Tyran Parke and Marty Alix chat ELEGIES: A SONG CYCLE

Stitching together 18 unique stories that evoke the spirits of friends, relatives, and even beloved pets who have passed on, Elegies: A Song Cycle invites audiences on a musical journey that explores life’s infinite joys and the modern world we inhabit.

Written by Broadway icon William Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Falsettos, A New Brain), the 80-minute emotional rollercoaster is arriving at Melbourne’s 45downstairs from July. Produced by the newly formed Clovelly Fox Productions and directed by the acclaimed Tyran Parke, the show features a stellar cast including Nadine Garner, Kerrie Anne Greenland, Marty Alix, Anton Berezin, and Glenn Hill.

Tyran Parke

Tyran Parke worked as an actor for two decades before firmly established himself as an acclaimed director on the Australian theatre scene. He is now a much sought-after director, producer and teacher. For Adrian Storey, he directed the all-star production of Follies at the Melbourne Recital Centre, followed by the acclaimed production of Barnum starring Todd McKenny and Rachael Beck, and CHESS starring Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Rob Mills and Paulini and Tick Tick Boom! Starring Hugh Sheridan. Professional directing credits include the plays Thom Pain, Pool (no water), The Laramie Project, Great Expectations, and Proof; the musicals Jekyll and Hyde, Rent, The Goodbye Girl, A Chorus Line, Songs for a New World, Hello Again, Elegies, Our House,  and the operas The Coronation of Poppea,  Sacred Water Bowls for New Years and The Fairy Queen.Parke is a huge devotee to the work of Stephen Sondheim. Having played the title role in Sunday in the Park with George, he was thrilled to direct the highly acclaimed 2018 production in Perth. Aside from FolliesAssassins – which toured throughout Victoria after its sell-out Melbourne season, was a highlight – Into the Woods, Anyone Can Whistle and Everything’s Coming Up Sondheim repeated this artistic success. Concert work includes the acclaimed, Here’s to the LadiesRob Mills is Surprisingly Good, Debra Byrne and Vika Bull in Tapestry, Caroline O’Connor’s From Broadway with Love, Dirty Dancing in Concert, Mark Vincent’s Broadway and three separate national tours of From Broadway to La Scala over a six-year period.   Other productions include the acclaimed, Ordinary Days (Green Room Award- Best Director), Big Fish (Broadway World and Glugg Nominations- Best Director), Falsetto’s (Green Room nomination- Best Director) and The Coronation of Poppea (Opera Chaser Award- Best Director of an Opera). As a teacher, Parke has worked for all the major training institutions and is currently the Head of Music Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). He would like to thank the VCA for their constant support and flexibility and acknowledge the many members of the creative and backstage teams as well as cast in this show, who are drawn from this community. He is also Artistic Director of Clovelly Fox Productions and Executive Producer at The Australian Musical Theatre Festival.

Marty Alix

Marty Alix graduated from The VCA in 2017, with additional training from The Atlantic Acting School in New York in 2018. They made their professional stage debut in In The Heights at the Hayes Theatre Company in association with Blue Saint Productions, where they were nominated for both a Sydney Theatre Award and a Helpmann Award for Best Supporting Actor for their role as Sonny. Marty has since gone on to perform in other stage productions: Bring It On (David Venn Enterprises), Rent (James Terry Collective), Spamalot (Richard Carroll/Hayes Theatre Company), and Into The Woods (Belvoir Street Theatre/Hayes Theatre Company). Most recently, Marty collaborated as a cast member on Orlando: A New Musical (Antipodes Theatre Company), which was adapted from Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography. Marty performed the dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in the original Australian company of Hamilton (Michael Cassel Group), where they won the Sydney Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in 2021. Their screen credits include season 2 of Bump (Stan) and The Feed (SBS).

With the show opening in just a few weeks’ time, we chat to Tyran and Marty about what audiences can expect from this new and innovative production.

What drew you to Elegies?

Tyran: I knew I wanted to do something that felt important to me. When I was looking around for pieces, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but I knew this piece and, in researching and preparing it, I really kind of opened up for me because I found a way that encouraged a more daring, theatrical presentation than what I suspect has been seen with this show before. There’s that great Sondheim quote, “the things you leave behind when you leave the world are children and art.” I’m a bit fascinated by that. I don’t have children. And for me, what really changed, looking at Elegies, was thinking about who the artist was who wrote it. Of course, Bill Finn wrote it, but actually the role of the artist in trying to capture people and celebrate people and their impact on our lives; This was what I became fascinated by. When I focussed on that, I sort of knew how to do it. It’s both a very direct, and a very easy communication with the audience. You really get a sense of the performers. I spent a lot of time trying to work out who the performers would be that had the kind of bravery, matched with the open-hearted vulnerability, that I just love in actors – and is what this piece demands.

Marty: One thing I love about how the score is written is that the characters are scored as the actors’ names, and I thought that was such a lovely touch because it showed me there is an allowance for us to bring ourselves to the stage We could almost replace those names with our own names. Because of that – and because these people actually existed- it is a more human story than something with fictional characters.

