Lisa’s first job, immediately after finishing filming ‘Blue Heelers’ was playing Maria in a fabulous stage version of ‘The Sound of Music’ opposite John Waters and later, Rob Guest. For this role she was universally praised by the industry and general public. It was often commented how much more charisma, depth and vitality Lisa brought to the role than Julie Andrews’ brought to the film’s more saccharine Maria. ‘The Sound of Music’ smashed all box office and theatre records in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane but faired less well when Rachael Beck took over the role for the Perth and Adelaide seasons. Lisa spent about 12 months with the show before leaving the company to go on a belated honeymoon. This star turn in ‘The Sound of Music’ helped silence some of Lisa’s detractors who suggested she might be a one-hit-wonder, yet it encouraged other criticism: Can she do anything other than ‘nice’ characters? In due course the answer to this question has proven to be a resounding ‘yes’.
After a year off to be a stay-at-home-mum to her first child, Archer, Lisa returned to TV in 2002 in the ill-fated legal series ‘Marshall Law’. She played Ros Marshall, the younger, wilder sister and junior barrister to Alison Whyte’s Verity Marshall. Former Blue Heeler, William McInnes also starred in the series which had a terrific supporting cast including Anne Phelan, Greg Stone and Jane Hall. The show premiered strongly in an unfortunate timeslot up against two other Australian drama series (‘MDA’ and ‘Stingers’) but ratings soon started to slide. Criticism was aimed mainly at the writing: “There are some awkward moments as the characters and situations are introduced but the impressive cast keep things moving well”. Towards the end of the first 17 episodes ‘Marshall Law’ started to hit its stride, however its journey was not destined to continue, with the show failing to be renewed for a second series.
After four auditions, Lisa won the coveted role of Sally Bowles in Kander and Ebb’s musical, ‘Cabaret’, opposite Human Nature’s Toby Allen and her future ‘Sea Patrol’ co-star, Ian Stenlake. During 2002 and 2003 she performed this demanding part in the Melbourne and Brisbane seasons of the musical based on John van Druten’s play, ‘I am a Camera’, in turn based on Christopher Isherwood’s novellas, ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ and ‘Sally Bowles’. This powerful and confronting production of Sam Mendes’ almost swept the pool at every theatre awards ceremony the following year. Despite criticism of her performance from some quarters, Lisa’s portrayal of the promiscuous, cocaine-snorting, chain-smoking, tragic, anti-heroine earned her a Green Room Awards for best lead musical theatre performer.
During its run, ‘Cabaret’ – and Lisa – received a host of media attention, both favourable and unfavourable. When very public criticisms were made of Lisa, there were many who came to her defence and accused the initial critics of poor research and enormous ignorance. Some critics then came out to publicly defend their initial remarks; others retracted or reconsidered their comments. The result was that this production generated more publicity than could have been anticipated, especially when the show and Lisa’s involvement in it was used as a platform for commentators to insult “people from the suburbs that don’t know anything about art” and to bizarrely argue that contemporary Australia is analogous to Nazi Germany. All this controversy, perhaps, helped the show become a significant commercial success of celebrity; people wanted to come and see what all the fuss was about and make up their own minds.