, Tony Gould, created the show, which experienced full houses in three shows at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre last September.
    This week, the women, with director and compere Hayes looking on, were singing up a storm and getting along famously.  Being a leading lady is by nature a solitary pursuit, and it was a rare treat to swap war stories with a group of your peers.
    "It sounds like a cliche, but there's a warm fuzzy feeling amongst the girls, there really is," Millerchip says.  "I'm just having a lot of fun."
    Then there is the music -- 24 musical standards, including I'm Still Here, from Follies, Don't Rain On My Parade, from Funny Girl and The Music of the Night, from Phantom of the Opera.  Julia de Plater conducts a 35-piece orchestra on stage.
    All the women submitted songs they wanted to sing.  Hayes and Max Lambert, the musical director in Brisbane (in Melbourne it's Stephen Gray), made the final selection, favouring, says Hayes, "songs that people knew and loved, and would expect to hear".
    But Hayes adds, "there are some little surprises, too."
    Millerchip was touched that Hayes asked her to sing If They Could See Me Now, from Sweet Charity -- the musical that made Hayes's name in 1967 -- and has taught her the original choreography.  Another highlight is a duet that Millerchip is singing with Marina Prior -- A Boy Like That from West Side Story, which she say is "a great dramatic song.  It was one of my favourite roles -- Anita in West Side Story ... "
    Asked what the audience can expect, Millerchip says: "It's a genre all of itself, this concert animal.  It's quite exposing really.  There's no plot, no character, and no ensemble doing a dance routine behind you.  It's just you and a 35-piece orchestra."
    Australia's Leading Ladies, tonight 8pm, tomorrow 2pm and 8pm, Sunday 4pm, at Her Majesty's Theatre.  Bookings: Ticketek, 132 849 or at box office.

Left to right in the photo at the top: Judi, Sharon, Nancye, Anne, Geraldine, Marina and Rhonda.