Tyran: I think since the pandemic, we are less connected. I feel like we’re more like islands now. In some ways that’s okay, because what’s happening is everyone’s finding their voice but I feel like this piece reminds us that there’s a common humanity that is about how we tread on the earth, and what we leave, and how important that is. The idea of “Infinite Joy” comes from a song about Bill Finn’s mother, that is a list of all the things you can experience in life. And I think sometimes the theatre reminds us of that community, that common ground, that humanity. That’s certainly what I’m leaning into with the production.

How have you found working on a song cycle?

Marty: I had a Music session with Vicky this morning, and I spoke to her about how I’ve been in the industry now for seven years, but I actually haven’t sung to this capacity. It’s asking more of me than I’ve ever given, which is exciting. Song cycles have always been interesting to me. They’ve been pieces of theatre that I always thought, I would love to do one day. There’s a freedom to bring yourself to them because they are connected through theme, rather than a strict narrative – though I think what Tyran is doing with this piece is a nice combination of both.

Tyran: I agree, it has a refreshing freedom in it. They’re not characters, as such, across a whole show, but the songs possess very detailed character studies that build to a sense of humanity. Yesterday, I was working with Kerrie Anne on her version of Bill Finn, because that particular song, ‘Passover’, comes from Bill Finn’s perspective. So, we’re not pretending that she’s an older male composer, but it’s like, who would you be if you had this experience? Part of what makes it so direct and intimate in 45downstairs, is the act of storytelling is so direct – you feel like you are part of each of these people’s lives, if only for a moment. So, at one point, they sing a song called “Mark’s All Male Thanksgiving”. Now I’ve got two female-presenting artists in there, but I can tell you there’s also fake moustaches and lots of silliness. I care so deeply about theatre and music theatre, but I like to balance that and not forget that sometimes the best theatre involves dress-ups and silliness. And the best theatre has both humour and pathos in its bones.

How have your personal experiences shaped the production?

Tyran: I think there’s a very personal poignancy for each of us in the show. My own history of loss is very much related to my joy – the two live closer together than you might think. There’s a song in the play called, “Infinite Joy”, and that for me is what the piece is about. It’s definitely about people who have passed, sure, but I feel like the concept for this production really came from a notion attributed to traditional Mexican tradition and that is that we lose people three times over. The first is when they take their last breath, the second is when they’re laid to rest, and the third is when somebody speaks their name for the last time. It sounds sad but what’s joyous about this is we are singing people into an ongoing life, always in celebration through the play. We are holding on to people and allowing them to live on through music. And though we never knew them, they reflect our own relationships so vividly, it feels as though we do. It’s about how we’re shaped by these people, whether it’s through significant events or the various communities they create; artistic, familial, or religious. For me, it’s less a story about loss, and more about community. Even the presentation of these stories feels like a kind of community because of the space and how we’re presenting it. So, the piece says the same thing I want to say about theatre and the world: through stories, we feel more connected.

Marty: I guess off the back of that, with what Tyran is saying about community, Tyran has been showing me images of these energies or these spirits of people passing by. And I’ve always been interested in the idea of exhuming stories of people we might not know about. Telling those kinds of stories in a communal setting is something we definitely all need right now.

The cast of Elegies: A Song Cycle

How have you found working with the cast?

Marty: At this point, we have only been working on solo’s – so I’m yet to find out! I’m excited to meet all of them. I haven’t met any of them yet, but I’ve seen a lot of their work. I saw “The Almighty Sometimes “in its final week, sitting front row looking up Nadine’s nostrils, and she was giving her all. I was like, “wow, she’s a mammoth performer”, and I’m so excited to work with her. The first time I saw Kerrie Anne was in “Les Mis” before I was even a student. Getting to sing parts with her and some of the songs, I’m pinching myself and really excited about. I’m also looking forward to meeting Glen and Anton. I’m really excited to hear all our voices together, especially in those big ensemble moments.

Is there a moment of the show you are particularly excited about?

Marty: When Tyran first brought this forward to me, he was like, “I want you to sing “When The Earth Stops Turning.” As soon as I started learning that, I was like, “Alright, okay, cool.” [laughs] I’m really excited to sing that song. I think where it sits and how it resonates with me is very familiar. It’s also a big song.

Tyran: Anyone who knows Marty, knows his spirit and his generosity is so present; It’s what he leads with. And I just want him to stand in the middle of a big number because I’ve seen Marty do it both on stage and from the audience but not at the centre of a piece. I knew I wanted Marty to be incredibly silly when he was acting all of Bill Finn’s dogs in one part of the show, but then I also wanted him to sit in this song because it’s such a big song – he equates the loss of his mother with a seismic event; that nature stops working. I know that Marty, like all of us, gets more complex and more nuanced as we get older. The show – and the individual performances are going to surprise people, and it’s going to ask more of all of us than what people have expected prior. And that’s what we want from the theatre.

Elegies: A Song Cycle plays at 45downstairs from July 10 to 21.

For tickets and more information, visit the 45downstairs website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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