The good, the bad and the ugly

Well 2011 has really landed hasn’t it. What a year so far and most of it pretty bloody awful!

Well 2011 has really landed hasn’t it. What a year so far and most of it pretty bloody awful!

Floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and it isn’t even April yet. One has to wonder if someone is trying to tell us something about our planet! But, this column is about entertainment and so far this year, it has been a bit of a case of the good amongst the ugly. Entertainment wise, Australia has been done proud by the NY production of Priscilla, which despite a less than enthusiastic review from the New York Times, has opened to generally favourable reviews elsewhere (come on let’s face it, did we really think New York would give this show an easy ride??)

Locally we have had the honour and pleasure of having three of New York’s finest displaying their wares in a series of terrific concerts and cabarets. Jason Robert Brown’s one night concert in most states with the glorious and totally re-invented Rachel Beck was one of the best nights that blended theatre and cabaret and sheer talent, the best that this country has seen for some time. Likewise the wonderful Mr John Bucchino has also been in our presence to give master classes, his own show (with a plethora of Australia’s best talent to support him) and even been the musical director of the Australian premiere of his own revue It’s Only Life again with an all Australian cast.

Theatrically, Wicked finally opened in Brisbane to delight the flood ravaged city and its looking better than ever. The addition of David Harris as Fiyero is a major lift for the production and Mr Harris delivers the best Fiyero we have yet seen in this country. Jemma Rix has had some sort of transformation and has gone from being a more than adequate Elphaba to being one of the very best ever to put their stamp on this role. Here is a major star in our midst folks, let’s celebrate her. Also its fun to see Geraldine Turner doing her own slightly campy version of Madam Morrible and some of the new fresh faces in the show add a wonderful  juvenile flavour to this hit as it goes on its merry way in its Australian tour .

The “New Musicals” week has been a very strong if modest success and should get bigger and more significant in stature as it gains momentum next year. Of what I have seen so far I was very impressed with AVoid a new musical with immense potential. It’s a show that needs more work, but the idea of a group of twenty somethings and their behaviour during one night in a drug fuelled club says much about the dark and deadly world of clubbing.

Then there has also been Doctor Zhivago.

I admit I approached this show with a fair degree of skepticism. I am not fan of the new world order of turning every known hit movie into a musical (can’t musicals find any new ideas anymore these days??) I also was never a fan of the score of The Secret Garden (Zhivago author, Lucy Simon’s former hit work) and I also felt Anthony Warlow looked way too old to be playing opposite two twenty something leading ladies.

Well, let me say, first and foremost on almost every one of those counts – I was wrong. Whereas I could not totally join or agree with the gleeful review written by my colleague Troy Dodds of the show, I found a show with the promise to be a lasting masterpiece in the canon of music theatre. There is much to admire here, Warlow singing at his best and looking surprisingly young and virile throughout, a strong supporting cast and a few standouts, Lucy Maunder and, at certain performances, Belinda Wollaston deliver compelling musical performances as Lara and most notably Martin Crews as the young lover Pasha who later becomes the feared revolutionary Strelnikov.

A sturdy chorus. some glorious songs (I want the original cast recording and quickly please) and some brave staging touches. Yes it is mostly deadly serious and at times mimmicks perhaps too closely that other glum but glorious musical about revolutionaries and battles that went wrong amidst idealism and true love (fill in the name!!). But we should celebrate that a great Australian cast has given us such a mighty piece of theatrical adventure. If you are waiting for the “but” here it comes.

Zhivago should go to Broadway and should be celebrated as a major new musical, but the script and the production need more work. I was confused as to why the original creative team all left town after opening night. This show is no Wicked or Jersey Boys already born and bred in the other side of the world and only needing the creative team to get it on its feet and then run endlessly and smoothly.

This is a new born baby that has only just started to walk, it’s taking pretty amazing steps, but its parents need to be there to guide and change, cut and paste and get it into an even better shape. A week of previews is not enough to deliver up a perfect new musical and the work that still needs to be done is at times glaringly obvious. Amidst the wonder and glory of the work, there is much needed to be cut, changed, developed and re examination. The creative team should be here doing this now, during the Sydney run, to make the Melbourne version even better and then the Brisbane version better still and so on, till it opens ready to take on the world on Broadway.

The most important thing is that the work will be worth it. This show has so much going for it, it deserves strong creatives working and changing it now. It will never succeed if the things needing fixing are ignored till it is on the verge of taking on its biggest challenge – Broadway. Look how much work was done on Priscilla right throughout its Australian tour and then again in London, before Broadway. Please bring the creatives back and get them working, there is a masterpiece here awaiting their return!

Now before I close, speaking of Priscilla and that New York debut this week. Where is the mainstream media? Where are the TV reports, the shots of Tony Sheldon with the Broadway stars and Liza and Olivia and Bette etc on opening night? It is beyond imaginable that the opening of a major new Australian work has been given such little local coverage. Shame shame shame!

Major press releases were sent out to all the press by the New York publicity team, but it has been ignored (except by the Sydney Morning Herald and the theatrical websites). Now if Hugh Jackman was playing the lead that would be a different story. Australian media should be truly ashamed. What did Richard Wilkins cover the day after Prisiclla opening? American movies of course! Everything is out of proportion media wise in this country. Here we are a sport obsessed nation and that takes mainstage at all times (unless there is a visiting Prince of course). I close with one observation, that says it all.

When I was in Pittsburgh to see Hayden Tee in Camelot, the Pittsburgh Steelers (one of the most famous football teams in the world) were about to play their grand final in their home town. There was a lot of media coverage etc of course, but what was on the front page of the main Pittsburgh paper the day of the big game? A scene from Camelot.  America may love their sport, but unlike Australia it is in  proportion. What a backwater country we live in!

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