Since she stepped onto the stage in the 1987 Australia Day concert with Ricky May at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre as a 15-year-old, Silvie Paladino has established herself as one of Australia’s most versatile and talented entertainers.
Although raised in a Christian home, something for which she gives credit for the values she holds today, Paladino hasn’t always lived in a close relationship with God. But since she took the first tentative step in her mid-20s—she’s just turned 40—she’s continued to live and work in an industry, where, as she puts it, “You’re not surrounded by people of like mind, and you’re constantly having to reset your eyes on God.”
But how? “I remind myself of what I want from life and what God wants of me. You can be very easily distracted in the industry.”
Paladino gained recognition early in her career when, in 1989, she was offered the stage role of Eponine in Les Misérables, which for the then 18-year-old, was something extraordinary. Her ability was recognised and, in 1992, she went on to perform the same role in the London production. But stardom wasn’t ever something she aspired to as child or teenager, she says, in contrast to many of today’s crop of young talent, who crave fame and fortune in such shows as the X Factor and Got Talent franchises.
While acknowledging the professionalism and integrity of such performers as Guy Sebastian, she has a warning for young people, especially young Christians, wanting to take to the stage. Her advice is to stay grounded, warning that the shows can be vicious and “can do more damage than good.”
“They go into it for wrong reasons—not for the love of it,” she says. “There are a lot [of Christians] in the industry and they somehow fall off, and it makes it hard for we who are wanting to maintain the Christian lifestyle. These shows are also dangerous for kids, because they go into them getting so much media attention yet [long-term] it isn’t like that. It’s impossible for a career to be forever in the limelight.”
Paladino’s Australasian credits include roles in Hair, Cats, Miss Saigon, Mamma Mia! and more recently The King and I, but her favourite and most pleasurable role was in Les Misérables, in which she also played Fantine, with its strongly spiritual-moral themes.
“It’s a wonderful story,” she says. “But it’s difficult to do so many times a week. It is so emotive; Les Mis drains you emotionally as well as physically.”
It was also the scene of her most embarrassing on-stage moment, when, in the lead-up to her big number as Eponine, opposite the late Rob Guest, she stepped onto the hem of her ankle-length coat while exiting the stage and, still in the spotlight, fell flat on her face. “I just lay there wondering how to make my exit. In the end, I did this caterpillar-crawl off stage. Not my best exit.”
Now happily married and with a young family that includes Christian, 11, and Isabella, 8, she’s cut back on performances, and especially touring. But something she can’t cut back on is the Christmas carols circuit, where she’s considered a perennial. And this year, in addition to a half dozen such appointments, she will be again on stage at Channel 9’s Vision Australia “Carols by Candlelight,” at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl, to which she donates her performance. She’s done it so many times, she says, that “I’m now just part of the furniture!”
“This year the same thing will happen. They’ll pick us up in a limo, with the kids, I’ll do the show—and I’ll be nervous as usual, I get so nervous—then we come home and organise the tree and presents. Then it’s the family day after that. The whole of December is pretty crazy.”
But it isn’t the accolades of her performance that she finds satisfying so much as the feedback from viewers, with whom she is able to share the truth of the spirit of Christmas—“the birth of Jesus and what He has done for us.”
“To be able to impart my heart and what I know of Jesus to people who haven’t had the opportunity to hear about Him, particularly in something so big, that is the most incredible gift to me, more so than anything else. I get to hear what people take from my songs that touched them and got them thinking about our Lord. People know about Christmas and Christmas trees, but they don’t know why they’re celebrating it. I feel it’s my responsibility to tell them.
“I’ve been lucky, in that Channel 9 has gotten on board with me doing Christian songs on the program. (There was a time when they only did carols and they wouldn’t try anything different.) It’s ‘Christmas’ in that it’s talking about God, albeit not strictly a carol. However, the public have taken to it; now [Channel 9] just ask, ‘Silvie, what are you doing this year?’ ”
While being recognised as a Christian can be an advantage in the entertainment industry at Christmas time, it’s generally a hostile environment.
“We’re not always surrounded by people who believe what we believe—the more clothes you take off, the better—so being part of it is difficult,” says Paladino. “I’ve been offered things that didn’t sit right on my heart. I pray about it; I talk to my husband, Greg, and my mum and sister, and try to discern if it is not only good for me but for others to see me in a certain light.
“I once did a show that I struggled with, encouraged [by others] that it would be okay, when my heart was saying, ‘No, it isn’t!’ and I regretted it. Now I rely on my intuition and what God is telling me, not what people are telling me. How I perceive myself is important; I want to be seen doing only those things I believe in.”
Paladino says she has been able to share her faith with others in the industry, but feels it is prudent to wait to be asked. She likes to tell of the practicality and reality of her experience as a Christian.
“I tell them I found the Saviour of my life and how wonderful He is and how He can fix everything and make everything new. I give examples—how it’s happened for me, and that it’s true. I’ve had many opportunities to tell people, and even brought people to church. Some have continued and some haven’t.”
In fact, her own commitment to Christianity came about through the witness of other Christian performers, in particular when she was singing in the musical Miss Saigon. Being set in Vietnam, it featured a cast of Filipino performers, almost all of whom were confident and witnessing Christians.
“They were just beaming with beauty, but not on the outside,” she says. “It was something else, and that intrigued me. They were adorable. One day I was with Joanna Ampil, and she played me a Sandi Patti duet ‘He is Wonderful’. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a musician, but music is so powerful and a direct line to the Spirit, and that was the moment where I opened my heart and went, ‘I want this God in my life’. It was through a song, through a beautiful girl. So at age 30, I dedicated my life to God. He’s been a part of my life and my family’s life since.”
In respect to her obvious talent and success, she says, “I’m often asked, ‘How do you sing that song like that?’ But I have no idea—I just open my mouth and it’s there. I never really studied music much; I just believe it is something I was born to do. We all have gifts—mine is not more special than yours—and this is the gift God has given me. For me, it’s like breathing; I just love to sing.”