Monday, November 27, 2017


Great Australian Musicals: You can stop searching, we've found them!

One of the great laments in producing musical theatre in Australia is the apparent lack of Australian product. While the search for the Great Australian Musical continues apace, the list of popular selections for production always seems to be dominated by Broadway musicals, with a handful of West End choices thrown in thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Boublil & Schönberg.

Fortunately, Hal Leonard Australia has some terrific local musicals on offer, providing theatre companies a chance to show national pride, or to allow their performers to use natural accents, or simply to represent the Australian way of life and culture on stage for audiences to appreciate and relate to. Simon Parris uncovers a selection of these unique shows.

A perfect example of a musical written in Australia is 2009 hit Breast Wishes, which was a collaboration between a team of great writers, including Wendy Harmer and James Millar. A show that is as thought provoking as it is funny, the project was initiated by Anne Looby when her sister, Amanda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Featuring fifteen fabulous songs, Breast Wishes explores a range of issues via its half dozen characters. An ideal showcase for a female cast (plus one male), this is a show that will have audiences talking about issues that are too often left unspoken.

James Millar shows his creative versatility with dark musical drama The Hatpin, contributing the book and lyrics. Based on a true story from 1892, the musical tells the tragic tale of Amber Murray, whose baby was murdered by an evil couple who preyed upon vulnerable young women. A large scale show, The Hatpin would be an ideal follow up to Les Misérables, with plenty of characterful lead roles and a big chorus. Costumes and scenery need to convey both the grit of the period and the presence of the wealthy and powerful. Peter Rutherford’s music conveys the atmosphere and tension of this gruesome cautionary tale.

The Hatpin

On a much lighter note, The Eurobeat Goes On is a lively musical comedy that is as much fun for the cast to perform as it is for the audience to watch and enjoy. Presented as the reminiscences of former Eurovision Song Contest host Boyka, the show pokes gentle fun at a whole range of European nationalities by featuring typical, but comically heightened, Eurovision performances. This involves a wide range of vocal and dance styles, which will play to cast strengths and provide plenty of entertainment for audiences. The heightened stylings of Eurovision were ripe for send up, and it took Australian writers to seize upon this with The Eurobeat Goes On.

Writing one musical is a challenge, so writing more than one is rather incredible. Melbourne duo Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank have written a number of shows, with Bryant crafting the book and lyrics, while Frank writes the music. Bryant is now an Associate Director at Melbourne Theatre Company, and Frank is a noted musical director. Bryant and Frank’s 2006 musical The Silver Donkey is based on a young-adult novel by Sonya Hartnett. Set during World War I, the charming musical focuses on three children who help a blind soldier return to his home. The soldier carries a small silver charm in the shape of a donkey, which inspires the stories of hope that he recounts. A successful featured a cast aged from 10 to 20, making The Silver Donkey an excellent choice for performance by school groups or young adults.

The Silver Donkey

Written by Simon Parris for Music Theatre International (Australasia) and Hal Leonard Australia. 

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