Tailor-Made for Monash – Production season for The Dressmaker: A Musical Adaptation

Monash University’s new Alexander Theatre has been transformed into the country town of Dungatar and is opening its doors this week for the world premiere of The Dressmaker: A Musical Adaptation, writes Gabi Bergman.

Much has happened since my last post about the Jeanne Pratt Artists in Residence program at Monash University. For those who may have missed it, the program is a groundbreaking collaboration between Monash performing arts students (of which I am one) and professional artists which aims to create and promote the development of uniquely Australian musical theatre.

Director Suzanne Chaundy during rehearsals

Our artists in residence for 2018 are James Millar and Peter Rutherford (The Hatpin), and the pair have written a brand new adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s fabulous revenge drama novel The Dressmaker. After 12 long weeks of workshopping, rehearsing and blocking, the musical has been transformed from our small rehearsal room to a large scale show on the Alexander’s stage. Working with acclaimed director Suzanne Chaundy and some incredibly talented professional performers has been both an honour and a privilege for us Music Theatre students, and we are so proud to present this show for all to enjoy.

The workshop process has been a huge learning experience for professionals and students alike, with many students signing on for leadership and production roles.

“I’ve found it fascinating to experience how a successful director engages with all the elements of production, with a shared vision,” said student Nesceda Blake, who has taken on the dual role of Assistant Director whilst also being in the show. “This process is so much more than singing, dancing and acting. Everything that we do is for the story, and for those who this story is for.”

John O’May

John O’May is one of our professional cast members, and to say working with him has been a privilege would be the understatement of a century. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work opposite him for a large portion of the show, and his behaviour in the rehearsal space is exactly what the Pratt Artist In Residence program aims to do: foster a close relationship between actor and student, mentoring us in the ways of professional theatre. He’s the man behind our fabulous Sergeant Farratt, and I managed to steal him away from rehearsals for a few moments to chat about his experience working on The Dressmaker: A New Musical.

How have you found the process of working on a new musical?

Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a few workshops in my time. Most rehearsal periods are contiguous, I suppose, in that you work every day. We only work 3 days a week over 6 weeks. It’s hard to hold on to things because rehearsal is about repeating things, that’s why it’s called “rehear-sal”! That part of the process has been strange because it’s often been a week before we do a scene that we’ve just blocked, as opposed to working on it immediately. But by now, I think we’ve got it.

How has working with a student ensemble been for you?

The set of The Dressmaker: A Musical Adaptation being assembled in the Alexander Theatre

Absolutely terrific. The enthusiasm more than anything. And the talent, of course. But the enthusiasm of young people I always find refreshing. It keeps me young.

What has been the most enjoyable part of this process?

Just being here from the ground up in something new. To be a part of something that is being created. It’s a wonderful process. The writers and composers create the work and actors often just interpret it, but in this kind of process you become the creator as well.

As the show is a brand new work, how have you developed your character?

I start with what the writer has written, take it off the page and put breath into it. Make it as real or as unreal, whatever is required. You take all the information that you get from the writer, the composer, the director, the producer, and the limitations they give you, the parameters they set for the character.

What can audiences expect from The Dressmaker?

That’s a good question! I mean, It’d be lovely to say a lot of fun, but that’s certainly not the case… Our script is based more on the book rather than the film. I was very touched by the other two (film and book). But ours… It’s not a light, frivolous piece. It touches upon one of my favourite themes, which is revenge. I think James and Peter have proved [with The Hatpin] that musicals don’t have to be light, happy things. Stephen Sondheim once said that you can write a musical about anything. You can take the most serious, horrific topic and make a musical about it. And they’ve taken a great story and turned it into a fantastic show.

The Dressmaker—A Musical Adaptation

We're putting on a brand new musical! It's an adaptation of the highly acclaimed Australian novel, 'The Dressmaker' by Rosalie Ham. Here's a sneak peek from one of our recent rehearsals. Book Now: https://www.monash.edu/mlive/whats-on/events/the-dressmaker-a-musical-adaptation/Video Credit: Home Grown Musicals Australia.Videography: 3 Fates Media.

Posted by MLIVE on Monday, 8 October 2018


The Dressmaker is presented by The Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, The Centre for Theatre and Performance and MLIVE in association with the Jeanne Pratt Musical Theatre Artists in Residence Program.

The Dressmaker – A Musical Adaptation
Date: 19 – 26 October 2018
Tickets: $22 – $39
Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton campus

Tickets are on sale now. To book or for more information, visit The MLIVE 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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