Saturday, 23 August 2014

Rolling Thunder Vietnam, Fri Aug 22, 2014 ****1/2

Rolling Thunder Vietnam – Songs That Defined A Generation
Written by Bryce Hallett, concept by Scott Barton
Friday Aug 22, 2014, at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon Aug 25 and in print thereafter. KH
 Kimberley Hodgson; Matt Pearce; Tom Oliver; Will Ewing; Wes Carr; Photo Dylan Evans

The Vietnam War and the vehement, anti-war protests that surrounded it inspired a flood of unforgettable rock songs that defined the politics and culture of the younger generation during the 1960’s and 70s.

This impressive concert drama, Rolling Thunder Vietnam – Songs That Defined a Generation, threads these classic songs amongst personal stories about Aussie and US soldiers and their loved ones to create an outstanding depiction of the times.

The band is tight and hot under Chong Lim’s musical direction and the singers are bold and harmonious, but the added emotional layer of four characters’ diverse experiences of conscription, war and homecoming makes this show both a musical and dramatic triumph.

At the heart of the narrative is country boy and newly conscripted soldier, Johnny, played with naive patriotism, courage and warmth by Tom Oliver.

 As his digger mate, Andy, Wes Carr is loyal and tough-minded and the two are living examples of a Vietnamese girl’s quoted description of Aussies as, “funny, nervous, rugged and kind.”

Matthew Pearce is compelling and statuesque as Thomas, Johnny’s pal who was an exchange student in Australia before becoming a US Marine. Pearce’s singing is powerful and his depiction of the committed Marine’s disillusionment with his country’s warmongering is heartbreaking.

As Johnny’s faithful girlfriend, Sarah, Kimberley Hodgson is in fine voice and portrays the complex emotions and anti-war views that pervade the home front and her version of Killing Me Softly is poignant.

Vanessa Krummenacher and Will Ewing provide melodic backing vocals and supporting characters.

David Berthold’s direction is taut and Bryce Hallett’s dialogue is smart and succinct, allowing the songs and the archival film, images and clever graphic projections to fill in the blanks of the stories and illuminate the period.

The production finds joy and love in the characters’ stories without focusing too intensely on the horrors of war until the very end when tragedy inevitably strikes.

However, it is the music that conjures the period most effectively with such tunes as Magic Carpet Ride, Most People I Know, Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower, and Joe Cocker’s The Letter being woven into the story in the first half.

In Act Two, Run Through The Jungle (Creedence Clearwater Revival) conjures the jungles of Vietnam, and the unforgettable protest song, War (What is It Good For), reminds us of the anti-war moratoriums.

 We’ve Gotta Get Outa This Place (The Animals) depicts the sense of desperation of the young soldiers, while Bridge Over Troubled Water resonates with grief and loss.

But the finale of Born To Be Wild brings the audience back to rock and roll, relieving us of the burden of pain, loss and disenchantment that tainted the homecoming of those lost boys.

By Kate Herbert

Note: the term, “rolling thunder” is from Psalm 68: 33.
“There is a Sky Rider, striding the ancient skies. Listen, he’s calling in thunder, rumbling rolling thunder.”

Writer: by Bryce Hallett
Director: David Berthold
Concept: Scott Barton
Musical Direction: Chong Lim

Wes Carr
Kimberly Hodgson
Tom Oliver
Matthew Pearce
Vanessa Krummenacher
Will Ewing
Magic Carpet Ride  Steppenwolf
Fortunate Son  Creedence Clearwater Revival
Most People I Know  Billy Thorpe
The Real Thing  John Young/Russell Morris
All Along The Watchtower  Bob Dylan/` Jimi Hendrix
The Letter  Joe Cocker
Black Magic Woman  Santana
Nowhere To Run  Martha and the Vandellas
Help Me Make It Through The Night  Gladys Knight
Run Through The Jungle Creedence Clearwater Revival
War  Edwin Starr
For What It’s Worth Buffalo Springfield
People Get Ready  Curtis Mayfield
Get Together  The Youngbloods
What’s Going On  Marvin Gaye
Paint It Black  The Rolling Stones
Killing Me Softly Roberta Flack
Bridge Over Troubled Water  Simon & Garfunkel
Wes Carr; Matt Pearce; Tom Oliver; Photo Dylan Evans

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