Flowerchildren’s commercial debut in Melbourne

Aaron Joyner
Aaron Joyner

Producer, Director and Musical Arranger Aaron Joyner made time between a technical rehearsal and a dress rehearsal of flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story to chat with AussieTheatre’s Jan Chandler.

Aaron Joyner is the founding Artistic Director of Magnormos, an award-winning, independent production company established in 2002 with the aim of developing new Australian work. Now in their tenth year, they are celebrating with a new, commercial season of flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story. Their first ever commercial production opens at The Comedy Theatre in Melbourne on Wednesday 21 May.

Joyner describes the lead up to opening night as a “crazy time”. Given his multiple roles, he admits to having had lots of arguments with himself, constantly asking “will it ever work?” At one level he is confident the show is in “extremely good shape” but, as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, he tends to be “picky and pedantic”.

What, among other things, gives this production the strongest possible chance of commercial success is the fact that flowerchildren has had the luxury of a four year development period; standard for most overseas productions but a rarity for Australian written work. Joyner is clearly elated that after ten years of Magnormos productions they finally have one that has been successful, thereby proving the vital importance of the development work to which the company is dedicated.

Joyner speaks enthusiastically of his cast and crew. Thanks to the skills and talent that exist behind the scenes he has felt comfortable in delegating whole areas of the production to others, leaving himself with just the final approval. Whilst the principals are all professionals, some of the ensemble will be experiencing their first professional gig, as will a number of the backstage crew.

“It feels really great on a number of different levels; it’s a bit of a stepping stone and a platform for people to show what they can do”, he said.

If not as director, then certainly as musical arranger, Joyner faced some major challenges. Asked about the music he describes is as “absolutely timeless … brilliantly written [with] beautiful four part harmonies, great pop riffs … simple lyrics that work with what the song’s about … really catchy melodies, and incredible musical arrangements.”

Working with the arrangements Joyner came to appreciate just how much of a “genius” John Phillips [Papa John, member and leader of The Mamas and the Papas] was.

“The inner workings of the musical sound-scape are really intelligent and really, really smart”, he explains.

The Mamas and Papas often double tracked their harmonies and this is why flowerchildren has extra characters who sing the additional parts with the principal characters, thereby re-creating the eight part harmonies of the original recordings.

During the development of flowerchildren a decision was made to re-arrange one song that was originally written for a solo voice. This presented Joyner with what he described as an “enormously difficult” task, helping him understand why it wasn’t originally arranged as a four part song. Undaunted, he sat down and worked to get into the mind-frame of John Phillips, (without the overuse of alcohol or drugs!)

He laughs as he tells me that somehow or other his muse arrived.

“It all poured out in a couple of hours. I don’t remember any of that time. I just remember starting and then finishing and sort of waking up with an almost broken spine because I hadn’t moved in about four hours!”

And what can audiences expect from this new production in a larger venue? Whilst it will be much bigger with a larger cast, bigger set, more detailed costumes and a slightly bigger band, Joyner is confident that they have retained the heart and soul of the earlier production.

“The four principals [Casey Donovan, Matt Hetherington; Laura Fitzpatrick, Dan Humphris] were creating magic every night during the last season and now they can do that, with all the other elements surrounding them supporting them more,” he said.

Above all, the intimacy has been retained; whilst the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne is bigger than the show’s original home at Theatre Works, its design still manages to offer an intimate audience experience.

The score might be American, but it’s clear that everything else about this production is Australian. Having had the chance to ‘tweak’ the writing so that songs and monologues flow more smoothly into each other, as well as put additional work into sections that they felt weren’t working as well as they would like, Joyner is quietly confident and on a definite high.

“I really feel like we’ve fixed it all [amazement] and in 1.5 hours time I’ll find out. I’ll get to see everything put together correctly and that’s when I’ll know whether we really have nailed it or not. But it certainly feels like it now, that we’re ready to go.”

It certainly sounds as if flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story is a show not to be missed by muscial theatre lovers. The band’s story is one that translates easily to current times; all you have to do is read the gossip about celebrities that fills our media. And, even if you weren’t around in the 1960s and wonder who The Mamas and The Papas were, you are sure to know their songs – ‘Words of Love’, ‘Monday Monday’, ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’, ‘California Dreamin’.

These and other great hits of the 60s will be sung for you by some wonderful Australian singers who will lead you on a journey into the music and the behind-the-scenes lives of the foursome who were the first group to knock The Beatles from the Number One spot on American Billboard.

Read AussieTheatre’s original review.

Dates: 18 May – 23 June 2013
Performances: Tuesday 7pm, Wednesday 1pm & 8pm, Thursday 8pm
Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 3pm
Venue: Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
Tickets: Previews from $65 + booking fee
Season from $88 + booking fee
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au
Website: flowerchildren.com.au

Jan Chandler

Jan has been working freelance in the arts industry for some 15+ years in a variety of roles including: arts management; journalism (print, radio and online); publicity; and media relations. Passionate about the arts in all their variety, Jan has worked in film (production assistant; reviewer); dance (publicity; producer and presenter of 'Dance Dialogues - 3CR) and Board Member of Ausdance (Victoria)); performing arts (company manager, performer, reviewer, online editor). Jan had the honour of being the General Manager of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre for some 18 months.

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