Thursday, 15 January 1998

Musicals In Melbourne, Jan 15, 1998

Musicals In Melbourne: Article
Article published in Herald Sun, Melbourne.
by Kate Herbert 14 Jan, 1998

Musicals are big business which means big bucks Australian producers have fewer bucks and are inclined to take fewer risks than those in the US and UK.

We have smaller audiences, shorter seasons, fewer major composers and songwriters. We do wonderful productions of US and UK shows but we produce painfully few original, commercially successful Australian musicals. Why?

Our tradition of musicals is really just beginning, suggests Darryl Emerson, writer of The Pathfinder. The American musical tradition, he says, began with Jerome Kern's Showboat in 1927 or with Victor Herbert (no relation) in 1890. Any wonder we are a bit behind.

People like familiarity in their music. The concert version and sound recording generally precede the stage production and overseas shows are well established and highly publicised by the time they arrive in our theatres. Any new Australian musical has much less lead-time, fewer famous songs and air play. The Boy From Oz, about Peter Allen, is an exception, comprising Allen's well-known songs.

It is not that we have a dearth of musicals on stage or a lack of interest in them. One opens per month during '98. But our audiences make conservative choices and spend selectively. There is also some cultural cringe about shows with local content by relatively unknown local composers. Audiences stayed away in droves from the ill-fated The History of Australia: The Musical in 1988.

So we keep producing revivals of old or recently successful UK or US productions. Phantom re-opened in December after Crazy for You. Into the Woods opens today and Showboat in April.

Any new musical needs seeding money..The Foundation for the Australian Musical attempted to provide much needed development funds but folded from insufficient support. A show may be developed within a company infra-structure, with state and/or federal government subsidy or be mounted at very low cost by the writer/producer. Essentially it requires a producer.

A musical has a three to five year gestation period and a much larger creative team than theatre. Prior to production will come a CD, a concert, a development workshop and test performances

Several Australian works are in varying stages of production. In May we will see Craig Christie's Crusade-The Concert, produced by Sandy Merlino and Chris Paterson with a fine creative team led by director and MD of Miss Saigon and Les Mis, Gary Young and Guy Simpson.

The Plumber's Opera by composer/song writer, Ross Nobel, featuring Glynn Nicholas, cleverly 'opened in the provinces.' i.e. Perth on January14, before trying its mettle in the big smoke: Sydney and Melbourne.

It is a charming romp which satirises operetta and opera prima donnas. Nobel, who has extensive experience as a composer/song-writer but none as a playwright, wrote book, lyrics and music - no mean feat.. A cast of four versatile singer/actors makes it commercially viable and cheap. By 'cheap' I mean no helicopter or tumbling chandeliers.

Nobel jokingly boasts about his '100% strike rate'. His first and only show has come to fruition after taken three years and with two production companies: Glynn Nicholas' GBS Productions seeded the project with a weekend workshop, and in October 97, performances to an invited audience at the Comedy Theatre.

Darryl Emerson's Pathfinder was a national success in 86 His new musical, Martin and Gina, about a 50's romance in the Snowy Mountains, had a development concert with the defunct Victorian State Opera and a reading at Playbox in 97.directed by Bruce Myles.

But getting to the next stage of production – i.e. finding the production funds – is proving more problematic. Emerson is forming a company and has recorded a CD for its own sake and to make money for the production planned for three years hence. The producing process is long and arduous allowing no time or energy for further creative work on any new product.

If we keep re-hashing old stuff by composers and songwriters from other countries, we will never have our own musical industry. We need culture to reflect our lives and to enhance our self-esteem and our international reputation. Perhaps we have now come of age and our musicals can begin to flourish.


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